By Vern Freedlander
Vice President, Production, X2O Media
The adoption of visual communication solutions within the corporate, public, and personal space is driving a major shift in digital signage. The use of video, animation, visualized data and other graphical content is fostering a new era in corporate communications. The consolidation of this content and distributing it on highly focused and customizable channels that target very specific audiences within an enterprise is also playing an increasingly important role in conveying information to stakeholders.
Compounding this trend is the rapid pace of today's society where people's busy lives make it increasingly difficult to peruse spreadsheets, intranets, or emails in search of relevant content. In addition, people are now being exposed to multiple screens on a daily basis. At work, home or in the community, consistent interaction with place-based screens, smartphones, tablets and the desktop are the norm.
As corporate communicators seek to maximize the impact of their messaging, the challenge within this pluri-device environment becomes how to reach audiences on every screen while still ensuring that content remains both relevant and targeted. This dilemma derives from the fact that different screens are experienced in different ways. As a result, communicators have begun fine-tuning the user experience, applying new tools and technology to customize content presentation. This is forcing us to rethink the definition of digital signage as it morphs into a highly targeted content delivery system that is effective on any screen.
Different screens, different experiences
Screen real estate will determine the kind of content that works best on a particular screen. This determination in turn influences editorial choices and will ultimately define the user experience. In today's large digital signage installations, for example, place-based screens are conducive to providing significant amounts of information derived from multiple data feeds and other sources. This can include multiple video windows, numerous performance indicators, social media and various graphical elements. The size of the screen allows viewers to scan different areas in order to retrieve all pertinent content in a single viewing.
However, it is impossible to transfer this type of experience to tablets and smartphones, since the volume of information would become cluttered on smaller handheld screens. Therefore, channel administrators must begin to think more from the user's perspective by asking questions related to the specific editorial requirements of the user, their job function and how they interact with various screens. Examining these parameters will lead to the editorial and layout considerations that are required for creating channels that effectively deliver the right content to the intended audience.
Smartphones and tablets are considered more intimate experiences where screen real estate tends to support small amounts of content. Laid out in a totally different manner than a large place-based screen, this format appeals to content which is more urgent and time-sensitive, as opposed to information which is meant to be studied or contemplated over longer periods of time. In other words, mobile devices tend to favor focused content that is consumed immediately and typically acted upon with little delay.
On the other hand, desktop screens in an office environment provide a different experience. This setup creates a more passive setting where users can study information at a more leisurely pace, opening opportunities for training videos and other types of content which necessitate a more contemplative approach.
Tablets also bring a different flavor to the experience, bridging the smartphone and desktop experience via a device which can be used on the go yet depict video, graphics and data very well. Corporate communications professionals need to appreciate that, to effectively target viewers, content must be matched to the appropriate device and user intent. Software solutions that manage both content presentation and distribution will dramatically improve workflows and introduce new communications possibilities.
Just as in other media, leveraging video and graphics has become a top tool for corporate communicators since it has the power to convey complex information in a very concise and easily digestible manner. For instance, short videos and infographics can be used to unveil new products, share strategic information and communicate news regarding specific industry verticals. An example could be the aviation industry, where staff is exposed to up-to-the-minute news and analysis regarding the air and defense markets — giving the company an advantage within the marketplace.
Connecting to live data is also an important opportunity, with applications ranging from the disclosure of key performance indicators to the distribution of social media. Within the corporate context, access to social media allows employees to obtain direct access to thought leaders' Facebook and Twitter feeds. This facilitates the absorption of key insights and promotes the exchange of new ideas. Another example is a sales manager of a large corporation using his or her channel to provide colleagues, using any device, with continuous, around-the-clock strategic information about sales opportunities while monitoring competitors and reinforcing sales targets. Back-end tools allow this kind of vital content to reach any member of the sales team no matter what screen they may be using.
The winning combination of timely editorial content and the right technology solution leads to the development of targeted content channels that become a highly focused repository of mission-critical news and information that can provide organizations and their employees with a significant competitive advantage.
Designing channels for different devices
When planning screen layouts, communications professionals should consider a technology solution that takes full advantage of the HTML5 standard. HTML5 provides the ability to easily cross-publish content, allowing material produced for a large place-based screen to work on a smartphone, tablet or desktop and vice versa.
Another important consideration is the use of "objects" in the channel creation workflow. An object is a design element that is connected to data. Users can simply select the objects they want on screen, lay them out by positioning them on a canvas and finally publish them to different screens. Objects also support automatic rendering to different devices with the most appropriate format being selected. Users can easily resize, reorient, and reposition objects for different devices. For instance, a news ticker object would include a rectangular graphic connected to data from a news agency. The object may be reused on various devices but its size, position and font can be automatically customized depending on the output screen.
Other examples can include live data pulled from a database of KPIs, which could be represented on a channel by an object that has the appearance, for example, of a series of large animated vertical bars. This type of graphical representation may look appropriate on a large screen but might require a smaller version for a smartphone or tablet. Again, using object-based tools, users can seamlessly transfer content between different objects and in turn transfer content to different devices with little intervention from the user.
In sum, with the simplicity of object-based workflows and by using insights gained from sound editorial considerations and usage cases, communications professionals can easily publish and revise multiple content channels directed to any type of screen. This creates impactful interactive experiences that provide relevant business information exactly when it is needed, through channels that can be consumed anywhere, anytime, and on any type of device.
Freedlander is vice president of production services for Montréal-based X2O Media, a full-service provider of technology, network management and content services for professional digital signage applications. With more than 20 years of broadcast television experience as a producer, director and executive, Freedlander oversees all of X2O Media's content initiatives. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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