“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.”

With a shout out to the Five Man Electrical Band that made those words famous, this message is truer today than ever, wherever you go.

This is particularly so in the retail space, where shoppers are barraged with visual messages at every turn. And since the attention span of consumers lasts only a few seconds, retailers have a very brief window to capture their interest and engage them. Digital signage is an effective tool for achieving both of those goals – but the key is in the content.

Maximizing the impact of digital signage requires careful attention to content – the copy, graphics and design that brings it all together to communicate a clear message. Those elements are inextricably linked; they pack a one-two punch and all are equally important in creating a message that will resonate with your shoppers.

To accomplish that, you can look to one main theory and three key design principles as your guides. All four can be boiled down to one concept: simplicity in your messaging works every time.

Less is more

Not a new or original idea, but nevertheless, one important element of effective digital signage. Shopper engagement is driven by clean, straightforward message design. Verbosity and visual clutter can cripple the effectiveness of your content. Focus is key. Keep your content and your design succinct to make it easier for your customers to retain your message.

More important, it will encourage them to buy. Hick’s Law says, the more choices people have, the longer it will take them to make a decision. Give shoppers enough to think about– but not so much that they’re paralyzed by information and options.

Three key design principles

How do you bring “less is more” to life in your messaging? The following design principles are a great start and help provide the clarity and focus that make for effective communication and lead to buyer action.

  1. Develop and adhere to a design objective. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: strategy comes first in a successful digital signage deployment. You need to understand the “why” behind signage and then distill those business and communications objectives into a clear theme or idea. The creative elements of signage should reflect those ideas in a way that’s stripped down to the essentials.
  1. Create a visual hierarchy that supports the objective. The design should give a preference and order to elements on the screen with placement in space and time over the course that the message plays, so whether a shopper looks at it for one second or 10, they still walk away with an understanding of your message. If a store is offering a sale on its own brand of jeans, for example, the message would feature the product name and image and then the price or sale message. That’s all shoppers need to understand to engage in your message. All of that can be accomplished very effectively with your message composition and element size or timing.
  1. Embrace the use of negative or white space. Many times, it’s what we don’t say that makes all the difference. Apply that same guideline to your message design. Make it easy on the viewers’ eyes – literally – and eliminate anything that isn’t necessary. To bring clarity and emphasis to your key idea, you can complement and emphasize your message elements (positive space) with the use of negative space. That doesn’t need to be literal white or blank space, but an area that is used as a neutral ground to showcase your main message.

Dieter Rams, a noted industrial designer of the past seven decades, introduced 10 principles of good design in the ‘70s that are still deeply influential to this day. Though his principles focus on innovation, usefulness and sustainability in product design, they apply to graphic design, too. His last principle says that the best design “is as little design as possible,” because it concentrates on the essentials.

With digital signage, that essential is getting your message to the retail consumer to influence his or her buying decision. All the elements of your design need to serve that purpose. Everything else is unnecessary. It really is that simple.

Want to learn more about creating a powerful digital signage solution?
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