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Learning to Speak Sign Language: ISA Sign Expo 2014

What’s in a name? That which we call digital signage by any other name would function as intended. Right?
Words, and languages for that matter, are at the base of gastronomy, national pride, culture, conflict, diplomacy and business. In a world where globalization is practically official, business tends to settle on English, with multilingual associates gaining a competitive edge. Yet what happens when the words of an industry are imported to others so that it can spread and grow? As digital signage establishes itself in the territory of conventional signmakers, digital out-of-home patriots are abandoning established terms in favour of custom vocabulary.
This short series will take a look at some of the words being used at international sign and outdoor shows, from ISA Sign Expo in the United States to European Sign Expo in Germany and the FEPE Congress in Austria. By increasing awareness of challenges associated with loose lingo and applauding progress in the development of strong language, both digital signage veterans and traditional printers can become bilingual – sharing respective terms and communicating effectively.
Learning to Speak Sign Language: ISA Sign Expo 2014
Held in Las Vegas, ISA Sign Expo 2013 was a record breaking event complete with a sold out show floor and the addition of a Dynamic Digital Park. This year, ISA Sign Expo took place in Orlando, a city that tends to draw less of a crowd and for a tourist destination, underwhelms in the out-of-home department. Nevertheless the 2014 show managed to one-up its predecessor, at least in terms of digital signage.

Showdown versus Sesame Street

The most intriguing part of the Dynamic Digital Park, located in an area superior to that of the year before, was its combination of known digital signage vendors along with smaller players, printers and AV integrators. Caldera, Ingram Micro, Broadsign and ZM-Media were side-by-side, a clear testament to the unique blend of expertise and terms being shared in the space. While this no doubt presents a learning opportunity for attendees and exhibitors alike, it should also be approached with a degree of caution. These two examples explain why:
The day before the opening of ISA Sign Expo’s exhibit hall, the E4 AV Tour and ISA’s Dynamic Digital Signage Day took place. The former has been held by Almo for the past five years, this year being the first time it concurred with ISA Sign Expo. Seven hundred people had pre-registered to converse with exhibitors like Chief and Elo Touch Solutions. and take in informative sessions. One of which was an Expert Panel Discussion hosted by rAVe Publications’ Gary Kayye and featuring panelists Jonathan Brawn, David Keene of Digital Signage Magazine, Carol Nordin, Brian Rhatigan and Richard Ventura of NEC. Dynamic Digital Signage Day also presented the opportunity to listen to a slew of industry experts, from Kim Sarubbi to Lyle Bunn.
Speaking with fellow attendees, it was apparent that such diverse perspectives ended up delivering conflicting messages. While various viewpoints are typically encouraged and enriching to educational sessions, they’re not ideal when trying to teach conventional signmakers the digital signage alphabet.

This situation leaves digital signage gurus, conventional printers and AV aficionados with two apparent options, a red or a blue pill, a showdown versus Sesame Street. Either the parties involved become defensive of their terms, with digital signage players telling digital printers that “we took the name, it’s ours”; or they oversimplify vocabulary in attempt to cater to developing minds of those in neighbouring sectors. While the second option seems most accommodating, everyone needs to truly understand each other’s businesses to avoid a “me want cookie” outcome. Digital signage is no longer a science fair project but enough elements are in place that confused pronouns and neglected articles will end up causing deployment and operational issues.

Digital signage vendors might not need to understand the logistics behind ink drying time, adhesive for floor signs or the art of wrapping. Yet a sufficient knowledge of printers’ mindsets will help avoid faux pas’ already making their way into the Dynamic Digital Park, such as providing tools that easily move content designed for printed signage onto digital displays. It doesn’t take a content specialist to know that this procedure does not take advantage of digital display capabilities, and actually does more harm than good to the signmaker and viewers of a screen.
Given that the Dynamic Digital Park is in its early days, it will likely take many years before digital signage suppliers no longer require a designated space and integrate into the rest of the show floor instead. With that being said, wide-format digital print vendors like EFI, HP, 3M and Roland with its DisplayStudio initiative, and distributors like Almo and Ingram Micro are already setting an example for smaller print businesses with digital signage offerings. Their execution and language might not be perfect from an AV or digital signage point-of-view, but the move represents a willingness to learn.
Here’s another option, and another “S” word – share. Instead of each industry using its own words internally and creating new ones for others in attempt to facilitate understanding, it might be a good idea to try sharing our terms. Many who have aspired to speak French or Mandarin will agree; it’s easier to add a few new words into one’s existing language than for all industries to learn a new one based solely on the prediction that a different term will make concepts less confusing. A rose by any other name…