“In a busy setting, do animation and sound in particular distract viewers from absorbing your messages, or do they help to draw attention? How much is too much?”
There does not appear to be a hard rule as to when digital signage should utilize supporting audio. The decision to include audio should consider the environment, traffic flow, content and overall goal. The environment may be the biggest factor because the sign may be in a noisy area, contain competing audio, or strive for a certain experience. The type of audio varies by design. Some include steady background music, talking heads, or occasional look-at-me sound effects.
Here are some signage scenarios in which audio could be used:
- Hotel Lobby – Signs and kiosks will likely be muted because of the lobby experience music
- Fast Food – Menu boards usually don’t have audio, and it could interfere with hearing orders
- Store Wall – Merchandising displays often utilize look-at-me audio even with store music
- Entertainment Venue – Promotional screens utilize video with audio and effects to fight for attention
- Transit Area – Travel time boards are primarily visual as the environments are extremely noisy
- Highway Displays – Vehicle passengers will probably not hear any audio, even with the windows down
- Work Breakroom – Employee communications should utilize videos with audio when not competing with relaxing cable TV
Finally, if you do add audio, spend some time thinking about and testing how the audio is delivered. This includes directional audio, ideal volume, screen speakers or speaker system, location of users/viewers, synchronization across multiple screens, and benefits from subtitles/closed captions. Good luck with your A/V design!