Creating a Digital Signage Network (16. Content Creation)

                                Content Creation and Technology Integration                                  

Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words sure knew what they were saying!  Most people, if given a choice of a huge, old and moldy vintage black and white television set versus a new high-definition lightweight, color, slim-line LCD/LED monitor, will select the latter to install in their living room.  Humans love colorful and shiny objects and demand to be entertained with stunning videos and graphics.  They do not tolerate mediocrity in broadcast media content very long.  Something else prettier and shinier will kidnap their attention elsewhere.  Is there a positive emotional factor in your content design that captures their thoughts for a second or two?  Think of certain classic television commercials that used a positive emotional tug or phrase that continues to send a message such as, the 1980’s Wendy’s fast food challenge of “Where’s the beef?”, the Geico Cavemen commercials, and the eTrade baby commercials more recently.  Each of these commercials visually resonated with the viewers with a eye appealing impression and then the message stuck in the recesses of our minds.  Your videos and static graphics can also have this legacy effect with your viewers.  When creating content for display on your signage go the extra mile and find something that will leave a true impression with your intended audience.  Our team at West Virginia University often conducts an old fashioned brainstorming session for a few minutes where we sit down with some coffee and focus on a specific client and how we can give them a “unique look” within our loop of information.  Does the client have unique branding elements that we need to use?  Does the client have a specific message that we can amplify?  How do we set this particular client’s message apart from our other clients messages?  A static page is easy for a viewer to look away from and to totally discount any good message you have to offer because it appears as just another advertisement among hundreds they see every day.  Dynamic pages will have a far better chance to capture audience attention if there is regular changes in style such as adding some pages with moving video backgrounds, animation, occasional static pages, periodic audio that accompanies a video or static page and even short video segments… maybe even high definition (HD) imagery, if your software and hardware permit.

When selecting someone to create the content that will be displayed on your digital signage keep that thought in mind –  In the FRONT part of your mind.  Our team is blessed with an outstanding content creation designer who grasps not only how important an attractive design is but also how key the integrated marketing message is in every design.  You will see examples of past and present creative content designs we use in our WVU Information Stations loops of information.  As with any “live” media, the designs evolve over time and are given a periodic “make-over” to keep them fresh and timely. Our WVU University Relations Web and Information Station Design Team is charged with creating the general WVU branding elements and these design elements are carried across all media platforms (print, video and web) for a consistent look for the brand of the institution.  One major economy of scale we have taken advantage of is with our move to the WVU Web Services department within our division and the access to three more professional designers for our content creation.  We have also found ways to pull select bits of information and graphics from existing WVU websites and YouTube to “plug in” to many of our content pages.  This allows us to have the digital signage content automatically update when a clients webpage changes.  We strive to maximize our time when creating content and this permits us to initially build the base content page for the client and then as data changes the digital signage changes immediately.

When it comes to a digital signage network it goes without saying that content design and IT technology pirouette in a delicate ballet.  It takes attractive content to grab the viewers’ attention but it also takes a lot of attention to the technology that makes the magic appear on the digital signs!  Both the creative designer and the IT specialist must understand and appreciate what each person brings to the equation.  You will be pleasantly surprised how these two positions amplify and assist each other for some absolutely stunning broadcasts of your information!  When faced with what appears to be an insurmountable challenge to display a truly cool idea, my money is on the designer, IT specialist and engineers who work with me to come up with a number of unique solutions.  Every time!  Surround yourself with people like this and it will bring you a lot of joy.

What is displayed upon your digital signage will be a testament to the entire organization, so do not discount quality for quantity.  As in the game of baseball, you want to throw your best pitch every time!  Know your audiences.  Are the demographics in your area leaning toward younger people or older people?  What will grab that particular audience’s attention from a graphics perspective?  Try to understand how they consume their media.  Do you have a short dwell time or a longer dwell time that the audience will be in front of your digital signage?  A digital sign in a waiting room in a health facility will have longer dwell times than signage located in a hallway with transient pedestrians.  Your content should be accurate, timely, informative, have a consistent and clear message, well designed, be attention grabbing, include motion, have non-cheesy transitions, and builds goodwill for the institution.  Does the message displayed have a “call to action” that makes people want to engage with your message?  Look for people in your own organization that can assist in content creation.  If they are not readily available some acceptable content can be purchased from third party content providers.

A digital sign can certainly get by using basic Microsoft Power Point slides but there is so much more available to you in the digital signage marketplace today when it comes to content creation that arrests your audience’s attention!  You can leverage video, audio, streaming video, RSS news feeds, databases, calendars, weather forecasts, social media and other forms of mass media that can be updated at will.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  The same goes for what your digital signage content will look like to the public audiences you want to impress with your messages.  I have seen some stunning digital signage content… and I have seen content that looks like some 4th grade kid threw it together, as well.  Content is king!  Take institutional pride in what you broadcast.  Every page we design goes through an approval process before it gets included in any loop of information.  Our final thoughts before publishing it to our signage are, “Is this something our university President will be proud to point to?”  You can use something like Microsoft Power Point to make basic pages of information, but that will have its limitations.  Again, you get what you pay for… and I am confident you will be well above average if you invest in a software platform that allows you to leverage the power of databases and creative design features.  Those software platforms come in all varieties and price ranges, so do some intense research in finding the one that best suits your needs, your future designs, and your budget.

Every one of our clients has a wonderful message they want to push to the masses!   With our digital signage network we design what we call “pages” of information for individual clients.  We make every attempt to differentiate each page to have its own look and characteristics.  Some clients have multiple pages that contain various types of information such as combinations of text, photographs and graphics, or even audio and video.  Each page displays that information for approximately 2 – 3 minutes with new messages displayed every few seconds in specific page regions, and then transitions to another client page at the end of that time.  When we combine multiple pages back to back we call that our “loop” or “playlist” and our typical loop is 24 – 30 minutes in duration; then at the end of the loop it goes back to the beginning and repeats throughout the course of the day.  We design many different loops for differing venues depending upon the type of information the client wants to present at their site.  Most pages pull the data that is displayed from our databases that are fed by the client web forms or the client’s existing calendar databases so that the client can update or change their information within minutes.  Using the power and efficiencies of databases frees our team from the data entry task and re-tasks existing organizational databases that the client already maintains.

If you are going to leverage the power of videos embedded within your content pages, I suggest short (1-3 minutes) duration videos since your audiences might not dwell long enough to consume the full message of the video.  It is important that the quality of the video and / or graphic images are high quality.  No one wants to look at junky video or pictures very long and the quality of your video and pictures is a direct reflection upon your brand.  We work hand in hand with our video and photography sister-units so that projects they are working on can also be showcased on our digital signage.  We broadcast video of short sports segments from our WVU football and basketball television shows, the WVU News that is produced in conjunction with the School of Journalism, and the Health Report produced with the WVU Health Sciences Center.  We also have a large selection of institutional videos we co-task with our YouTube channel.  We can effortlessly pull these videos directly from our YouTube channel and have them play in our loop whenever we want.  If you are going to use a lot of video in your own loops of information give serious thought to the audio portion accompanying the video to be played.  Ask yourself how frequently these videos (with audio) will play and if that frequency will disrupt the surrounding environment (such as nearby classrooms, offices, dorms, etc.)… you can overstay your welcome quickly if you dump a lot of “racket” into quiet areas too often.  We schedule our video segments to play at hours conducive to maintaining the peace, such as at noon or after 4:00 pm and until 9:00 pm.  Nothing says you HAVE to use audio all of the time.  If you chose to use video without audio you will simply need to rely more upon textual branding during that video to get the intended message across to your audience.  Be creative!

WVU Arts & Entertainment page is very dynamic when displayed with lots of movement to catch the eye of the viewer.  The right side region rotates upward every few seconds with a new poster pulled from a database of upcoming events as a headliner event.  The left side region has a background image from a recent concert and rotating images of other upcoming events.  The crawl region atop the left side provides an RSS feed that tells people how to purchase tickets.  The date/time region is placed in the bottom of The Flying WV logo for branding purposes.


WVU Athletics pages brand WVU sports programs with “athletic characteristics” and provide current schedules of games.  The top region and middle region pull from a calendar database for the title and text information.  We run several different news crawls across the bottom of pages.  The two bottom side regions pull from our weather and time/date databases and are placed in “the wings” of The Flying WV logo.  The various WVU athletic teams and sports background images are displayed first to let the viewer get a sense of “sports” for 3 seconds and then an opaque “glass” drops the image further into the background so the text regions are easier to read.

At West Virginia University, internal colleges, departments and organizations have the opportunity to utilize a departmental web calendar to list their current and future schedule of events.  This provides our team with an existing campus database that we can parse specific information from to display on a page within our loop of information broadcast to our digital signage.  There is no duplication in message creation or personnel costs… there is no sense in re-inventing the wheel if you can access existing content!  We simply grab this existing information using an RSS feed and have the network software drop those pieces of information into the appropriate regions of the client’s information page such as event title, place of event, date and time of event, and a brief description of the event.  Our databases pull the items to display based upon the most current date and then delete that event after the date of the event expires.  We basically re-task a database that already exists and take that information and use it on our digital signage network.  This is yet another economy of scale we have identified and put to good use.  We also provide clients with a web form to insert other current messages in real-time that triggers the message to display on a beginning date and to delete itself on an ending date.  These messages can be input into the web form by anyone within the clients department; however each message must be approved at the managerial level of that department by someone with managerial credentials we have approved.  That managerial position then becomes “responsible” for the appropriateness of the message and denoted in our message database of clients once the message has been approved by them.

The page design for the Obama Inauguration  had a patriotic background and an inset region that provided a “live” C-Span streaming video of inaugural events.  The “live” Twitter feed came from WVU students, faculty and staff who attended the inaugural events that day in Washington, D.C. in an effort to bring a special event home to our campuses.

The WVU Health Report is a two minute topical health care video produced every couple weeks by the WVU Health Sciences Center that highlights current health issues.  The background image is a layered collage and the video is inserted into a video region on the page.

You will soon see that other groups or departments within your organization will be coming to you asking, “Hey… how do we get our stuff up on those signs?”  One of our original goals was to have our clients take some ownership in their messaging options.  We created some simple web forms so that they could craft their own messages by someone on their own staff, have the message approved at the managerial level and then have it freshly displayed on the digital signage within minutes.  We did not want to become data entry clerks so we found a way for the client to engage in their own way.  And they love it!  They simply enter a message title, the body of the message, the date and time of the event, and a beginning date and ending date for it to be displayed.  The computer does the rest!

You always want to shepherd your message content zealously.  No one wants the image of the organization to be tarnished by an inappropriate message or image.  So we created the management level approval process to provide accountability for each message.  Our web forms have a simple “Approve” button for a managerial level position to send the message for publication.  It works very well.

We also designed what we affectionately call the “Dirty Word Filter” to guard against inappropriate language.  Yes, you guessed it… some of us actually spent an hour or so delving back into our sordid memories of all the possible inappropriate words, and variations thereof, that someone could try to slip passed us when in an ornery mood.  Remember, we are on a college campus and often youthful indiscretion seems appealing to some.  So, we built a small database of “indiscreet” words that scrubs every message before it hits our signage.  It is never our intent to be censors; however we do see our responsibilities in protecting the institutional brand and take those duties seriously.

When discussing the display designs that clients want to see for their messages, look for the opportunity to give them their own distinct look and feel or individual brand, in conjunction with the general brand of the organizational look.

We strongly suggest that you add an information page to your own loop of content that displays the current and forecasted weather information in your local area.  Humans are creatures of habit and one habit we have is checking what the weather is doing outside!  A simple weather indicator will get people seeking out your digital signage for the latest weather forecast.  It can be a simple free weather forecast or you can pay for a full-blown version of a national weather forecaster with all the charts, radars and weather maps.  It should play once in every iteration of your information loop.  We snag our weather information from a simple RSS feed.

Current WVU Weather Forecasts and Radar Map information are pulled from a weather database and is updated hourly.  The current forecast has a seasonal campus video playing in the background.  This video begins as the page of information first displays for 8 seconds and then an opaque “glass” drops it into the background as the forecast information overlays the image of the video for easy viewing.

If you have a Public Relations or News & Information department(s) you will be well served with timely and fresh information that can be displayed on your digital signs.  These departments have the ability to shape your institutional messages in a way that brings pride to the organization and educates the public about the good things you do.  Often organizations create periodic magazines and brochures to disseminate their corporate message to their audience.  It might take as much as three or four months to organize and assemble that information to go to the printer and finally get mailed out.  By then the information in those publications may very well be stale or published elsewhere… and the expense of that publication is associated with just one publishing.  With digital signage your messaging can be updated in a matter of minutes, instead of months, and continues to work for your every day!

Given that as a major land grant university, a prime market segment we cater to is the 30,000+ students who fill our campuses.  We see digital signage as not only a great way to communicate with the student population but as a communication medium we want them to take some ownership in as they go about their daily lives on campus.  We refer to it as “Student Engagement” with our digital signage.  We have designed a separate digital signage system that is utilized by the 300+ WVU Student Organizations department to promote information for any approved WVU student organization on our campuses.  The digital signs are in the vertical aspect ratio (think movie posters) and are tasked for not only general student organization information but also promoting student government elections, fraternity and sorority “rushes”, and intramural events.  We permit the individual student organizations to design their displayed content and provide them with specific design requirements for size of the content.  The students can use software such as Adobe Photoshop or even free software to create their designs.  Before their images are displayed the Director of Student Organizations uses a web form to approve the content for broadcast.

(Our content designs and the pages in our loop of information are constantly evolving, changing or being added to weekly.  The examples below may or may not be contained in our current loop of information but are presented as a way to show some of our design and content information.  Other blog posts have additional examples and I will add to them as we have time.  We design in layered Adobe Photoshop PSD’s and often use Adobe AfterEffects for subtle animations that add that “extra” touch of content appeal.)

During our “Engage 08” campaign, students created posters (Top) promoting various social issues in the right region of the information page.  Viewers were encouraged to text their vote for one of the ten finalist posters.  The Top 5 Posters “live” tallies (Bottom) were also broadcast in our information loop during the voting period.  At the end of the campaign the winning poster was prominently displayed.

WVU students love their college radio station U92FM and we provide an information page that lists the U92 FM Top 5 Artists each day.  (L)  Radio station staff enter the Top 5 information into a web form that populates one of our databases and plugs that information into the content page.  The design and WVU branding elements include a background picture of the U92 Radio Control Room and the fonts used are a throwback to the digital look.  The crawl across the bottom is an RSS news feed from the College Music Journal website.

2011 New Student Welcome Event (Live Polling feature)

2011 New Student Welcome Event (WVU Coliseum)

2011 New Student Welcome Event (5,600 Incoming Students)

2011 New Student Welcome Event (George Cicci moderating from laptop or iPad from the WVU Coliseum Crows Nest )

The students also enjoy interacting using social media outlets “live” by texting from their cell phones with our LocaModa Wiffiti page (R) where we pose a question on the bottom region using our WVU Twitter account, include a WVU branded background element and their answers pop-up and dance around the page.  We moderate this page (usually during the noon hour or during special events) for appropriate messages from those interacting with the digital signs.  For more on this event and how we use Social Media click on this link

CAVEAT:  When introducing Social Media content (Twitter, Wiffiti, etc.) into your “live” loop of information we strongly suggest that a moderator be used to read and approve any and all messages that come into the queue BEFORE they are displayed on your digital signage for your viewing audience to consume.  This will save you great embarrassment and the gnashing of teeth if someone “tweets” inappropriate comments to your signage.  This could be objectionable language, pictures, slanderous comments or acronyms.  The moderator simply intercepts each message before it goes “live”, takes a couple seconds to look at it to make sure it is acceptable, and then releases it to be published to the digital signage.  It is a relatively easy process that assures you that you protect your brand and that the image of your organization is safeguarded.  You will quickly find that in most settings, let alone a university setting, there are people who think it is cute to attempt to interrupt your good intent by texting objectionable material to your screens.  A trusted moderator makes easy and quick work of the approval process for the enjoyment of the audience.  We have also found that in texting situations people will use abbreviations and acronyms to shorten the length of text messages; be sure your moderator KNOWS what the abbreviation means and if it is appropriate before releasing it to the signage.  When in doubt, our moderator quarantines that particular message and moves on to the next text message.  Our interactive Social Media content is only “live” for specific or special events and at specific times when it can be moderated such as during the noon hour in the student union or during our new student orientation sessions.  You will soon discover that your audience quickly figures out how to text to the digital signage and they enjoy the experience and fun!  

Here is a great link to the cicciideas blog about “Place Based Social Media and Digital Signage in Higher Education” written by our team member and Professional Technologist George Cicci surrounding a project to engage 5,600 new students on our campuses, in one single event, using Wiffiti from LocaModa.  It was a HUGE success and has become an annual fixture at our New Student Welcome event each fall semester!



The WVU Libraries page provides interesting information pertaining to library events on campus, library schedules, and helpful information in using library services for students in the right side region of the page.  The background image is a desk blotter that is segmented into elements such as weather info, time/date info, library sub-brand elements, and calendar events.  The left side region is an image of an old library book and the page turns every 5 seconds to reveal a new image of a historic picture from past WVU life.  The object of this picture region is to provide today’s student with the rich heritage of our nearly 150 year old institution.  We want them to take ownership of their university and “to bleed Old Gold and Blue” long after they graduate.

The WVU Daily Events page provides general campus information for upcoming lectures, concerts, art displays, discussion groups, individual college events, etc.  This information pulls from various campus databases and the background image is a seasonal campus video.



The WVU Personal Rapid Transit System (PRT) information page provide current campus transportation information to students, faculty and staff at digital signage displayed at transportation platforms on our three campuses.  It is designed with a “transportation look” and a font style to portray a “technology feel” with a background image of the PRT vehicle traversing the 4 miles of track connecting our campuses.  Most riders enjoy a brief 3 minute wait for the next vehicle to arrive with current news headlines using an RSS feed and WVU PRT transportation trivia that rotates through database information every 10 seconds in the right side region.

The WVU Student Recreation Center information page scrolls through current Rec Center schedules, classes, services and events in the main region of the page.  An RSS news headline crawl and weather, time/date information is located at the page bottom region.

 A picture is worth a thousand words!

Does it build “Goodwill” (even subliminally) with the audience?

Who owns the content and maintains editorial control of the messages?

Length of the content loop (minutes)?

Percentage of generic vs. client specific content?

Horizontal aspect ratio design?  (Typical TV display)

Vertical aspect ratio design?  (Movie poster type of display)

Purchase 3rd Party Content?  (Cost?)  (Public Domain?)

                        Background GFX

                        Background JPEGS

                        Background Video

                        Foreground Video

                        Weather Data

                        Twitter interface

                        RSS Feeds, Crawls and Tickers

Hire in-house GFX artist?

Who will this GFX person(s) be?  (Skill set)

What will be considered content for publishing to public?

How often will data be updated?  (Daily, weekly, monthly quarterly)

Will it update via an IP network?

Will it be updated via individual player or via network scheduling?

Who are our clients for digital signage at West Virginia University?

                        Athletics Events

                        Athletic Arenas

                        Athletic Training Centers

                        Administration Buildings

                        Arts & Entertainment

                        Student Housing & Residence Halls

                        Student Union Food Court

                        Student Union Study Areas

                        Student Organizations

                        Student Recreation Center

                        Student Dining Halls

                        Student Bowling Alley

                        Student Billiards Room

                        Student Game Rooms

                        Transportation Department

                        College Radio Station

                        College of Creative Arts

                        College of Arts & Sciences

                        College of Business & Economics

                        College of Engineering

                        College of Law

                        College of Human Resources & Education

                        College of Geology & Geography

                        School of Medicine

                        School of Dentistry

                        School of Nursing

                        School of Pharmacy

                        School of Journalism

                        WVU Regional Campuses

                        Transportation Hubs

                        Human Resources Department



                        Art Galleries


                        Science Centers


                        Visitors Resource Center

                        Alumni Center


                        Institutional Retail Stores

                        Local Cable Television channel

What are their expectations for their content?

Are these departments self-funding their own digital signage?

Who will work with the client’s sub-brand design?

Are there Trademarks to be considered in using various logos?

Will there be a “call to action” in the content?

Does the message generate “Goodwill” with the intended audience?

Client Control of Data?

Authority and Approval of Content (Managerial Level?)

Web Forms for Client Data Input?

Does our Client have their own data and GFX available to use?

Databases needed for these various forms of data?

Text database

GFX database

JPEGS, BMP, PNG, TIFF, etc.  database

Video  (WMV, AVI, Flash, etc.) database

Calendar databases

Weather (Current, Extended Forecast, Radar Map) database

Time database

Date database

Current Temperature

“Dirty Word Filter” database

Does our designated IT person know and understand SQL Databases?

Information Page length and transitions to next page?  (How many minutes?)

Will you use video accompanied with audio?

Video settings and formats?

How often will we use audio segments in the loop per day?

Will repetitive audio make people mad who are near it daily?

Will we develop an entrepreneurial model?

Will we track Return on Investment and/or Return on Objective (ROI/ROO) ?


About swgraham2

Mountain Mists is an opportunity to develop some thought processes individually as I journey through this wonderful world; as someone who values highly effective management techniques and the art of leading teams; and through my association with West Virginia University as a professional technologist and network manager specializing in digital signage.
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6 Responses to Creating a Digital Signage Network (16. Content Creation)

  1. Andrew Saenz says:

    What digital signage software are they using at WVU? Sorry, if you posted already. I can’t find it anywhere!


    • swgraham2 says:

      WVU has over 100 standard digital signage displays across our three Morgantown, WV campuses. We use X2OMedia Xpresenter software and find it to be a wonderful addition to our network. We also use that software to power our wayfinding touch screens. In the WVU Visitors Center they also use Kinect technology for the campus map table and the RFID student majors desktop display.


    • swgraham2 says:

      We use X2OMedia Xpresenter software. Love it!


  2. swgraham2 says:

    Thank you, Marc! I am very glad you enjoyed the read. I have a lot of chapters that are available that I hope are helpful to you. Come back anytime, and if you ever have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me. Spence


  3. Marc Glorius says:

    Hello There. I found your blog the use of msn. That is a really neatly written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to learn more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will certainly return.


    • swgraham2 says:

      Marc, I appreciate your comments! Please come back anytime! As much as this blog is a journal of our path through digital signage technology at West Virginia Uninversity, I write it to assist folks like you who can find good ideas from our successes and our trials as we continue to develop our network. We have about 100 digital signs on our 3 campuses after five years of learning and are now in the process of creating some really cool wayfinding deployments and video walls, so come back and check-in on the progress!



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