By Peter Saunders
While digital signage has now reached a broad variety of markets and applications, wayfinding represents one of the specific fields where the technology offers the most significant opportunities for changes and advancements. This is because the act of navigating a built environment is, by its very nature, dynamic.
“Traditional wayfinding has used static signage, which must serve all needs with one image,” says Jeff Collard, president of Omnivex, which develops digital signage software in Concord, Ont. “Digital signage, on the other hand, can better enable someone to choose their own path.”
As the notion of wayfinding has evolved over the years, professionals in fields like signmaking and environmental graphic design (EGD) have studied various systems and their results. Their efforts have yielded a better understanding of a visitor’s needs upon entering a space for the first time, as well as when revisiting that space after changes have taken place.
“Traditional wayfinding offered simple, predetermined messages,” says Doug Bannister, Omnivex’s CEO and director of software development. “The information was general and it was hard to distribute updates. Some of these signs were later converted to digital signs, but were still not very flexible.”
The issue of flexibility is important because many facilities with wayfinding sign systems need frequent updates.
“When things change and events get moved, such as a seminar in a conference centre, you want your signs updated automatically,” says Collard. “That’s more cost-effective than changing them out by hand.”
Part of the challenge is first recognizing what digital signage can achieve that static signage cannot. Bannister and Collard point to examples like the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), which shares a campus with Durham College in Oshawa, Ont.
“When UOIT deployed their digital signage network, they wanted to provide wayfinding, but also student information and event listings,” Bannister explains. “They realized they could divide the screen layout into different areas for different departments to manage.”
To meet the needs of some 8,000 students in two buildings, UOIT turned to ‘smart content’ for its digital signage network, allowing the on-screen layout to react to both preset rules and changing conditions. Thus, the signs display not only updated news and weather forecasts, but also live event updates and—by tying into the campus’ security system—emergency announcements. Even upcoming classes, after all, may not always be held in the same locations as in the past, so the signs can be updated to reflect this.
“Each screen in the network can deliver a unique message, with content that is contextual and relevant to the viewer,” says Bannister. “You just need a system in place to send that information to each screen.”