Monday, September 24, 2012

Sign Language


Digital technology is all around us--there’s no denying it has made a tremendous impact on our lives.  With this digital overload comes a seemingly mundane yet surprisingly complex usage for digital technology: digital signage.

In the wild, digital signs are very similar to their more traditional printed cousins; however, a digital sign such as the one now in the Blagg-Huey Library on the Denton campus has many additional useful and interesting features that really do make traditional printed signs a thing of the past. 

First and foremost, a digital sign is eye-catching--nay, eye-popping. In today's world, where we are so bombarded with advertising that only the ‘loudest’ gets heard, our new digital sign has plenty of ‘voice’ to stand out.  With its bright display and brilliant colors it easily catches the eye as you enter the library.  It can also be a source of action--with animations, pictures and movement--to draw you in further.  Once we have your attention, though, what do we do with it?

Obviously the most important thing with any sign or advertisement is to convey important information to the reader.  This is often the most challenging part with any kind of sign; the difficulty is multiplied with a digital one.  With a more traditional sign one must constantly agonize over the details of what is going on the sign and what will be read. Is it succinct? Is it understandable?  Is it interesting? Where could we put a picture? These concerns will be revisited numerous times before any sign is complete.  With a digital sign there are the extra considerations of timing and originality.  It’s important to make sure that someone can read what you’ve wrote in the time you have to show it.  A digital sign offers the opportunity for many voices to speak out. Unfortunately this means that every message on the sign must clamber for attention with others.  Each message must be given a chance to shine. This means that each message must stand out, look unique and be memorable. This presents an interesting challenge, a balancing act between information saturation and over-the-top flashiness in a desperate attempt to garner your attention long enough to pass along some information.

This is not the only challenge digital signs present.  Once a regular sign ceases to be informative, interesting or useful, it can simply be disposed of--leaving a vacant space until a new sign is needed.  A digital sign, though, is a serious investment.  It can’t simply be removed when its advertisements are no longer useful.  The sign will remain, day after day and month after month.  The final challenge thus becomes: how do you keep being interesting? It’s a topic that challenges entertainers, musicians--and those who maintain digital signage. Like a barker standing on a street corner shouting information day-in and day-out at random passersby, maintainers must strive to provide variety lest they be chased away by an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob.  To prevent such a pitchfork-powered marathon, a digital sign must be updated regularly--at least twice a month--with new, interesting and relevant information. This means new images, new text--and more stressing over how much notice information will get in the few precious seconds it's allotted to make an impact.

The most important thing to understand and remember?  The digital sign is there for you, the reader. It is designed to engage and inform you.  It is a stalwart guardian of the information you seek, a faithful answerer of questions.  IT is a Digital Sign.

~Andrew Farris; photo by Brita Stewart

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