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Digital signs – with their bright, shifting displays – aren’t easy to ignore. You can use them to enhance shopping (especially during the holiday rush), create an unforgettable guest experience or use their intuitive interfaces to make completing tasks easy for employees.

But there’s more to digital signage than screens… Let’s take a look at all the vital components of an effective digital signage system – the kind of system you can use to win customers or encourage viewers to take a specific action.

The core of your system: The digital display screen

The digital display screen is the heart of the system and one of the first things you should consider. Your screen quality affects everything from content display to software compatibility. It’s what can make, or break, the customer experience. That’s why it needs to be up to the task you’ve set for it.

When selecting a screen, think about the dimensions you’re working with. What’s the purpose of the system? A tablet-sized screen is not going to attract much attention in a crowded mall and it’s unlikely that a hotel lobby needs a 6-foot tall touchscreen… Measure the space you’re using.  This will give you a good idea of what size screen will be most appropriate for your intended purpose.

Next, decide whether your display needs to be interactive. If you opt-in for a touchscreen option – perfect for retail spaces, government offices or hotels – you’ve got four options to choose from.

1. Resistive touchscreens

Resistive technology is best described as a “transparent keyboard” that sits on the top of the display. The upper layer is made of a flexible conducting plastic that is bonded to a rigid lower layer of conducting glass. When a visitor touches the screen, they force the plastic to touch the glass, completing the circuit. This technology is relatively inexpensive due to its widespread adoption though the screens can wear out more quickly than other screen technology due to the force being applied between the two layers. It’s well suited for low to moderate use.

2. Capacitive touchscreens

Capacitive screens work by conducting electricity through multiple layers of glass. Working together, the layers create an electrical capacitor with a field that is altered when your finger comes in contact with it.

Capacitive screens are very accurate in registering touches, have a very clear display and are very resilient to dirt, grease and moisture. Because capacitive screens rely on a person’s bioelectric field to determine where a screen has been touched, they don’t work with traditional plastic styluses. That’s why they’re great for any set-up that requires multi-touch and relies on using your hand – like taking an interactive quiz on a screen in a government facility or a retail store.

3. Surface acoustic wave touchscreens

A surface acoustic wave is based on sending acoustic waves across a glass panel. When a finger touches the screen, the waves are absorbed, making it responsive and hard-wearing. This makes this type of screen brilliant for public-information kiosks or other high-traffic indoor environments. Because it’s all glass, there are no layers that can be worn, making it one of the most durable displays available.

4. Optical touchscreens

This type of screen uses two-line scanning cameras located at the corners. The cameras track the movement of any object close to the surface by detecting the interruption of an infrared light source. The light is emitted in a plane across the surface of the screen and can be either active (infrared LED) or passive (special reflective surfaces). This technology is growing in popularity due to its scalability, versatility and affordability, especially for larger units. This makes optical touchscreens great for auditoriums, lecture halls or large indoor advertising screens.

The power behind your digital signage system: The software

The next vital component of a digital signage system is the software that drives the display. Your Content Management System (CMS) is the head office for your display unit: it controls the content and affects the display.

While you’ve got multiple CMS options to choose from, they tend to fall into three distinct categories.

1. Cloud-based CMS

When you use a cloud-based CMS, you’re essentially relying on an online-only interface. There are no complex, manual installs. Cloud-based software is brilliant if you’re managing different screens because – as long as you’ve got an internet connection – you can access your control dashboard from anywhere. This is often referred to as remote content management. Depending on the sophistication of the software, your CMS would typically include features like content scheduling, automatic updates or multiple user accounts.

2. Proprietary CMS

Some full-suite digital signage companies use proprietary software you can buy with the system or get on a subscription basis. These custom CMS solutions offer a wider range of options to clients than a pre-built offering but tend to be more expensive.

3. Open-source CMS

You can opt for a free, open-source CMS. The main downside with that is the lack of technical support. If you run into compatibility, usability and security issues, you’re basically on your own.

The glue that ties your signage system together: Content

While the screen and the software are an essential part of your digital signage system, the content is the star of the show. It’s the reason you’re setting up your system in the first place. Let’s face it: even the best display setup with a perfect interface and seamless content management will be ignored completely without the right kind of content.

Whether you’re setting up a wayfinding kiosk or a sales banner, the content should help the viewer achieve their goal. Think about what each person is doing when they see your sign. Are they wandering around a store? Checking into a hotel and looking for somewhere to grab a bite? Standing in line at a government building? The content you serve up should align with the customer’s goals. When that happens, people are far more likely to pay attention to it.

Set your system up right

When you get the three vital components down – when your hardware, software and content align with the goal for your set up – then your digital signage system can truly support your goals.