Art and interactivity painting a new digital signage experience, Pt. II

Dec. 11, 2015

By Lyle Bunn, Principal, BUNN Co.

Digital signage is increasingly used for artistic expression and creative interactivity, becoming viewer-generated art. Touch, gestural and mobile interfaces each provide an engaging interface that helps dynamic signage to transfer information from the sign to the viewer while offering an exciting or soothing immersive experience that fosters receptivity to the messaging presented.

In effect, making digital signage a medium for art helps brand messages to be absorbed by viewers who  might otherwise tune out or ignore more overt advertiser messaging.

"These digital canvases have also created a new artistic expression medium for digital artists," said Marcos Terenzio, director of digital creative experience for Shikatani Lacroix Design, recalling a project he worked on a few years ago that was implemented in Toronto's Yonge & Dundas Square. "Similar to the New York's Times Square, this downtown core is a hub for entertainment, art and culture that is flooded with large digital screens of all shapes and sizes. Part of the initiative included working with local traditional and digital artists and art students to share their works on the large spectacular displays. This was a welcome interruption on these displays whose main objective was to display advertising content. The art provided a cultural outlet and the animated artwork surrounded the square and engaged audiences at a more meaningful emotional level."

A Morguard Property in Ottawa, Canada, called Performance Court has The Canada Council for the Arts as a main tenant. "This is the first of its kind in Canada," said Steve Harris, COO of Cineplex Digital Solutions, which designed and manages the larger-than-life display. It includes a lower interactive zone using Christie Microtiles, and a large upper canvas using 6 mm LED. There are several ways that this installation is being used to combine interactivity and art. Besides showcasing various Canadian artists, digital artists are regularly invited to use the displays as a digital canvas for their interactive, artistic executions. 

At the same time, the lower interactive zone allows for people to use multitouch technology to drag and create interesting digital art themselves. In addition, Cineplex leveraged Kinect sensors to generate motion-activated ambient experiences, allowing people to impact the content on a grand scale.

Lobby Media, Morguard Property, Ottawa. Photo courtesy of Cineplex Digital Solutions.

"For Morguard, the installation is a unique feature of the building and adds value for tenants and guests alike, enhancing the overall experience of those visiting the building, as well as people passing by on the street, to whom the display is visible through large windows," Harris said. "Ultimately, it is an important design element of the architecture and is part of the overall value proposition for increasing the likelihood of tenant renewals and overall rates that can be charged in the building."

Similarly, startup The Painted City has obtained a provisional patent for "Electronic system for creating and displaying an artwork and system to facilitate communication between digital signage and mobile devices" that allows digital signage viewers to interact with screens to creat user-generated art content. The standalone sGraffito World application can be used to interact with touchscreen signage such as kiosks.

The Painted City Sign CEO and co-founder Felix Misch said his firm is "transforming digital signage advertising from a largely one-way narrowcast media into a compelling, bidirectionally interactive, creative experience." The Painted City's engagement technology "brings an entirely new and exciting experience to the digital sign user while bonding the consumer with the advertiser's message," he said. "Where the messages are advertising or promotional, engagement with the display adds significantly to message receptivity." (Various videos of the technology are available at the company's website, as well as on its YouTube Channel, sGraffito World.)

Patrons in the area of the display view ads as they are drawn to look at the artistic creation. Rendering courtesy of The Painted City.

The Painted City is differentiated by the subtractive nature of the drawing process. "This process," said Tim Jenks, co-founder and chief of technical development, "of choosing an underlying pattern, adding an overlay and then removing portions of the overlay with a variety of tools is exactly the element that opens the successful, creative realm to all — even to those who would typically turn away from any form of drawing for fear of failure. The patterns and designs that may be created using creative interface tools such as The Painted City, from a simple few lines, is visually compelling, drawing the audience to the sign to watch and then engage."

The Painted City Content Management System allows for custom setup of signage messages and artwork, the type of advertisement/informational displayed and setup of any number of "profiles" customized as required by the sign administrator. Profiles can include third-party advertising, allowing the sign administrator to sell sign time to other businesses, including that of nearby shops or community events. The timing of the sign's messages, gallery content and drawing time are all adjustable with the current CMS included with the company's fully functional prototype system.

Brands already have used The Painted City for viewer-generated content to engage consumers:

  • DDB Stockholm set up a single interactive sign for McDonald's in Sweden giving store coupons to Pong winners.
  • In conjunction with an ad campaign, the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Sydney invited players to text their name to an iconic downtown sign below the heading, "Share a Coke with…"  The sign had more than 2,500 responses in three nights and was challenged to keep up with demand.

This approach connects a mobile device with a digital sign. The mobile device touchscreen is used to create a drawing that displays both on the mobile device and on the digital sign, making the sign a canvas for the player's creative expression. Concurrently, the sign's advertisements/messages are pushed to the user's mobile device while they also remain displayed on the sign.

Posting selfies and standard photographs, including those affected by The Painted City app and popular photo morphing apps, will be added as a menu option or an associated application, the company said. The photos can then be pushed in a similar fashion as a Painted City drawing to the digital sign. Metrics indicate that this feature could be very popular with the millennial demographic, as have been other selfie-sharing or photo-morphing digital signage applications.

Sponsored selfie signs designed for specific advertisers could be used to increase brand engagement and personal identification with brands. For example, Harley Davidson signage could feature an image of a person on a motorcycle to which players could post selfie headshots to appear to be in the advertisement. Possibilities in this interactive visual realm are huge.

"User-generated content supports the success of other advertising on the display," said Misch, adding that the increased viewership and engagement adds to the appeal of a sign. And public-service or establishment messages can help build a sense of community.

But Misch argues the benefits of interactive art on digital signage don't just accrue to the advertiser or deployer of the signs.

"The process of artistic creation and expression has many positive mental, emotional and physical benefits," he said. "Self-expression is as vital to living as breathing. It is how we interact with others and the world."

As Terenzio said in Part I of this piece, "Entertainment, music and art all make up content that has the power to affect emotional connection. Digital communication has allowed traditional content like art to be delivered to more canvases quickly and more widely."

As digital signage and other immersive and engaging applications of digital media are planned and installed, they will increasingly take advantage of visual representations of data and user-created art.

Ed King, VP of Strategy at MaxMedia concluded: "As humans, we are emotionally drawn to beautiful things. They make us happy. When we're happy, our minds are open. And an open mind is primed to receive marketing messages. As the cost of technology goes down, the more we will see digital panels replace static signs. The brain is hard-wired to perceive movement - something that has kept us alive for millennia. Panels showing motion graphics help retailers communicate and reinforce brand meaning to the consumer."

Read Part I of this article, which focused on using art, interactivity and ambience to create a new kind of digital signage experience, here.

The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of those quoted in this article. Bunn is an analyst, advisor and educator providing digital place-based media expertise to end-users in the planning, design, sourcing and optimization of their initiatives. He has published more than 300 articles, whitepapers and "how-to" guides and helped to train more than 10,000 end-user and supply professionals. He can be reached at

Cover image courtesy of Cineplex Digital Solutions.

Topics: Advertising, Content, Customer Experience, Trends / Statistics

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