10 Tips for Creating Effective Digital Displays

Have you heard about digital signage?

Maybe you’ve heard people in the design industry discuss digital displays. If you’re new to the topic it’s alright. There are many folks in the industry that are just learning about the opportunity digital signage offers for companies with physical locations.

As a designer, digital signage offers a unique opportunity to expand your offering. If you have clients with physical locations you can sell them more services to increase your revenue.

It’s a win-win situation for you and your client.

Here is a general overview of what digital signage is and where it’s used.

What are Digital Display and Digital Signage?

You would probably recognize digital signage if someone told you what it was when you were looking at it. Digital signage is typically displayed on a monitor in a restaurant, university, or any other location where people visit.

Digital Displays


The signage or display is used to attract the attention of the visitor. The content on the display is varied, but often it’s used to enhance the experience of the visitor or to introduce them to something of interest at the business.

There is a great variety of displays. Some are used to stream sports scores in bars and restaurants. Other are used to educate people waiting at the dentist’s office. The opportunity to use digital displays is there for any business leader with an imagination that can capture attention.

Here are 10 tips for creating effective digital displays for your clients.

1. Grab Attention with Moving Elements

When people look at a monitor or TV screen they expect the elements to move at least somewhat. I’m not talking about flashing colors and screaming graphics. Regular movement works to grab the attention of the people casually sitting in the waiting room or sitting at the table in the restaurant. You can do this with real-time feeds from the Web or other elements on the page that scroll and change. Also consider embedding video from YouTube or Vimeo. You can even use live TV feeds or other feeds.

Digital Displays

2. Use Color to Add Depth and Interest

Obviously you know how to use color. The same principles apply to digital display design. The only difference with digital display is that people aren’t always looking directly at the screen. You have to capture their attention with contrasting colors. This means you need to understand the colors of the room the sign is in. Are the walls white? Are the chairs black? Understand the entire surrounding to get a feel for how to use colors in the digital display.

3. Don’t Lose Viewer Focus with Bad Type

Type is so important in any design. The best designers always have the best understanding of how to use type for headlines, logos, and any other text on the display. Whether you’re working with websites or digital displays, type is important. You need to make sure the display mirrors the brand while being interesting and intriguing for the viewer. Nothing will turn your viewer off more than an uninteresting type that doesn’t make sense.

4. Real Photographs are Important

I’m not against using stock photography. In fact, stock photography can be great when used correctly. What I’m saying is that actual photographs of the business and related items can really make the digital signage interesting. Ask your client if they have any photographs you can use. You might be surprised what they have lying around as physical printouts or even photos they have digitally. You only need a few to make a really interesting and personal display.

5. Focus on the Goal of the Presentation

Every website starts out with a goal. Most businesses want to get more exposure. They want to capture search traffic and have a salesperson available when they are not working. That’s what a website is for and it’s what you think about when you’re doing the design and development. Digital display also needs to have a purpose and a goal. Some businesses want digital signage to upsell additional services. A dentist might want to educate visitors about whitening. A restaurant might want to showcase the latest appetizer special. Consider the goal of the digital signage for your clients and use that when you pitch the idea. They’ll be impressed and will probably want to get started right away.

Digital Displays

6. Entertain, Enlighten, and Educate

We’ve touched on this a little bit throughout this post, but it’s worth its own line item. Mel Gibson, love him or hate him, always tries to entertain, enlighten, and educate the people that go to see his movies. It’s a little grand to think that a website or a digital sign can do this, but it’s not a bad goal. Consider how people will take in the display and use the three E’s to guide your design.

7. Use Streaming Elements to Stay Current

Earlier we mentioned moving elements on your digital display. Streaming elements can be part of the digital experience. Digital signage is almost always connected to the web allowing you to use feeds and live events to stream material. This adds interest that is real-time. People that are sitting around waiting for something like to be entertained and a digital display can do just that. You can use news feeds, Twitter feeds, stock quotes, or RSS feeds from websites. The streaming live feed at the bottom of the TV has been around for years because it’s effective. Use that same principle with your digital display designs.

Digital Displays

8. Automate and Update to Stay Fresh

Streaming will help you automate the digital display. A difficult aspect of digital display is that it can become stagnant very quickly. This is good and bad for you and your client. Your client will want something that is appealing to the people coming in regularly. You can offer regular updates to the display as a way to keep their signage fresh, but also to keep a steady stream of income for yourself. Use content from other sources like blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, etc. Automate the process so you can make the updates with little involvement (other than approval) from the owner of the business. They’ll appreciate the convenience and they’ll be happy to pay you for your efforts.

Digital Displays

9. Tell a Story to Keep the Attention

People love stories. Every website should tell the story of the brand. Ultimately people buy from other people and it’s the story of a person that sells them to the potential customer. Digital signage needs to tell a story in order to keep the attention of new visitors. Your colors and moving elements will grab the initial attention, but you’ll need to tell a story to keep that attention. This is where photographs come into play. Use content on the display to share how the business can make the lives of the customers better. It can be something as simple as telling the story of how an appetizer earned a spot on the menu.

Digital Displays

10. Finish the Job with a Call to Action

The final yet possibly most important element of effective digital display design is the call to action. You need to make sure viewers of the display have something they are supposed to do. This could be something like asking about the whitening service when the dental hygienist calls them in. It could also be a call to ask the waitress about the new appetizer on the menu. QR codes are gaining traction. A QR code can work on a digital display because people are sitting there bored. They want something to do. A coupon or a call to action with a QR code can get them interested. Think back to the goal of the display and make sure you effectively call the viewer to action.

Image Credits: Outdoor Digital Sign, Moving Digital Sign, Conference Digital Display, Texas State University, University of Hawaii Honolulu Community College, Restaurant Digital Display

About the Author:

Dayne Shuda is a writer for Rise Vision. Visit Rise Vision to learn more about their free digital display platform for designers and developers. Check out some of the companies and organizations currently using digital signage.

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3 Responses

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  • Aleksey, August 1, 2012

    “2. Use Color to Add Depth and Interest
    4. Real Photographs are Important”
    Easy and useful!
    I always use this tips.

  • Mahesh Verma, August 1, 2012

    Awesome List :)

  • Ryan Cahoy, August 1, 2012

    Great Tips – we tend to use tip 7 frequently. We find that if you incorporate simple things like time, weather, news, sports, etc that you get people to glance at the screen each time the pass by.

    If you can catch their attention with something that connects with them each time they pass by, you have a much better shot of having them retain your message.

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