By Christopher Hall
The aesthetics of digital signage and design — and the intermarriage of the two — are in flux. The idea behind digital signage is now in many cases as much about providing a digital experience as about advertising a sale or delivering a message. And design, specifically the design of a physical space, is becoming more and more about connecting people to place with experiences — experiences that can be provided or enhanced by digital signage.
A look at how the two can work, and in some cases already are working, together brought Justin Molloy, the director of education for The Society for Experiential Graphic Design, together with Matt Schmitt, the president and co-founder of in-store digital media solutions provider Reflect, at the recent Digital Screenmedia Association Symposium in Dallas.
"We don't want to just throw technology at the wall," Schmitt said during the duo's presentation, "Connecting People to Place Through Digital Experiences," that looked at how digital signage can help create the built space as an integrated design element as much as bricks or mortar are. "[Designers] want to understand how it complements the environment."
Digital signage and screen media have changed, as have the perceptions of them by outsiders, Molloy said. They are becoming viewed by architects and designers as a key part of a tool kit for creating branded experiences, and have moved beyond being seen as useful primarily for wayfinding or dynamic messaging, he said.
"Where does the screen end and where does the drywall begin?" he asked. "The traditional silos that have existed for so long have blurred."
The SEGD is a collective that bills itself as a "global, multidisciplinary community of professionals who plan, design and build experiences that connect people to place," according to its website, and it includes a range of "graphic and information designers, fabricators, architects, exhibition designers, technology integrators, interaction designers, brand strategists, students, wayfinding specialists, teachers and others who have a hand in shaping content-rich, experiential spaces."
"People are creating experiences that connect people to place," Molloy said. "They're creating that relationship between content and space."
Molloy provided captivating visual evidence of that with several video case studies — including one from the Yale School of Management in Connecticut and another from the lobby of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Both showed digital signage technology as an architectural and experiential medium that had more to do with how people experienced the built space.
At the Cosmopolitan, the digital signage is part and parcel of the built space, it seems, covering lobby pillars and creating a sensualized experience for visitors.
And at the Yale School of Management, not only did digital signage become a key component of the building and the experience of the space, data itself became a key element of the signage and the experience.
Still, despite the changes, one key thing remains the same, and that is that the merger of design and digital signage or experiential technologies still needs to have and achieve a defined objective, Schmitt said.
Schmitt started off the talk by going over a project his firm did for upscale jewelry chain James Avery in which digital signage was a key component of the new store design from the start. The process "really drove home" the value of having designers take part in the same discussions with marketers and technology providers, he said. The designers too often work in parallel with, or in isolation from, the other two, according to Schmitt.
"They need to be at the table," he said, rather than just being told they have to fit a screen in somewhere. "So they can make it seamless and still achieve the objective."