Creating a Digital Signage Network (40. Wayfinding Deployments)

Getting from Point A to Point B… without crying!

Digital signage deployments of Wayfinding applications have the potential for growth in any venue, public or corporate.  Given that I am involved in all things “digital signage” at West Virginia University we obviously see it as another burgeoning market for our digital signage team to pursue with excitement… and trepidation.  With more than 200 buildings on our Morgantown, WV campuses there will be a significant market in some of those buildings for deploying good wayfinding campus maps, building floor plans and building staff directories.

The object of the exercise is to get an uninformed campus visitor to the doorway of a place they need to be.  Plain and simple, right?  Not so fast!  It all boils down to how accurate and detailed your information becomes to that uninformed visitor.  It also depends upon your long-term commitment to this unique form of digital signage by the timely updating of the information, whether static or database-driven, when that information changes.  Stale or out of date information is worthless to the institution and will negatively impact any goodwill garnered from your digital signage.

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were charged to explore the western wilderness of the young United States (1804-1806) and the western wilderness to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean, their total knowledge “database” pretty much ended and began at the Mississippi River.  Beyond the edge-waters of the Mississippi River lurked great uncertainty and grave dangers.  President Thomas Jefferson did not provide the explorer group with much more than the charge to find a “direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce with Asia”… and while you’re at it write down everything you see!  They were creating a wayfinding application and intel database of sorts, that would benefit millions of people who would eventually follow in their tracks across the plains, mountains and deserts to the shores of  the Pacific Ocean.  Operating in the dark, formidable urban wilderness and without serviceable maps is scary for all of us if we don’t know where we are going or how to get there.   This is the same, though only slightly less dramatic, when we enter an unfamiliar building and need to find someone, in specific.  We need someone or some thing to help us find our way!  Do we work up our courage and ask someone for directions and then write them down before we forget them?  Is there a magic box that can tell me where I need to go?  Is there a large and current map on a wall somewhere to help me reconnoiter?  I need information… fast!  I need a wayfinding thingy!

The burning questions then become, “Is the effort worth it to figure it out?  How do we create one?  What is it going to cost?”

Is the effort worth it?  Think about it… would it be worth it to you to have reliable directions to get to your destination or would you rather waste your valuable time poking your head into every office door until you find the person you think you are looking for?  I would assume most people would find a value to it and appreciate the experience in a more positive way, rather than being frustrated by wasting their time.  Convenience in wayfinding builds goodwill with your audience using your wayfinding digital signage.  Want to really impress you wayfinding audiences with just a little extra effort?  Make it capable to be accessed from their smartphones!

How do we do it?  You will need to do some research on vendors who offer wayfinding solutions in both the areas of software and hardware.  This wayfinding technology is a significant departure from the standard digital signage deployments in that it may require a touch-screen component for navigating a building floor-plan map or names directory.  Obviously, a simple names directory would not take much to create if it was contained on a single digital sign and on one single page, however if you want to utilize a floor-plan map and a names search feature you will need to consider a computer, touch-screen technology, a database, navigation buttons and some snazzy graphic design.

Touch-screen technology uses things like pressure (pressing your finger on a button) or even infrared sensing (the digital sign actually senses the movement of your finger to a particular button area).  Either way, the digital sign touch-screen takes what amounts to an X-Y coordinate of that pressed button on the screen… talks to the database in the computer to find that Professor Plum is located in the Library with a lead pipe… and then tells you how to get to the Library to get killed by Professor Plum.  (I loved the game “Clue” as a kid… and always thought Miss Scarlette was HAWT!)

Touch-screen digital signage is accomplished by either an overlay that is placed over top a digital sign or is actually integrated into the digital sign itself.  We are experimenting with an integrated version currently.  Obviously, there will be some software that interfaces between the digital sign and the touch-screen technology that will need to be included.  Once you begin the graphic design process of what the content on the screen / monitor will look like you will want to include some brief instruction on how to use it and any pertinent navigation instruction.  The buttons will need to be appropriately sized in the graphic image to be displayed for use and interaction, the proper font sizes to use for easy readability, and you may want to consult any ADA (Americans With Disability Act) requirements you need to consider as to placement of the signage at a facility, especially if it is not flush mounted to a wall.  (Even if it is flush mounted to a wall there are ADA requirements.)

First Wayfinding Deployment at West Virginia University College of Business & Economics

You will need to determine if it will be a flat wall mount digital sign or a table type of construction.  Regardless of your choice, you need to make sure that it is sturdy and will not bounce when someone pokes the buttons!  If it has any bounce or play in the mounting the user may hit buttons more than once and gets strange results.  We have ordered two different pedestal designs… the first was a single post pedestal and we sent it back right away due to instability with the 40″ monitor.  The second is a dual post pedestal mount and we will need to reinforce it to take the bounce out of it with some shims we made and we will also make a small bracket to attach it to the wall underneath out of sight.  The weight of a monitor greatly impacts your decision on a pedestal mounting solution.

The displayed image will need to be easy to read and intuitive with easy to understand navigation elements.  You should find someone who is competent in webpage design, especially if it will be anything other than a single static MSPowerPoint slide for a basic one page names directory.  The webpage designer should have knowledge of how a database can interact with the touch-screen design and navigation features and an understanding of excellent content creation and branding.

Depending upon how much information you want to provide during the user experience, you may want to employ the use of a basic database to navigate to different names, rooms, floors, areas, pictures that will be called up by the touch-screen when pressed.  It needs to be a clean look and easy to maneuver when touching the various buttons.  Remember… whatever image you present to your wayfinding audience is a direct reflection on your institution and brand.  You want to make the BEST impression you possibly can since often wayfinding digital signage is the “point of entry” for your visiting guests.  You will want a well created screensaver graphic that is well branded to be displayed when people aren’t poking your buttons!  The collaboration between a sharp web designer and your digital signage IT person will leverage their combined talents and creativity to create a spectacular wayfinding experience.

What is it going to cost?  Like anything else in life, the cost will be dependent upon how robust you want to create your wayfinding experience for users.  Make no mistake, it will be a commitment for a computer, monitor, touch-screen, mounting solution, software and power/network installation.  You will have fixed and variable costs.  Fixed costs might be the software that can be purchased once and retasked at addition sites, and power/network drops installed by your own facilities people , while your variable costs will be monitor sizes and computers.  You may not need an expensive super-charged computer to perform this limited task.  This is where the benefit of a great vendor / integrator contact will pay dividends as you gain knowledge of how to launch a wayfinding application.  Our primary vendor / integrator has saved us tens of thousands of dollars over the years by working hand in hand with us when we are in our R&D phase of a project.  Once you are up to speed on that process and know your costs, you can export the concept from building to building and potentially find additional economies of scale.

Very interesting vertical wayfinding using X2O Media software at Hyatt Regency Hotel Hyatt Regency…


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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