By Ruben Romero

All content is digital, which means it is easy to build, easy to manipulate, easy to publish, and still being poorly designed.

A friend of mine is the music director for a Silicon Valley high school.  They have just installed a new theater, and he recently groused to me about the system control touch panel.  “I hate Crestron!  It’s too complicated.  I look at it, and all I see is buttons that control everything in the room. No one wants to use the theater any more because they don’t know how to work it.”

Crestron is taking a bad rap here.  Anyone with experience in AV design will recognize the likely fail in this project: lowest bidder integrator designed for the project manager and not the end users.  Platform installed, with no priority given to content.

Content design brings more value to the integrated spaces than ever.  The mass deployment of interactive screens has added a depth and layer to traditional content design which can affect all aspects of business and enterprise.

Hardware prices are down, as are the costs of cloud-based content management services. Jeff Casserino is a Partner and Director of Content at TAD Associates, a technology & media design consultant, and he has seen the client concern for content rise in importance:

“Our decision making around the content experience is heavily driven by the insights found in our client research. We begin each project studying the current and projected users of each interactive environment – and contrast those findings with the client’s expressed real-world restraints. We then weave in the objectives communicated by our client-side marketing partners so the design aligns with and propels their engagement objectives and customer acquisition/ retention efforts.”

Casserino says he’s seen four legitimate opportunities to design and deploy business-critical interactive content:

  1.  Branding and Interactive: Traditional signage and promotional content is now interactive. In fact, according to Embed Signage, interactive signage increases advertising revenue by 1200%. Digital experience companies must align with the objectives of the client-side marketing departments.
  2. GUI’s: Graphical User Interfaces, on control panels like Crestron, AMX, or Uteology, are ubiquitous and tend to be system agnostic.  However, if the UI is not easy to use, then the system doesn’t work. Customization of this human-machine interface point is seen to be on the rise.
  3. Data Visualization: Data is crazy available now, and there are numerous firms that offer ways to aggregate, which defines the problem of consumption. Content designers are now being asked to create models that translates data from external sources into easily consumed visuals that are intuitive to the sight. The balance between art of visualization and the science of relevant data sets.
  4. Mobile App Development: Events, facilities, wayfinding, marketing and branding, it’s now standard practice to leverage the supercomputers that we all have in our pockets.  Mobile app development is now a service that many digital design firms are offering.  TAD Associates, when designing experience centers or EBC’s, will often offer to package wayfinding and itinerary mobile apps to help its clients provide a full package of customer/ employee engagement tools.

Let’s go back to our Silicon Valley high school theater:

It’s the night of the big senior class concert.  A concert goer downloads the venue’s mobile app, which has the night’s program, promotes upcoming shows, links to YouTube clips of past shows, and has links to GPS directions to the theater.  

Once there, our concert-goer sees promotional digital signage and uses wayfinding kiosks to find her seat.  While awaiting the start of the show, a projection on the stage shows social media feeds of the concert’s preferred hashtag, bios and photos of the performers, and a live video feed from back stage.  

Earlier in the evening, the music director booted the entire theater through to default concert mix setting by pushing one button on the user side control panel.  A more intricate tech page is available in the control booth for the concert technician, in case she needs to sweeten the sound.

By taking what should be a complicated system, understanding the human journey through the space, and recognizing what the end result is meant to be, the content guides the users through the experience.  Like some crazy artificial docent.

This notion of user experience as a holistic approach to instantiation of enterprise systems is not new, however, has become more prevalent and in need of experts in the field of design.  Jan Koehler, Bluescape’s Senior Director of Design Strategy Innovation, has been working as a designer for more than 30 years.  Early in her career, when she was a print graphic designer, she thought about a career change.  Then she started coding and building websites.  “It was like a dream come true.  I was able to design user experience into content.”

Now, at Bluescape, a cloud based, visual collaboration service, she is designing intuitive digital user interface on a visual platform that hosts standard digital content. “We have four different clients with different sizes.  Four different real estates.  Four resolutions and four experiences,” says Koehler.

The addition of interactivity and multiple interfaces is the new frontier of digital design, creating new ways for designers to engage with users and consumers, and a more complete way to deploy human-centric experiences.

Digital content, and as an extension, interactive content, is gaining more value.  By 2020, the Digital Signage market will be worth $20 billion, meaning at the very least we will see more digital platforms and more digital canvases.  Quality interactive content will ensure that the investment brings tangible and intangible experiential value to these investments.

From a purely digital standpoint, content is easier to build, easier to replicate, and easier to deploy.  This ease has led to a quality gap with little direct accountability.  Think back on my friend: he blames Crestron because his GUI is clunky and difficult to use.  But blaming Crestron is like blaming a canvas for an ugly painting.

There is a need to bring the user into the user experience of digital content design.  TAD Associates makes sure, as part of its codified process, to analyze and understand the usage of a system before committing designs to paper.  Casserino points out, “During the design and build process, we structure a variety of check-ins and engagements with the end users to ensure the final product exceeds the expectation and aligns with their core engagement objectives.”

The content needs to split the line between custom and standard.  A designer’s worth is when she can work with a user’s standards in ways that tie together the experience, create symbiotic functionality, and enhance the user’s brand.  If a user or an integrator does not take time to focus on the journey through a space, the entire system might fail due to lack of usage, lack of confidence, or lack of usability.

Photo: TAD Associates designed installation at the Row NYC Hotel

Ruben headshot

Ruben Romero is the Managing Director of TAD Associates, Silicon Valley – a Technology, Architecture, and Design consultancy.  He has more than 15 years experience in collaboration technology in support, sales, consulting, and project management.

Find out more about Ruben on LinkedIn and Twitter.