“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?”
Getting viewers to absorb your message is the whole point of doing digital signage. It’s a fine line of how much motion and sound (if any) to put in your message before it starts to distract the viewer. The eye is naturally drawn to movement, but a screen that plays videos flicking back and forth will simply cause your audience to miss the point. Your screen should have one moving element. Even if you have multiple zones on your screen (video, ticker, social media feed, etc.), keep an eye on how many are moving at the same time. Too many parts moving can cause the viewer to lose focus. This can also happen easily with sound. Sound is a great way to get the user’s attention but should be used sparingly. Screens using sound can be great for live videos, streaming, news feeds or even YouTube. If you’re playing content that requires sound, you first need to make sure it plays clearly and can be heard. Also, make sure it doesn’t disrupt anyone or anything nearby. Another big consideration should be the risk of having something play that you might not want heard.
All that said, there’s no definitive answer. Part of designing good content is keeping it new and relevant. So you should be changing it often anyway. Don’t be afraid to try something once in a while. You’re not going to know what works for your audience until you give it a shot.