Ask the Board – May 21, 2018 | THOMAS KUNKA


“What are some of the most effective ways to utilize smaller surfaces for signage or projection?”

When thinking about smaller surfaces, one striking example is room signage. “Room signage” refers to small displays or tablets located near entryways to rooms that can be scheduled as resources. Displaying the daily schedule for conference rooms is the most common example thereby replacing the eyesore printout created by someone thatmorning and taped to the doorframe.  

Room signage goes beyond what many people think of as “digital signage.” Room signage is more about data and integration than putting images onto large displays. Room signage applications integrate with electronic calendaring, event management systems and other sources of information while dynamically putting the right schedules outside of the right rooms. No paper printouts. Schedules are updated automatically moments after changes are made to the schedule.

Although the primary function of room signage is focused on scheduling, the addition of interactivity provides the opportunity to do more than display data. We can create user experiences. For instance, someone standing at the door can not only see the schedule for the room, but would also be able to navigate through it to see future availability and, if we choose, schedule it right there and then. Interactivity also allows additional functionality such as directory services, emergency information and even more information about the room itself. 

One innovative example of this on my own campus was a department that combined the concept of a “donor wall” with their room signage. In a newly constructed academic building, there were many labs, classrooms, conference rooms and other spaces that were made possible through the generous contributions of alumni and corporate donors. Using 39 interactive room signs, the department was not only able to deliver space-specific scheduling and directory information, but with a touch of a button, it was able to provide detailed information about the donors that made specific spaces possible. This was a touch that I found fascinating and engaging.  

Recently, room signage applications have begun to integrate multi-colored LED lighting as free/busy indicators. Convergence between digital signage and IoT concepts was inevitable, and I believe that the future lies in more than just traditional displays and projection, but in the integration of devices that help us to communicate (especially when we have limited space) with sensors that will allow our signage to become more responsive to the environment and our audiences. Soon, we will be able to walk up to a closed door and look at a room sign, and not only be able to tell when the room is scheduled, but we’ll also know if there are people in the room without having to knock or peek inside. We will have the sensors and the sophisticated integration to make this appear seamless. And it is worth our time and attention. 

In my mind, room signage has the greatest growth potential of any type of signage we have today. This is especially true on large university campuses. Such campuses can have thousands of classrooms, labs, conference rooms and other managed spaces. Such variety provides an opportunity for digital signage at a scale unlike what we have ever seen. This will also provide us with new challenges because the scale in question will be measured not in the growing size of displays, but rather in growing quantities and complexity. We will have to deal with the realities associated with vast numbers of small displays, and even smaller computing devices, installation/infrastructure, integration, licensing and management required to make them all work reliably and seamlessly. We will have to concern ourselves even more with matters of usability and accessibility in both physical design and content design.

In the example project featuring 39 room signs, only a small fraction of the potential rooms in the new building were outfitted with room signs. With the success of such projects, the bar can only be raised higher. Will future construction and remodeling projects have room signage as the rule rather than the exception? Only time will tell, but great opportunities often do present us with great challenges, and I have no doubt that we will rise to meet them. 

About Author

Senior Application Specialist
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

End User Council

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