Buyer beware: Traits to look for in digital signage software

 
Aug. 9, 2011 | by Bill Yackey

Digital signage software companies spend a lot of time working on detail-oriented features for their platforms. After all, in a space that has become saturated with cheap (and sometimes free) software options, each company is looking for a differentiator to set their product apart from the competition.

So much is invested into these details and marketing them that the basics of intuitive operation of a platform can sometimes be lost. Many new adopters of this technology are SMBs who have a small number of screens and don’t require advanced features in their software. What they do require is software that works easily. It’s the basics that really matter the most.

Before getting overwhelmed with marketing and feature-selling, those investigating digital signage software should make sure their packages achieve some of the following basics:

PowerPoint-Like WYSIWYG interface. You’ve heard this before: “If you can use PowerPoint, you can use our software.” But, is it really that easy? PowerPoint gives you a WYSIWYG design interface so you know exactly what is going to show up when you hit play. It lets you free transform pictures and text and arrange them just as you’d like. It is not bound by predetermined frames and layouts.  This kind of design simplicity is what users are looking for, especially beginners.

Smart previewing.  Just as PowerPoint has a “view slideshow” feature, digital signage software should have the same, and should show what is actually going to be on the screen. If there’s video, make sure the video runs in the preview. If there are transitions, make sure they’re smooth. It is very helpful to have the preview pop up in a new window, so the user can view both the preview and the design at the same time to identify errors. Also, when previewing effects like transitions, make sure they are of high quality and are not jittery to give the user the best idea of what they are working with.

A modern interface. Believe it or not, there is software out there that looks like it’s still compatible with Windows 98. Interface graphics are pixilated, buttons are squared off, etc.  Competitive software will look the part. Good software I tried had a Windows Vista or Apple-like feel – metallic blue and grey colors, images as buttons, hover-over descriptions of each button.

Drag and drop media importing. Whether it’s email, design software or even Facebook, drag and drop has become a standard practice for importing media. Users should be able to drag and drop images, copied text, and media into the design interface and the software should be able to recognize it and assign that media to designated folder on the media server.

Preloaded templates. Especially in the SMB market, users are looking for a quick solution and may not have libraries of branded material available to dump into a media library. The software should come pre-loaded with generic templates, images and even video to help them get started and get quick results.

Simple scheduling. Figuring out when and where to run content shouldn’t be complex. Users should have the ability to select content they’ve created, check off which screens they’d like to play, then be able to input specific times for it to play, down to the second. This should all occur on one page of the interface. Also, it’s a simple but overlooked aspect, but make sure the time zone is clearly displayed next to the times when scheduling to avoid confusion.

Exportable playback audits. Marketers are going to need metrics for the signage network. Most packages are equipped with playback audits, but not all are specific. Users should be able to drill down and filter reports to show results for groups of screens, individual screens and pieces of content. These reports should be exportable in .csv, Excel and other common spreadsheet formats.

As with anything else, the key to finding a software platform that works for you is to try it out yourself. Most vendors will give you a trial version of their software, some will even license the full package to you for a period of time. Take a spin through it and find what interface and features make sense for you and your company’s specific needs.


Bill Yackey / Bill was the longtime editor of DigitalSignageToday.com, and continues to be a keen observer of the digital-out-of-home space.
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