1. Mount it Right
You may have walls sturdy enough to hang a 4 or more LCD screens or a large LED “video wall.” And you may not. LCD screen weights vary by manufacturer, so there is no stock answer to the “How sturdy a wall do you need to mount them?” question. The same is true for large LCD arrays. Some installations may require a separate rack mount or additional supports within the mount wall. An experienced contractor or sign vendor can help you decide.
2. Simplify the Software
Digital signage design can incorporate basic graphics, PowerPoint-type slide shows, and even full-motion video. Thousands of books have been written on each of these topics, and new software is developed every year, so there is always more to learn.
Luckily, a lot of that new software makes digital sign design easier, not harder.
For instance, Wirespring’s FireCast EasyStart is a small hardware appliance with built-in software that the manufacturer says you can learn how to use in about half an hour. Once you master EasyStart, you can move on to more complex electronic sign software—or at least know what you’re talking about when you hire sign designers or software developers.
3. Calculate the Current
LCD or Plasma sign screens—essentially heavy-duty TVs or computer monitors—all have wattage requirements specified by their manufacturers. Graphics-capable LCD signs’ power requirements are typically expressed in watts per square foot or square meter. A competent electrician can calculate the current needs for your digital signs. Since running new wiring can get expensive, especially in older buildings, you may want to talk to an electrician before deciding how large your signs should be, and whether you should choose LCD arrays or LED screens.
4. Get Your IT Staff Onboard
AV-IT network integration problems are disappearing rapidly. Newer digital sign servers are server computers like any others. They all have IP addresses, so they are devices on your network, just like desktop computers, printers, and other networked devices. If you have sign server hardware, and it’s so old that it doesn’t work comfortably over the Internet or with your corporate intranet, you probably should look at replacing that hardware. You may have a pleasant surprise if you do: sign server prices are much lower now than they were 10 or 15 years ago.
Whatever you do, buy-in from your IT people is essential. IT people and network admins are notoriously leery of outsiders adding untested gear to “their” network, for—understandable—security and reliability reasons. Bringing your IT people into the digital signage selection process at the beginning will not only make the installation go smoother, but you might find that your IT people have valuable input that will save time and money.
5. Avoid Common Mistakes
One industry expert who doesn’t want to be quoted by name about this topic says the worst experiences he and his company have are with people with tech backgrounds who decide they are going to build an ad-supported sign network even though they have no sales experience. The school district administrators tend to love the idea, because they get “free” signs. But: “Do they (the tech people) think a sales guy can walk in and become an instant tech wizard?” our expert asks. “Why do they expect it to work the other way around?” He says these ventures almost always fail, leaving blank screens in the businesses that hosted them. Who, then, owns those screens? And any leftover content on them? “It’s a different story every time,” our expert says, “but someone almost always goes away angry.”
So the question here becomes, “Why do we want digital signage?” If your purpose is to convey important information to your faculty and students, you may want to avoid having outside ads on your signs altogether.
Another whole group of deployment mistakes have to do with sign placement. Even a huge, $20,000, ultra-bright LCD screen with great graphics on it may not attract attention if it’s hanging from a high ceiling where people don’t notice it. Almost every “where to put your digital signs” article says the best place to attract attention is at or just slightly above eye level. And to find the best place for your brilliant news signage, how about making your first few digital signs standalone units that you can move around and test in a number of locations to see if people stop to look at them? At the same time, you can see if glare from sun-drenched windows or overhead lights is going to be a problem. If it is, either adjust your signs’ locations or check out high-brightness displays from Samsung, NEC, and other commercial LCD and LED panel manufacturers.
6. Save money with signs that are only partially digital
Even fully-changeable digital signs typically have half or more of their screen area occupied by static content—the business name and its logo rarely change, for example. So why waste costly LCD screen area on static content instead of making a static, well-lit or backlit sign with a dynamic screen above or below it or in a cutout in its center?
7. Think interactive
If you don’t engage your sign viewers, you can’t communicate effectively with them. Digital signage is about increasing communication with your target audience wherever they are, whatever they’re doing.
8. When All Else Fails: “Digital Signs and Displays for Dummies”
There really is such a book, and you can get your free copy here. It’s well worth reading before you start to invest your school’s hard-won money in digital signage.