Digital signage is the term for the displays you see in coffee shops, gyms, hospitals, schools, banks, and pretty much any other business or organization with a physical presence. Digital signage has a wide variety of uses such as providing information, generating sales, recognizing donors, etc. It used to be limited to large businesses because of the high costs of installing, managing, and creating content; but in the past 5 years or so, the industry has seen an influx of low-cost media players (the computers that power the displays) and content management systems (the software that puts the content on the displays).
You can now purchase a Raspberry Pi 2, use a free content management system, and an existing TV; and have a digital signage system for as little as $45. With the barrier to entry being continually lowered, it’s no longer just large businesses who are using digital signage. Mom-and-Pop shops are setting it up as well at an increasing rate.
“Digital signage is…forecasted to grow to be a 20 billion dollar industry by 2020”
There is a major hole in digital signage right now. The cost is down, it’s accessible, and it’s easy to use. But the content… let’s just say: it leaves a lot to be desired. Many businesses have content management systems that have drag-and-drop signage builders, but they’re not great. However, most of them also have the ability to either “schedule” web pages, or build them with HTML.
Digital signage is a big industry in its own little world. It’s forecasted to grow to be a 20 billion dollar industry by 2020, yet it seems like no one has heard of it. It is estimated that there will be 22 million active screens worldwide this year. All of those screens need content, and the proprietary platforms of the past are not doing a great job.
The good news is that if you’re a web designer, digital signage needs you.
Many web designers entered the field because they wanted to try something new. More than likely, you wanted to create interesting and engaging online experiences. Digital signage has opened a new challenge for you. You have the skills and ability now to create stunning digital signage experiences.
Building content for digital signage
Responsive web design and consistent user experience are some buzzwords that have been around for a while now. We already design for everything from phones to large HD desktops; why not expand to large format displays as well? A user should experience the same great web content and branding as they move from their computer, to their phone, and into a physical location.
Digital signage is unique though; and just popping a website on a display is not a very effective way of building a great experience. Digital signage content is dynamic. In many cases it needs to change based on location, time, season, etc. Building separate HTML pages that you can schedule depending on those variables is the easiest way of doing it.
For example, think of a restaurant chain with three locations, in three time zones, each with three displays. Two of the displays in each store are menu boards, and the other one shows a greeting message. When the restaurant closes, the displays show employee communications, such as calendars, company events, and important announcements. The menu boards need three different HTML pages for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the greeting screens all need content. The employee communications will also need their own content designed and built. Lastly, each store will need individualized content.
This content could be passive, meaning it slides through on its own, or you can create interactive content using touch screens. Incorporating social media campaigns, can also be a good way to engage viewers with passive content. And interactive content can be a very interesting way of creating cool digital signage experiences.
How do you get started?
To begin bringing your web design skills into the world of digital signage, start by signing up for a digital signage platform, to familiarize yourself with the software that sends HTML content to display screens. There are open source platforms, paid platforms, free platforms, and proprietary ones. Many of them allow you to use all the knowledge of web design that you already have and start building.
“If you’re a web designer, digital signage needs you”
There are a few ways to start building; it depends on what platform you chose. Here are a few different ways: You can build using widgets, or apps, which are the building blocks of sign content. There are widgets and apps for Twitter, financial data, news, weather and more. Another way is to use your editor of choice to build the content. When you’re done building it, publish it to a Github page or website, and then schedule that link in the platform to appear on your display. Lastly, you can build a page in your editor, and then move your HTML directly into the platform, if it allows for that.
Who do you sell to?
If you have any existing clients with brick and mortar locations, they are prime candidates for your display design services. If not, you can add digital signage as a service that you can provide to new clients. Picking a niche can also be a helpful way to grow clients: for example, be the expert on creating signage for restaurants, or dentists, or any other specific profession or industry.
The great thing about digital signage is that content needs to be updated regularly, which generates recurring revenue. With some platforms, you can easily train your clients to schedule and manage their own presentations. Alternatively, you can provide content updates as an additional service.
The digital signage industry is growing rapidly. Gone are the days of proprietary, expensive software. HTML5 has knocked down the door, so you can now create, manage, and display amazing sign content from the web. This is an amazing opportunity for web designers to expand their offering and differentiate themselves.