Best Practices for Creating Content for Your Digital Sign
This article applies to: CUView Digital Signs
The Cornell community is committed to accessibility in all communications, including digital signage.
High contrast. Use text that has sufficiently high contrast with the background to be legible to those with limited vision. If you need to test the contrast between your text and the background, use WebAIM's Color Contrast Checker as a guide.
Font sizes. Keep text large enough that your message is legible from a reasonable distance. Not all those seeing your sign will be standing beside it.
Clarity. Use straightforward terms and sentence structure. Be as brief as possible. Supplement text with clear, simple graphics where necessary to make an instruction or explanation more clear.
Interactivity. Touch-screen signs that allow users to use buttons or links to access additional information should conform to ADA requirements. In general, that means the interactive elements should be between 36 and 42" above the floor and not require more than a 10" reach. Signs with wayfinding applications should provide accessible routes to all listed building locations.
Specifications for Content
Most digital signage on campus is displayed on HD screens. Like most modern televisions, these use a standard widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. The Appspace channels which publish to these signs use that proportion by default.
Some older screens on campus, however, use the older SD format, which has a 4:3 aspect ratio (like older pre-HD televisions). Also, keep in mind that some signs on campus are installed with a vertical, or portrait, orientation (the TV is "turned on its side").
Typical specifications for individual content images:
Landscape (horizontal), 16:9
HD signs: 1920 x 1080 px (the majority of digital signs around campus)
4K signs: 3840 x 2160 px
Portrait (vertical), 9:16
HD signs: 1080 x 1920 px (Olin and Uris libraries in particular have vertical lobby signs)
4K signs: 2160 x 3840 px
Landscape (horizontal), 4:3, 1440x1080 px
(some older signs still use this specification)
Consider preparing versions of the art in both landscape and portrait orientations if you plan to share your slide with other units on campus. You can use images that have higher resolution (more pixels) than the following, so long as they are proportional (that is, keep the same aspect ratio of width and height, so that the image doesn't appear to be stretched or squeezed). When in doubt about the target specifications of your particular sign, check with your local IT administrator or the CUView service manager.
When preparing video for your sign, if you have an HD sign, render it using "Widescreen" specifications (1080i or 1080p), or as "Fullscreen" (720p) if you have an SD sign.
Font consistency. Stick with a minimum of typefaces. Usually one (or at most, two) is fine; you might use one typeface and font size for headings, and another for details. Avoid novelty fonts such as Comic Sans and handwriting fonts, which tend to detract from the professionalism of the communication. Examples of clean typefaces used in official Cornell communications can be seen on the Brand Center's Typography page.
Colors. Avoid wild or overly vivid color palettes, colors that clash, or combinations of text and background color which make the text difficult to read. (This is particularly important to ensure accessibility for those with limited vision). For guidance, consult Cornell University Brand Center: Colors.
White space. Don't crowd the text and other elements. Provide generous margins for text, images, and other content. Crowded material tires the viewer's eye.
Typefaces and text styles. Sans-serif typefaces are generally more legible onscreen than serif ones. Italics can be more difficult to read on digital signs, particularly when entire paragraphs or blocks of text are italicized. Consider using bold or color to emphasize words or phrases instead—or simply editing the content down to essential phrases.
URLs. Webpage URLs (links), particularly on non-touchscreen signs, serve little use. They cannot be remembered easily nor acted upon by viewers. Avoid URLs unless they are simple and memorable, such as "news.cornell.edu"—that is, something a typical user might quickly type into a phone's browser while that slide is visible (typically, 8-15 seconds).
Focus and Context
Surroundings. Where is your sign situated? If it’s in a waiting room or lobby with seating, it might be appropriate to have slides with a bit more content (or even video), or with longer durations for each slide in the playlist, than would be practical for a sign located, say, in a busy hallway where people walk quickly past. Either way, viewers’ attention spans are likely even shorter than you think they are.
Be concise. Communicate only 1-2 key points of information. Keep each slide’s message simple and straightforward.
Don’t overwhelm. Think about what a viewer can take in during the 8-12 seconds that a typical slide is visible. Think 1-2 bullet points' worth of information, not 1-2 paragraphs' worth. Do not use long block paragraphs; no one will have enough time to read them.
Action. Do you want your slide to get the viewer to do something? Make sure you’ve communicated how they can do so in clear, easily understandable instructions or steps.
Provide brief specifics for events. Always include concise time, date, and location information for an event notice. Direct the viewer to further details with #hashtags, @usernames, recognizable icons, or—if very short and memorable such as "it.cornell.edu"—webpage URLs.
Branding and Legal Considerations
Copyright. Do not use copyrighted images or other content without permission or licensing.
Brand identity. Following brand guidelines (consistent logo, colors, fonts, layouts) makes your department or unit more memorable and increases the public's recognition of your communications. Use official logos, lockups (graphic of an organization's name in an official style or typeface), icons, and color schemes. Your college, unit, or department may also have its own set of brand guidelines; if so, be sure to follow them. If you're not sure, consult a communications or graphics design professional in your unit or college for guidance. The University’s Design Center is a good reference tool and offers good examples.
Don’t misuse others’ icons. If you use another organization’s logo or icons (for example, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook) be sure to obey their branding requirements. Most well-known organizations have figured out how to make their logos and icons professional-looking and effective. They will want you to use these graphics properly, too! (You can often find guidelines by Googling an organization's name and "brand.")
Believability. When looking for images for your content, particularly those from a stock photography service, choose those which depict scenes that are appropriate or believable for your college, department, or organizations’s students, faculty, or staff. Avoid generic stock photos with expressionless corporate models.
Design matters. If design isn’t your thing, take advantage of templates in Appspace, PowerPoint, or Google Slides to assemble drag-and-drop content more quickly and efficiently.
Quality. Be sure to use high-quality images (larger than typical sign dimensions, which are 1920 by 1080 pixels). Resizing small images to fit larger signs results in unprofessional-looking slides that are blurry and pixelated.
Avoid snapshots. In the age of smartphones with good cameras, people will not take signs seriously if they use have poor-quality images. It’s better to start with high-resolution images which are LARGER than you need and let the design or sign layout software scale it down. Avoid generic and Microsoft Office clip art. Avoid using snapshots taken by a non-professional unless you are skilled at retouching, cropping, and color-correction.
Mix it up. Vary the layout, images, and other visual elements from slide to slide so the changes catch a viewer's eye. Try not to bore viewers.
Keep your content fresh. Nothing will lose the interest of those who regularly see your sign than the sense that it’s showing the same old thing, day after day, week after week.
Check your work. Review the message carefully to make sure event details and other facts are correct. When in doubt, check your source or verify details with a knowledgeable person.
Proofread. First use a spell-checker on your text, then proofread it slowly and carefully by eye. Ask a trusted second person to proofread it again. Typos will cause readers to take your message or event less seriously.