Digital signage possibilities have become nearly infinite, giving colleges and universities a litany of ways to convey any type of message to students, staff and faculty. From campus events to special announcements and emergency notifications, digital signage lets administrators deliver critical content with ease.
Perhaps the most basic use of digital signage is directive: A scrolling LED sign that costs $200 or less can sit on a concierge’s podium and say, “Work-study interviews are in Room 104, just past the stairwell on the right.” More advanced signage can deliver more complicated messages, and signs based on interactive touchscreens can help visitors find their way to any one of 100 simultaneous events, and wayfinding is just one use for modern digital signs.
A simple LED sign is the least expensive way to give simple, easily-changed lighted messages to people who pass through your lobby or other public spaces. But indoor LED signs are on their way out. Walter Sanchez, sales manager for long-time LED signmaker Grandwell, says, “We’ve given in to the fact that the LCD or Plasma sign has won indoors.” He says that today, less than 10% of Grandwell’s sales are traditional LCD signs. Outdoors, it’s a different story because, Walter says, it’s easier to weatherproof LED signs than to weatherproof LCD screens.
At the other end of the digital sign scale, Innovative Markets started out making rear projection signs for trade show displays and other applications where extreme visibility is a must. Now they make custom touch-screen signs with diagonal measurements greater than 80”, interactive signs and kiosks (including one model with a hand sanitizer dispenser built in), and other digital signs so slick that they have a full staff of creative in-house designers and programmers available to work with their clients’ people.
LED signs, other than giant, custom-built displays or modern LED fabric signs, are typically text-only. Programming them is simple, and most LED signs come with a remote control option so that you can type in a new message and set parameters such as size and scrolling speed without using a computer or even touching the sign.
Designing a screen layout or multiple screen layouts for an LCD display takes more skill than punching in characters for a text-only sign. You can do it with PowerPoint or make a video or even make a series of videos that embed in multiple PowerPoint slides, all to make one full-motion digital sign.
An LCD monitor display complicates things behind the scenes, too. If you are running an http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/hdmi.htmHDMI cable from your signal-generating computer to your display, you need to be cognizant of maximum cable lengths, and with HDMI the maximum-length specs are vague enough that you might decide to have monitor cable runs of no more than 25 feet. And you can’t put the computer inside an unventilated cabinet or other furniture where it will overheat, and no matter where you put it you need to clean dust out of it now and then or it will stop working, same as any other computer.
Better than using a computer to drive your flat-screen sign, you might look at something like the FireCast EasyStart, which is a small digital appliance you can place near your sign. It comes with software and everything else you need (aside from a TV or monitor and appropriate cabling) to get your first LCD digital sign up and running. Michael Smith, Sales VP for Wirespring, which makes this device—and a whole lot of other digital signage software and hardware—says he can have most clients working with their EasyStart systems in about 30 minutes. Later, it’s easy to expand your single-sign system to two signs, even to four.
Smith warns that while setting up a digital sign system is not hard, touch screens are much tougher. Sure, Wirespring makes software that will work with touch screens, and you can buy touchscreen monitors for lower prices every year, but designing touchscreens for average people to use can take a lot of head-scratching.
“Do you have an app that people can understand quickly, and get out of the way for the next guy?” Smith asks. He points out that even now, when airlines have had touchscreen check-in kiosks for a decade, it is still common to see people struggling with them while others wait anxiously in line behind them.
Another drawback to touchscreen-based interactive kiosks is that only one person can use them at a time, which leads to lines and bottlenecks; by contract, an information-only screen can be viewed by many people at once. Worse, touchscreens tend to accumulate finger smudges. If you go the touchscreen route, you’d better be prepared to do almost constant cleaning.
The great thing about interactive touchscreens, says Jason Kuisel, the managing partner at Innovative Markets, is that they not only give out information but can also collect it.
But “interactive” and “touchscreen” aren’t the only words that get Kuisel jazzed. Another project his company is working on is making signs out of LED fabric, which he says is so light they can hang it up with magnets and even float signs made out of it above a convention floor with helium balloons.
So whether you go with digital fabric floating high above the ground or something a bit more basic, number of options out there is growing rapidly, with nuances to fit any school’s needs.