The Digital Signage Insider

Making great digital signage content: Motion, silhouettes and animation

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Color, contrast, a simple message and a strong call to action. These things are all important, and they each need to be understood in your quest to create effective digital signage content. But the techniques we've mentioned so far would all be common knowledge to the workaday graphic designer at an agency or even a print shop. We've yet to talk about anything unique to our digital medium. So today, we'll focus on one of the most important differences between digital signs and static signs -- namely, the ability to show moving images. While you may think that having an object move on screen would make it more eye catching and more memorable, the opposite can also be true. In fact, poorly-planned motion can decrease visibility and readability, making your content less effective.

7 things to keep in mind when using motion

Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to avoid such problems. As you'll see, they're basically extensions of the best practices we've discussed in past articles. To begin with, consider these seven key points:
  1. Just because you can make it move doesn't mean that you should. Chances are, the out-of-home environment where your digital screens are located already has a lot of visual clutter. This is true for retail stores, health clubs, airports and practically everywhere else. Adding motion to multiple screen elements may not make them any more noticeable or visible from a distance. So far we've only found this to be true in very cluttered environments, but you'll have to try it in your own venues to be sure.

  2. Don't let motion interfere with readability or comprehension. This one's easy: if you're relying on text to get your message across, and the motion you've added makes the text harder to read, your content's performance is going to suffer.

  3. You get only 1.5 - 3 seconds of full attention for glance media. Thus, any period when important text or other critical message components are off the screen is potentially a missed opportunity to connect.

  4. Leave enough time to read the text. Don't trust your own judgment -- if you're the designer, find somebody who hasn't seen the content before and make them read it. If they can't read your message at least three times in the alloted amount of time, either take out some text or leave it on screen longer.

  5. Treat moving text like it's not there at all. I'm not talking about a slight jiggle or flash here and there, but if you have content whirring across the screen from left to right, nobody's going to be able to read it -- or at least, not all of it. So if you really want to make sure there's enough time to read your text, don't count your transition times towards the amount of time you're leaving it on screen.

  6. Motion on the periphery is more subtle than motion in the middle of the field of view. A small animation on the border of your screen will exaggerate the eye's natural left-to-right sweeping motions as it reads along. Putting animation in the middle of the screen next to text will pull the eye away from the text during these natural eye motions, which are known as saccades.

  7. The most important features of your spot should be static. If you have an easily-recognized or well known logo, a common catch phrase or slogan, or some trademark imagery, keep it on screen for the full length of the clip. That way, even people who don't get the chance to see the clip in its entirety will still be able to associate what they've seen with your brand or core message.
Using moving silhouettes to your advantage

One of the most useful tools we've found for understanding the impact of motion on readability is what we call silhouette, or the relative contrast patterns of moving images. Because our peripheral vision is only really good at picking out shapes and outlines, we naturally identify items that we're not directly looking at by their contrast against the background. Thus, you could say that a moving image's silhouette is the only thing noticeable about elements in a viewer's periphery. Moving elements that have a strong and easily-identifiable silhouette will take fewer cognitive resources to identify than those with less recognizable silhouettes. Of course, a silhouette profile of a moving element will change as that object moves, so it's important to make sure that simple motions are exaggerated and lines are kept as clean as possible during the movement. Consider the following:

Most viewers with average vision will have no problem discerning these images when looking directly at the content. But for customers merely glancing at it (or even subconsciously watching it in their periphery), all they will see are object outlines -- especially when objects on the screen are moving. Consequently, the image on the left will be much more "recognizable" at-a-glance because of its strong silhouette. This is true even though the image on the right uses a distracting attention vampire that would normally suck attention away from other elements when viewed head-on. Plus, silhouettes aren't just important for getting people to notice your content from the periphery. Moving images with a strong silhouette can be also moved, scaled or rotated without significantly reducing comprehension time for direct onlookers. So, your fancy visual effects will have less negative impact on readability and comprehension if they modify elements with an easily discernible silhouette.

Next week, we'll put together everything we've learned so far while examining the last critical component of any good digital signage spot: the scene composition. Just as each shot in a well-crafted movie is carefully laid out on camera, so too must our ads and announcements be arranged to form a cohesive product.

Perhaps you agree with all this academic stuff. Or maybe you've got your own ideas about how to make content great. Either way, leave a comment and let us know what you think about using motion in digital signage.


+1 Francois Reeves 2008-05-08 10:07
Finally, the tip of the iceberg is showing ;). Motion is key and should not be approached on its own but as whole, in a script. Moving pictures are...movies. Now if you can get creative to think in terms of colour, shapes and motion, you've got yourself a scriptwriter. Once again, thanks for this series of articles Bill, I just wish that in the next ones, you provide moving examples or a digital signage best of! Cheers.
+1 Nate Nead 2008-05-12 19:23
I really enjoyed this post. Since everything I've read says that "content is King," I really think posting articles like this one are VERY beneficial and informative. Thanks again.
0 mutahi 2008-05-23 10:03
We want a digital display system that allows multiple screens to display individual or selective content without installing many local players at one location - meaning, we need a software that will give us the ability to beam different content to each individual screen. Is it possible, or what software do we need? Rgds, Mutahi
0 Bill Gerba 2008-05-25 02:21
Nate: thanks for the kind words. Always nice to hear that people find our stuff useful! Francois: I love the idea of a "digital signage best of", though getting permission to use content can be very tough sometimes. Still, I think it would be extremely useful to others to show some examples of all these best practices in use, so I'm going to have to put that on my to-do list :)
0 Mike 2008-07-22 08:45
mutahi- you want what they call a video or audio and video matrix switcher. Kramer and Extron make some good ones. You can find them on Ebay as well far cheaper! We are trying to figure how to move grahics, video, or text across multiple screens left to right. anyone have any ideas? Thanks!
0 Freddy Murstad 2008-12-22 12:11
Mutahi - Not sure if I'm allowed to mention software solutions here, but talk to the guys at Nexus Digital Signs ( they have solved it. Ask for Brandon. Mike - Again, not sure if I'm allowed to mention software, but you too should talk to the guys at Nexus. Ask for Darren ;)
0 Bill Gerba 2008-12-26 16:41
Hi Mutahi, As Mr Murstad above noted, there are plenty of software options -- [[|FireCast]] included, that will drive multiple monitors from a single player. A quick Google search for "digital signage software" will yield a pretty big list to choose from.
0 Jessica 2009-02-23 22:26
Do you have any suggestions on where to place 2 RSS tickers on signs? Should they be on top of each other or in separate areas of the sign?
0 Bill Gerba 2009-03-02 21:48
Hi Jessica, 2 tickers on a sign is almost certainly a bad idea. One ticker alone can dramatically reduce comprehension rates for the rest of your content. I'd guess that two tickers will simply be ignored. If you **must** have two, for some reason, put them as far apart from each other as possible, so that people can focus on one of them (since there's no way they'll be able to read both at once anyway). But seriously, it's probably the wrong way to solve whatever problem you're having.

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