Digital Signage: Confluence with built environments

Forever 21’s thread screen turned Instagram images into large-format physical art.
Photo courtesy Forever 21

Unique placemaking
As companies begin to realize digital signs do not in themselves command the same level of attention as before, due to competition with other screens and handheld devices, some of the more imaginative ones are taking the opposite path for beating ‘screen fatigue’ by combining digital signage with older technologies, such as moving lights, scrolling readerboards and even flip-disk displays.

In 2015, for example, technology agency Breakfast unveiled a ‘thread screen’ for clothing retailer Forever 21. The 907-kg (2,000-lb) machine used 6,400 spools of thread to display Instagram images carrying the hashtag #F21ThreadScreen, allowing customers to see their selfies turned into large-format art before their eyes.

The device was streamed live online 24 hours a day for one week on a dedicated website and the participants received auto-edited videos via e-mail of their images being displayed on the screen.

Requiring some 200,000 custom-designed, engineered and manufactured parts, from motors and gears to lathed wooden spools, the thread screen machine was more than one-and-a-half years in the making, yet achieved a relatively simple effect. Each spool had a 1.7-m (5.5-ft) long piece of threaded fabric rolling over it, similar to a conveyor belt, with 36 colours of fabric available for display on the 80 x 80-pixel screen.

In this way, Breakfast and Forever 21 were able to achieve a dynamic display based on physical, motorized movement.

Dynamic buildings
Using LEDs and frame systems, architects are beginning to take advantage of the potential to combine low-resolution  digital signage with components of buildings, including not just entire façades, as mentioned earlier, but also smaller features like entrances, floors and staircases. The technology for turning these surfaces into screens has substantially dropped in price, but the task of making them part of an overall design project requires a lot of co-ordination between architects, contractors and manufacturers.

ESI Design created a ‘digital streetfront’ for a building owned by Beacon Capital Partners within a growing technology hub in San Francisco, Calif. The update to the building’s façade created a distinctive visual landmark suitable for the neighbourhood’s new-tech vibe.

ESl Design updated the façade of Beacon Capital Partners’ building with a digital display that extends all the way to the lobby.
Photo courtesy Beacon Capital Partners

The 38.4 x 7.6-m (126 x 25-ft) digital display stretches from the exterior façade to the interior lobby and showcases original content comprising nature-based Northern Californian motifs, including redwoods, beaches, waterfalls and poppies. Three different resolutions are seen from multiple viewpoints, with pixel pitch varying from 10 mm (0.39 in.) at streetfront to 124 mm (4.9 in.) along the exterior entryway ceiling to 5 mm (0.2 in.) inside the lobby, where even local weather data can be displayed. Etched glass was mounted over the LEDs to diffuse their light across the entire surface, creating a more seamless effect between these multiple resolutions.

Ottawa-based UTG Digital Media, meanwhile, recently topped the technical innovation category of the 2017 International Digital Signage Awards with the first-of-its-kind LED staircase display it created for the Jewel Nightclub in Las Vegas, Nev. The staircase’s risers were removed for the installation of LED ‘ribbon’ modules with polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) protective covers, leaving the shock-absorbent top portion of each step unchanged. The resulting display can showcase images, text and/or video.

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