Digitizing the Built Environment

Today’s digital signage can be highly adapted and complementary to the built environment

Digital signage provides a sophisticated way to reach and engage people in public or private environments in a relevant, timely, and creative way.


Today, you’re more likely than ever to see a wide array of screens of different sizes and shapes in stores and malls; by the roadside and on street furniture; in corporate offices, bars, clubs, pubs, and leisure venues; and in education and healthcare establishments.


We still watch TV, listen to the radio, and surf the web, but there are so many channels, options, and distractions now reaching groups of people before they go out, or when they’re out – and that’s challenging to brands, retailers, and government departments. One of the answers is to use digital signage, which is why it’s now the fastest-growing media in advertiser dollar spending in terms of all media, including the web.


Digital signage offers those who own or operate such networks with an ideal platform to engage, educate, entertain, and inform viewers, and, in doing so, offers quality content that reflects the brand and the built environment. Digital signage is 28-percent more effective than static posters when it comes to delivering a branded message. For the vast majority of people who view digital signage, 77 percent recalled the content they saw in a recent retail research study.


Why is digital signage so effective? In one regard, it’s because digital signage allows what was once “one message for all consumers” (the model applied by traditional and broadcast media) to become hyper targeted (one message per channel per location per time period per person). Therefore, it’s highly relevant to that viewer at that time in that location, and it’s this relevancy, timeliness, and appropriateness that elicit a positive response from viewers because it feels designed for them.


It’s also clear from almost every study commissioned that implementing a digital signage network improves the viewer’s assessment of the “image” of a location (e.g., the host or landlord), where image relates to people’s perception of modernity, attractiveness, and efficiency.


Specifying Digital Signage

Specifying the digital signage network at the construction point rather than at the fitting-out point is ideal because digital signage networks require an infrastructure of power, cabling, and mounting systems. Specifying and installing this infrastructure prior to the final fix will save the project considerable expense, limit site impact, and enable the network to be installed in a highly sympathetic manner, providing a commercial benefit to the construction program and a seamless finish to the end product.

Digital Signage: On the Horizon

Looking into the future, architects, space planners, and landlords will have a wide range of exciting digital signage developments to look forward to that will add viewer value and experience to any built environment, including:

  1. Screens that will come in more shapes and sizes. OLED technology will mean that, in a few years, you’ll be able to literally “wrap” screens around anything you like (columns, walkways, and floors).
  2. The emergence of 3D and holographic technology, which will help bring the picture out of the screen and into the environment.
  3. Screens that interact with viewers and users through touch and gesture, which will provide exciting ways to select information, play games, and have fun.
  4. Screen and cell phone technology that will increasingly converge allowing each to (partly) control the other to enable landlords and user to connect, share, and trade information.


When designed and implemented in concert with the built environment, digital signage can enhance and improve the actual or perceived quality of a space; if you’re designing for a client where there’s a need to deliver a tangible customer experience and deliver messages in a managed way (be they commercial, entertainment, or informational), then it’s likely that digital signage will offer a solution that adds value to the building, the environment, and the people within it.


People are now highly savvy when it comes to digital media, and they’re expert consumers and creators of digital media; they create and manage digital content as they go about their daily business (twittering, texting, surfing, and working). They often expect digital content and have become adept at engaging and using it.


Architects should take into consideration the media habits of the people they’re designing spaces for and consider how, where, and what digital media could add experiential and commercial value in a manner sympathetic or complementary to a building. 


Digital Signage in Action

Today’s digital signage can be highly adapted and complementary to the built environment. By way of example, in 2009, Bayer covered its entire former headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, with an LED digital media display totalling more than 17,500 square meters to promote its brand.


Launched in early 2009, Westfield shopping mall in West London, England, uses digital signage to great effect by using large-format “spectacular” screens to deliver the “big message,” and smaller, floor-mounted screens to deliver more targeted and discrete messages at particular points throughout the mall.


Wal-Mart has been running its digital signage network for more than 15 years in all of its stores. Its network allows the store’s brand and suppliers to reach 100 million customers a week with highly targeted content designed to improve the customer experience, drive purchases, and improve loyalty.


Chris Heap is managing director at The Imperative Group