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Digital Wayfinding Signage

AI, virtual/augmented reality and Internet of things might be stealing the tech limelight, but for wayfinding designers, the pace of change in digital screen technology is equally enthralling. The robustness and resolution seems to be accelerating along with a relative reduction in price (and increase in acronyms). Are we approaching a tipping point when it comes to the cost of incorporating digital screens in wayfinding signs? And how to you choose the best option for your scheme?
Composite images of different uses of digital screens in wayfinding signage

Over the last decade or so – digital, when applied to wayfinding, has referred to apps or interactive screens. Where wayfinding information has been one component of a much broader service offer – I think it’s fair to say with mixed results.  With consumers unwilling to download apps; and many examples where reliability issues have seen interactive screens replaced by traditional analogue solutions. In the immediate future, the pandemic and associated hygiene concerns will be a major consideration in any plans to install interactive screens.

So does this mean the end (in the short-term anyway) to digital display wayfinding solutions? The Velvet Principle doesn’t think so. A view supported by the number of projects developed during the pandemic that include digital screens as part of the mix. The only difference is, these screens are displaying static, semi-permanent information.

Where Now for Digital Wayfinding Signage Technology?

AI, virtual/augmented reality and the Internet of things might steal the tech limelight, but the pace of change in digital screen technology is equally enthralling for wayfinding designers. Historically, the high initial cost has limited the installation of screens dedicated to displaying wayfinding information only, for all but the deepest pockets. However, the acceleration in the robustness and resolution of screen technologies accompanied by a relative reduction in price, is resulting in a marked change. 

Although traditional print based wayfinding signs may still win the lifetime cost value argument. In a world where data can be updated across multiple sites at the touch of a button, consumers expect all information to be the current truth. Combine this with the growing imperative to reduce waste and considerations go beyond marginal cost differences. 

What are the Technology Options?

Start digging into the technology options and it can prove to be a bit of a minefield. In a market characterised by acronyms – LCD, LED, OLED, what solution is the smart money on? As with many things, it depends on the context. 

LCD Vs LED – If the signs are located externally and at a human scale, LCD is still the best option for protection against the weather and vandalism. But with LCD screens you’re limited to manufacturer specified options and don’t have the flexibility in size and shape offered by LED.

Then there’s the question of legibility. LEDs win out against LCD for brightness, so are ideal for locations exposed to bright sunlight. They also benefit further from a wider viewing angle. However even with the current Ultra HD 4K LED screens, images will be pixelated if viewing from a distance of less than 7ft. Not ideal if you need to communicate more detailed, fine-grained information, such as a map or plan.

Emerging Technologies – Which brings us round to OLEDs, the technology now seen in high-end TVs. Compared with LEDs, OLEDs have a greater contrast ratio. As they don’t require backlighting they are thinner and more flexible too. Currently they are also pricier. The organic nature of the light emitting film means that they degrade quicker, resulting in a poorer colour balance over time. The technology is also more susceptible to burn in and ghosting when displaying static images.

But don’t worry – QLEDs – a technology spearheaded by Samsung (that uses nanoscale photo-luminescent phosphorus crystals), offers all the high contrast ratio and colour depth properties seen in OLEDs.  But with a longer lifecycle and without the burn in issues. On the downside, currently the screens come in a limited range of manufacturer specified shapes and sizes. They also require back lighting so not so thin and lack the flexibility of OLED.

So yes there are some exciting developments taking place in the digital screen sector, but there isn’t an obvious technology choice. It’s about selecting the right solution for the context and particular application and establishing a good collaborative partnership with a digital screen provider.

Want to understand more about the technologies behind the different options?
Here’s some resources you might find useful about: