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Designing content for digital signage comes with a variety of issues if you’re not sure what you’re doing. Which is why we’ve created a best practice guide to help you along.
There are plenty of great digital signage templates that you can access via the ScreenCloud App Store, like Google Slides, Digital Menu Board and Canvas. These let you easily create content with no design skills required (but, having a designer create branded templates for you is never a bad idea).
However, if you’re designing from scratch then it’s useful to have some tips around the best layouts, dimensions and font sizes. If you prefer video, you can also watch the steps in the video below:
10 Guidelines for Designing Digital Signage Content
1. Digital signage ratios
Unlike designing for the web, digital TV screens are always created in the same ratio. For a horizontal screen this is a 16:9 ratio and for a portrait screen it's 9:16 ratio.
This means that any designs you create should be to fit a 16:9 or 9:16 ratio. If you’re designing for a screen type like an iPad, this may change (iPads fit a 4:3 ratio) so check your device size if it’s outside of a regular TV screen.
But you won’t need to worry about these ratios when designing content directly within ScreenCloud. Our Canvas app is set up to allow you to create perfect 16:9 content, which is ideal for landscape-orientated screens.
2. Digital signage display resolution
“Display resolution” is also important to take into account when showing content on screens. This refers to how many pixels are shown on a screen. The more pixels there are, the better picture.
In the image above all three screens are a 16:9 ratio. This means that the content would always fit the screen. The number of pixels present will determine how clear the picture is, and if the screen resolution is considered "high definition". It’s never good practice to show low-res images on your digital signage screens, for obvious reasons.
Here are the standard pixel dimensions for different types of screens:
- 960 x 540 pixels - quarter HD
- 1280 x 720 pixels - standard HD or "HD ready"
- 1920 x 1080 pixels - full HD
- 3840 x 2160 pixels - ultra HD
Wherever possible, the images and videos you share on your digital signage should be 1920 wide by 1080 pixels tall.
3. Image file size for digital signage
Ratios and pixels aside, the actual size of your file needs to be taken into account. We tend to find that 2-3MB is perfect for digital signage. This will be high quality enough to look great, but it won’t be so high that you’ll have trouble displaying it on bad WiFi, which many digital signage solutions require to show content.
4. Digital signage content layouts
There are plenty of great layouts you can use for your digital signage displays that balance the composition of the display, or that help any text on a digital notice to be seen.
Elements to consider when laying out digital signage content include:
Leave enough outside space
Because your design will be shown on a TV screen it’s important to leave some “safe space” around the edge of your design. This prevents the edges of your content from getting cut-off, a bit like a bleed does for printed materials.
Place elements where the eye line moves
Use the “F Pattern” to lay content from left to right (or vice versa), following the natural eye line.
You can also use the classic rule of thirds composition, where you place key components on the intersections of your content, which are more pleasing to the eye.
In this digital signage example poster you can see how the key elements have been placed on the intersection lines.
Use the 3x5 text rule
A digital signage layout created using the Noticeboard app.
When considering how much text to use, use the 3 x 5 rule. As the name suggests, this is where you stick to three lines of text with a maximum of five words per line, or the other way around. This will ensure your message is always succinct and easy to read by an audience, even within a short timeframe.
Organize content by hierarchy
Like most pieces of content, your digital signage design may have a piece of information that’s more key than the following information. For example, a headline, an offer or an image that stands out.
In this poster it’s the image of the burger, which makes sense because it’s a food item:
In other digital signage designs, it might be a headline text or an offer:
Check out these digital signage examples for inspiration when it comes to laying out your content.
Test call to actions
As we know from advertising, copy can make or break a piece of content. On the web, there are tons of great examples where just changing one word made a huge difference to a campaign, like the time Barack Obama changed his call to action text from “Sign Up” to “Learn More” and received millions of dollars more in funding. On digital signage, try different words, formats, lengths and actions. Also think about the visual clutter around your headline. If you take more away from the page, is your message more effective?
5. Use clear fonts and text sizing
Many digital signage displays use text which is far too small to read.
Here are a couple of guidelines that can help:
- Most digital signs are viewed from a distance of 7-10 feet away.
- Use sans-serif typefaces which are the easiest to read, like Arial, Helvetica or Verdana.
- A 20-30 point font can be seen from 7 feet away, whereas a 100-point font can be seen from 26 feet away.
6. Choose contrasting colors
Using contrasting color palettes—light text on dark backgrounds and dark text on light—is even more key in digital signage design when the audience is some distance from the screen.
Some digital signage experiments have shown that contrasting color palettes are the most effective way of getting your message seen. This is logical; if your text stands out against the background, naturally it’s going to be easier to read.
7. Use image overlays
As you’ll see in the settings of our Noticeboard app, we recommend adding a dark overlay over any background images if you’re planning on using text over it to help with contrast.
We also recommend white text on top of a dark image, or background overlay to help the text to be seen easily.
8. Check sound
It’s likely you’ve already considered whether or not your screen will play sound. TV screens using sound can be great for live videos, streaming, news feeds, YouTube and social media. If you’re playing content that requires sound, firstly ensure that it is clear enough to hear and secondly, that it’s appropriate for your environment.
Our YouTube app can be customized to show just your own playlist, but with music videos and even live TV streaming to an extent, the risk of a sound you don’t want to hear is worth considering.
9. Create zones
Using a zoned digital signage display can be a great way to maximize on-screen space and show multiple pieces of content at one time. In our zoning library you’ll see a series of zoning templates which can help you determine how to split your screen into sections.
Here, we’ve made some zoning rules for you, such as using one “hero” zone with two supporting zones and not playing two videos at any one time.
You’ll also find that some apps won’t be compatible with your ticker tape (which works best with social media, news and RSS) or with the sidebar format. Our zoning rules help to ensure that your zoned display is as clear and engaging as possible. This is the result of us testing hundreds of different formats and layouts.
10. Dwell time design rules
Part of the design of digital signage content comes down to knowing what content to show and when. As a rule of thumb, you can use the guidelines below to determine how long your content will show for:
- Short-term viewing (passer-by, shopper): 30 seconds
- Mid-term viewing (reception desk, staff member, coffee shop): 30 seconds - 2 minutes
- Long-term viewing (office, restaurant, waiting area): 2 - 30 minutes
This gives you a canvas upon which you can design your content and tailor the timing depending on how long your visitor will be in view. In offices where view time is longer, you may want two 30-minute playlists on rotation, whereas in a shop window, you may just need a minute or two of content playing on loop.
Over to you: time to design
Of course, rules are there to be broken, and digital signage is a medium that needs a little experimentation. These rules are designed to help you have a basis on which you can grow, to discover the best digital signage content possible to enthrall your audience. Begin playing around now at screencloud.com/freetrial.