Digital and Interactive Signage: A Digital Switch?

With digital technology in the world of displays and signage becoming more popular, what are some of the ways these solutions can be utilised, and how can companies embrace interactive components?

David Osgar
April 26, 2023
RMC Digital Print has showcased the potential of AR technology on TikTok/LinkedIn

In many ways, digital signage is at a crossroads as digital solutions become more popular, yet technology also faces a number of hurdles. Many reports and research indicate audiences are moving away from screens in favour of physical and traditional forms of media.

In the magazine industry for example, research by YouGov Profiles shows that UK and US magazine audiences still prefer reading printed media over digital. Out of the 166,000 people polled, only 18% of UK respondents said they got more engagement from reading magazines online as opposed to in print.

But despite the public’s weaning away from constant use of small digital devices, digital screens and interactive displays continue to be popular, with research from Statista predicting the use of digital video advertising to grow at a rate of 12.40% by 2026.

12.40% - Predicted growth of digital video advertising by 2026

With the public engaging with media and experiences in several different ways, the small device in peoples’ pockets is still essential for providing information and entertainment.

Both print and digital screens are able to interact with people via mobile phones and technology such as facial recognition and timed media.

With digital being adopted so highly by public spaces, retail, and hospitality, it remains highly important for businesses to keep on top of the latest trends and advancements. To see what is ahead in 2023, SignLink spoke to several professionals in the world of signage and digital technology.

The media mix

As evident in the research and methods mentioned, interactive technology relies on physical attributes to truly become interactive. Augmented reality (AR), which relies on a physical environment, is being used more and more alongside printed and digital media.

Wide-format print company, RMC Digital Print, which works exclusively with print and signage companies in the trade has seen a variety of changes and trends over the past few years.

Managing director of RMC Digital Print, Nicole Spencer, comments: “The possibility for AI/AR with printed media brings a lot of innovative ideas. We’ve played around with this in-house but haven’t had any clients asking us for it just yet.

“But we do think this will be a growth area for print and signage. The technology has been around for a long time, but with recent improvements I think it will become more popular.”

Regarding popular solutions and products, Spencer adds: “We’re being asked to do a lot more soft signage/printed textiles, to replace more traditional wall graphics and friezes. They’re easier to install and replace than panels, plus there are no joins in the graphic.

This also gives the extra added advantage of being able to back illuminate them. Then we can play around with different layers of ink to block out certain sections of the image or colour enhance the graphic to give a better depth of colour. We’re seeing our clients producing a lot more LED neon signs.”

In order to attract more customers to stores following the boom in e-commerce, retail stores have embraced digital signage to bring shop floors to life

 

While digital solutions have often been relegated to the advertising and out-of-home (OOH) spaces, Spencer says that signage companies should not be scared to embrace digital technology, especially as prices have reduced and pathways have become clearer.

“It won’t replace traditional signage and printed graphics but will become more prevalent so it’s important to work alongside it.”

Designer for brand and innovation at Signbox, Sarah Gray, agrees noting the marked increase in digital solutions seen at Signbox, and the want from customers for a bigger variety of products.

Gray says: “The great benefit of digital is the ability to keep content bang up to date, at the click of a finger.  A chain of restaurants for example can change the menu or advert on every screen installed across every chain, in seconds.  Allowing content to be tailored to the time of day or any special offers happening, with zero waste or additional cost.”

Signbox has worked in signage solutions for the past 27 years, working with some of the world’s biggest brands to deliver architectural signage, wayfinding, and branding.

It won’t replace traditional signage and printed graphics but it will become more prevalent so it’s important to work alongside it

Digital screens and technology offer a lot of exclusive benefits that change or impact the look of a location or project. Interactive screens have been embraced in the likes of restaurants and public spaces in order to replicate the ease of a mobile phone.  

Martijn Van der Woude, vice president of global business development and marketing at PPDS, has seen firsthand the impact digital displays have had on retail. “One of the biggest adopters, as you would guess, is in retail, from the high street to supermarkets and showrooms, and public space environments.

“Whether it’s digital signage, giant dvLED walls, or interactive displays, these solutions are being used to create entirely new, more personable shopping experiences, often even before entering the store, with displays helping retailers to gain a competitive edge and to stand out from the crowd.”

Signbox has also seen increased demand for bigger and more impactful digital solutions, with large format LCD video walls becoming popular for external and internal use.

“Some of our most popular products include our ultra-high brightness screens that boast a 2500 cd/m2 brightness (up to 10x brighter than a domestic tv),” says Gray, adding: “These are perfect for any area that receives a lot of sunlight such as shop windows.

“Also, our PCAP touch screen giant tablet is frequently used in digital wayfinding applications in busy public areas such as train stations, airports, and shopping centres, with our floor standing digital tough screen poster being installed in shopping malls and showrooms across the country.”

OOH company Clear Channel UK has witnessed the creative uses of both digital screens and posters through a variety of installations like giant billboards, bus stops, and shopping centres.

A recent campaign from Philips on Clear Channel screens used bespoke AR filters to show commuters what they looked like with various facial hair styles

Jonathan Acton, head of Creative Delivery at the company, says: “It’s all part of the user journey, and digital’s sweet spot is providing advertisers with the flexibility to hit audiences with messages that are more contextually relevant. A print poster will do an excellent brand job, but digital and interactive can make it more relevant to an audience’s mindset.

“Our research in collaboration with JCDecaux and Posterscope has also shown that the use of contextually relevant messaging in digital OOH increases its effectiveness by an average of +17% so the role of digital screens within the media mix is invaluable.”  

Speaking about the innovations from physical to digital, Van der Woude adds: “The subject of evolving from paper to digital is something our teams at PPDS have had in scope for some time, working to create solutions that bring customers sustainable savings and the opportunity to rely on their signage investments for more.

“That’s why we have recently introduced the Philips Tableaux, the first, advanced (full) colour ePaper digital signage series introduced by a leading manufacturer. Incredibly, it doesn’t require or use any power to display static content. What’s more, networked, content can be managed and updated remotely and without needing to be plugged in, removing all limitations.”

The capabilities of digital cannot be underestimated, but as highlighted by Acton and his mention of the “media mix”, physical prints and signage are just as important.

“There will always be a desire for different textures, materials, and colours to create stunning environments that reflect a brand and organisation’s ethos,” comments Gray, who adds: 

“Essentially, people need things they can touch and feel, and digital can’t replace this. Both digital and hard signage can, and should, sit alongside each other in a cohesive way and complement one another.” 

The research and development

When looking at adopting different technology, it is important to learn from the technology, to understand it, and make sure the product you are suggesting or investing in, fits the bill.

PPDS, a part of TPV, a global manufacturer of digital displays, holds the exclusive rights to bring Philips digital signage, interactive displays, dvLED, and professional TVs to partners and customers around the world.

The company has seen the expansion of digital displays over the past few years, especially following the effects of the pandemic in which digital solutions were needed more than ever.

Van der Woude says: “The role of digital displays continues to grow exponentially, rapidly advancing from a ‘would like to have’, to a ‘must have’ solution. Displays of all types, sizes and shapes are now regularly found in almost every vertical market. Such is the growth, it’s now almost impossible not to have some form of interaction with a digital display outside of the home, be that through physical touch, or simply viewing marketing communications.”

Martijn Van der Woude, vice president of global business development and marketing at PPDS

When it comes to research and understanding the technology, Van der Woude comments: “At PPDS there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. What works for one business may not for another, so it is important to tailor solutions to meet exact needs and requirements.

“This needs the right levels of research, which includes usage, lighting conditions in the room, hours of use, and more, allowing us to support energy consumption reductions that could result in significant cost savings and a greater ROI.”

Van der Woude also emphasises the importance of managing a display, citing it as a crucial component in the success of a display.

“Monitoring, managing and, ultimately, maintaining displays, be that one or two displays in a single location, or large fleets situated all around the world, will also play a vital role in the long-term health and usability of each display and maximising return on investment.”

The monitoring or use of a content management system (CMS) is an important piece of research, the same as the research and understanding needed for new AR and VR technology.

Many brands or companies may not understand the complexity or effective ways in which to pull off successful digital solutions, so understanding the technology is key.

In order to attract more customers to stores following the boom in e-commerce, retail stores have embraced digital signage to bring shop floors to life

Acton says: “The key to success is to test and learn. From QR codes, interactive screens, and AR, there are a lot of new ways audiences can interact with screens and we’re seeing more brands taking advantage of these capabilities.

“A recent campaign from Philips used bespoke AR filters to show commuters what they looked like with various facial hair styles. Experiment and see what works for your brand/company, there are great opportunities to deepen brand engagement with audiences.”

When it comes to seeing new and exciting technology, social media can at first glance, be a great way to experience new and effective projects. Technology that incorporates 3D imagery has been used effectively throughout the UK to bring locations to life with creative videos.

However, Acton warns users to not believe everything they see, commenting: “As anyone who works in digital signage space will know, LinkedIn is flooded with ‘3D’ content. There’s a lot of noise in this space, but it’s not tech, it’s clever content and I feel the industry needs to be more real in recognising this.

“There have been instances of companies retweeting fake 3D mock-ups as the latest in 3D screen tech so it’s important to make that distinction and perhaps see more education in this area.”

There is a striking difference between professionally designed digital advertising screens and standard domestic screens, so when selecting a suitable screen for your application, it’s really important to consider this

Gray agrees that research is essential, whether it be for interactive technology or digital screens in general. Signbox has utilised CMS’ in order to offer businesses more flexibility and support with digital screen management, eliminating some of the problems users may have without research or effective management.

Gray says: “There is a striking difference between professionally designed digital advertising screens and standard domestic screens, so when selecting a suitable screen for your application, it’s really important to consider this.

“In terms of interactivity, all of our digital touch screens are brilliant for a multitude of applications whether it’s finding your way through a busy airport or browsing a range of products in-store. The ten-point PCAP touch offers excellent usability allowing a variety of gestures to be used including image manipulation and zooming in and out, much like a standard smart phone.”

It’s undeniable the world of digital displays is a vast one, especially when used alongside physical/printed media. Exhibitions and live events are not only testament to the type of media used and available, but also the various sectors display and signage can delve into.

From CMS’, AR, VR, LED screens, lights, and touchscreen technology, digital signage continues to evolve and become more interactive. Brands and sign-makers now find themselves in the unique position to choose what materials and technology to adopt, along with the exciting prospect of how to best to use both physical and digital solutions.

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