Why the 3 Panel Digital Signage Content Template is Dying

Posted by on Jul 5, 2011 in Content

Three panel templates for digital signage displays may be dying a slow, but silent death. For decades, the three panel layout has been a fair standard for all types and forms of installation. Below you will find several reasons why the standard three-panel digital sign content template may be dying off as the industry continues to evolve.

Display Mounting Strategies Have Changed

In the most simple of terms, displays are being mounted in non-traditional ways. Increasingly, signage network installers have having requests to install their signs in portrait mode. The landscape installs of the past will still be the standard, but quickly we are seeing the landscape change (pun intended). Displays are not only going vertical, but they are also being mounted horizontal and even in the shape of a Christmas tree. While display mounting strategies become more unique and creative, so will the content. My personal thought is that creativity (in content and installation) will be one of our greatest allies for making a meaningful impact. I love the quote by Rollo May:

Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem.

In many ways, digital signage is limited by our preconceived ideas as to what is standard. Jumping out of the box can and will help us delve into niches heretofore unrecognized and give operators the ability to reach audiences where they certainly could not previously.

Displays Devices Have and Will Change

Will the standard 16:9 LCD be the digital signage standard of the future? I highly doubt it. Signs will increasingly become more prevalent and small. With the decrease in the size of the average display, the next natural evolution will be the elimination of RSS feeds and sidebars. In similar fashion, projectors, including rear-projection, are increasingly finding their place in the industry as store-fronts are using their windows for product promotion.

While display devices change, so must the three-panel content follow suit. A three panel layout on a rear projection seems somewhat ridiculous for in-window display. It also would be completely out of form to be had on a small form-factor display at a mercantile checkout.

We haven’t even mentioned 360 degree displays, 3D LCDs, LEDs, OLEDs, or holographic technology. While these fall far outside the range of traditional digital signage, they do still fall within the curve and will certainly require a shift in the way content is displayed. Certainly, three-panel templates would not work in any of the aforementioned scenarios.

Out-of-Home Audiences are On-the-Move

Much like the ever-famous scene in Minority Report with Tom Cruise, we know that many sign displays are mounted in areas where people are moving.

Consequently, moving audiences have significantly less time to grasp the message on the display. When you only have between one and five seconds to say what needs to be said, do you fill the screen with a sidebar and a RSS crawler? If you do, you’re probably an half-insane.

I used to live in Las Vegas and it would always make me laugh when I would drive by one of the literally hundreds of billboards that litter that city and see two or three long sentences of writing on them. Even if I were not in advertising, I would know that was not a good idea. First, I’m driving, which means my attention to a billboard is not full. Second, I’m driving past quickly at 75 MPH which means the time I have to view is going to be seconds. It was always quite entertaining when the outdoor billboard would read something like:

“Injured? Law Practices of Smith, Smith, and Smith. We have been providing professional legal advice to the Las Vegas area since 1974. Come in for a free consultation today. WWW.lawyerURL.com. 444 Tropicana AVE. Las Vegas, NV blah blah blah 555.555.5555”

Of course, if you were to drive by it everyday on your way to work, it may have more of an impact, but in the realm of dynamic, digital, “only-one-impression-per-viewer” signage, you may only have one shot to make an impact.

As small form-factor digital signage becomes more prevalent, it will increasingly be installed in areas of high traffic. But as the term “high traffic” so readily implies: the audience is moving. Meaning the messages not only have to be short, they have to be painfully simple. Mucking up the display with more than one frame can ensure your message is lost in a grip-load of buzz and noise.

Software Capability Improvements

Dynamic digital signage content is what makes or breaks any deployment–quite literally. The clunky, standard, main window and side playlist of yesteryear is quickly disappearing. It is being replaced by a more pop, whiz, bang version of itself. Flash, Silverlight, and Apple Quartz are changing the ways content is being viewed–on all types of digital media. I really like some of the functionality given by Apple Quartz. From their website:

Quartz is a powerful graphics system which forms the foundation of the imaging model for Mac OS X. Quartz offers a sophisticated two-dimensional drawing engine and an advanced windowing environment. Quartz’s feature-rich drawing engine leverages the Portable Document Format (PDF) drawing model and offers Mac OS X applications professional-strength drawing functionality. Quartz’s windowing services provide low-level functionality like window buffering, event handling/dispatch as well as dynamically creating the translucency and drop shadow effects found in the Aqua user interface.

Interestingly, this doesn’t even begin to describe some of the functionality Quartz has to offer. I have seen some really stellar demos recently using Quartz, Flash, and Microsoft’s Silverlight. When your imagination is unlimited by software, and design is of paramount importance to your sign’s effectiveness, why would you pigeonhole yourself to the tradition of three panels?

The Dwindling Effectiveness of Noise

Studies have shown that banner advertising effectiveness online has significantly decreased over the years. Additionally, the more educated the audience, the less likely they are to click on a banner ad–especially on consumer-driven websites. Similarly, increasing the noise on a digital sign display can significantly decrease the effectiveness of not only your main panel, but also your sidebar and crawler. Too much can be too much. As generations become more media savvy, they also are learning to more quickly filter that which they want from that which they do not want.

When you visit a website, you generally consume what you are looking for, while ignoring everything else. The same goes for digital media displays. If some static image were being displayed in the sidebar while some very interesting, dynamic content was playin’ through the main playlist window, you–as a content consumer–may readily ignore the sidebar content–much like they would when visiting the “online” version.

In summary, unless you are using a hyper-captive audience, the standard three-panel sign layout may be hurting your signs’ effect. And, as viewing habits for out-of-home change overtime, those wishing to make a favorable impact on a the content consumer, will need to get creative and move far away from the traditions of signage from the 1990’s.

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