“What advice do you have for designers building digital content for transparent displays?”
Screen technology continues to evolve, and with ongoing advancements, new opportunities and challenges arise for effective content creation. Transparent digital canvases are a great example of true innovation. The possibility to display both physical and digital elements in one cohesive experience opens up a whole new door for content.
There was a bit of a pause in the manufacturing of transparent LCD and OLED panels a couple of years ago, but since then, there has been a great surge of transparent screens in the market. OLED technology enables thin, efficient and bright displays and lighting panels. OLEDs are currently used in many mobile devices, some TVs and lighting fixtures. OLED displays offer a better image quality compared to LCD or Plasma displays and can also be made flexible and transparent. This combination of OLED technology on transparent display layers has greatly enhanced the contrast and clarity possible. Many OLED makers are developing transparent OLEDs, and we have seen prototypes up to 55 inches in size (the largest and most advanced transparent OLED prototypes have been demonstrated by Samsung and LG). LG Display showcased several of its OLED technologies at SID DisplayWeek. The most impressive display was a 77-inch panel that is both flexible and transparent. The large panel features a 4K (3840×2160) resolution. The bending radius of the display is 80 millimeters. This seems to be the same display announced in June 2017. Several other companies have released recent evolutions to transparent display technology. Among these companies Taiwan-based AU Optronics (AUO) demonstrated the company’s latest OLED, LCD and Micro-LED technologies at SID 2018 where they unveiled a large 13-inch transparent AR AMOLED shown for the first time. The 13-inch panel features a resolution of 1150×575 (100 PPI) and a brightness of 200 nits. China PMOLED and AMOLED producer Visionox demonstrated its first transparent OLED at SID Displayweek recently.
Some challenges when transparent displays first came around had to do with lower pixel resolution and reduced contrast and brightness ratios, but with the new advancements revealed at SID 2018, these “limitations” are not really a factor. There are, however, still some challenges to producing effective content for transparent displays that should be considered.
Balancing Opacity and Transparency:
Establishing the right balance of transparency in the content to allow physical elements to show through but still have the digital content clearly visible is probably the most important. There is no perfect formula for this as it really depends on what is the more important element … the physical or digital? In a retail context, product displays or storefront windows can blend hard goods, props and structural elements, surrounded with digital layers of content to create depth and three-dimensional scenes. Let’s consider an athletic shoe display in a transparent digital display box. This is something that many have seen out in the retail world as a few of the major sports apparel brands have released versions of this. The shoe itself is clearly the hero, and the digital is meant to be an accent that helps convey lifestyle and even customization possibilities in some examples out there. In this case, the transparency is greater to not obstruct the product. Another common example is transparent fridge doors often used by large beverage companies. Several of the largest global brands in beverage brands have released transparent displays like these. In this case, the digital content has moments where there is transparency, but then the content becomes close to being solid to cover the physical product all together. Before you can begin creating content for this medium, you must first establish what the right balance should be for your experience.
Clarity and Legibility:
Type is something that can prove to be very tricky for this medium. With standard screen technology, basic things like viewing distance in relation to font sizes can be a little challenging, but for transparent displays, this becomes even harder. When you are able to see though your image, “contrast” is not just about light to dark separation. It is also between image v. no image and background v. no background, and this can all add to text being un-clear or non-legible if not designed correctly. You should consider keeping your font sizes larger in most cases and also a bit heavier in weight than you might on a regular display. Also, choosing colors that contrast from your digital backgrounds as well as your physical environment is very important. Given that the amount of elements in your scene will likely be higher than in a normal display, and given the physical elements also visible, the amount of copy should probably be kept to a minimum wherever possible as a general rule of thumb. It is also better to try and focus more on larger imagery, graphical elements with pop and contrast and have higher contrast on the most important digital elements.
The best advice for producing effective content for evolving technology is to use creative agencies that specialize in creating digital content experiences that engage customers quickly and emotionally. This medium requires the latest technology to work, and it also requires advanced content creation to be effective.