10 Rules for Designing Digital Signage Content

Master designing great content for your digital screens with our best practice guide.

Apr 2019

10 Rules for Designing Digital Signage Content

If you’ve ever sat down to design something for your digital signage screens, you may have wondered: just what is the best practice design advice when it comes to creating digital signage screens? There are plenty of great digital signage templates out there, from Google Slides, to apps like Digital Menu Board which let you easily create content with no design skills required. However if you’re designing from scratch then it’s useful to have some tips around the best layouts, dimensions and font sizes.

Digital signage screens draw attention. Naturally, we want them to look good.

In this guide we’ll give you 10 guidelines for designing awesome digital signage screens. 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 when you’re 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.

2. Digital signage display resolution

When you hear people designing for TV screens you may hear them talking about something called “display resolution”. This differs refers to how many pixels are shown on a screen. The more pixels the better picture.

For example, in the image above all three screens are a 16:9 ratio which means the content would always fit the screen. However, because the number of pixels present will determine how clear the picture is, and if the screen resolution is considered "high definition". 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

This can be useful when designing for digital signage. For example, if I was using a design tool like Canva, I can set the custom dimensions at 1920 x 1080 pixels which will ensure my design is the right dimensions for my digital screens.

designing for digital signage using Canva

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

When it comes to image size, an image which is 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 eyeline moves

Use the “F Pattern” to lay content from left to right, following the natural eyeline (assuming you’re in a country where they read left to right and not right to left).

Image source

You can also use the rule of thirds, where you place key components on the intersections of your content, which is supposedly 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 Noticeboard app.

If in doubt about how much text to fill your screen with, 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 templates on design tools such as Canva, or 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. When we write copy, we become immune to its power. This makes it difficult to decipher whether your text is clear, concise and big enough to be read from a distance.

Grab a colleague and practice reading the text from far away or as you walk by, and we bet you’ll find it needs to be at least 10 points bigger.

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 an 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 remembered. 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.

Custom zone layout guide - advanced 4 zone layout 2.11.2019.png

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 awesome as possible, 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 enthral your audience. Begin playing around now at screencloud.com/getstarted.

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