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On Site: Oakley Flagship Store

Digital signage as design

Nearly 10 years ago, Oakley founder Jim Jannard told me he thought it would be interesting to put video hangtags on his products and video art on the walls. The expression “digital signage” had not been coined yet, but Jannard was already talking about how video should be experienced interactively, that it should be part of an environment, not confined to a television screen.

At the time, Jannard was working on inventing a camera. Soon after, he founded RED Digital Cinema Co., but he had been obsessed with the power of video images before that. Before he left Oakley, Jannard spent a small fortune in time and gear accumulating digital video footage; he flew all over the world with the first Sony 24p cameras, a helicopter, and a crew of one guy capturing Oakley athletes as they raced over snow and sand.

That rich archive of thrill-seeking footage, and the disruptive attitude it represented, is part of the permanent video installation created by Montreal-based Moment Factory for Oakley’s new flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, N.Y. The overhead LCD displays pulse with athlete footage and motion graphics, the images spreading across the 27 screens to form one imposing canvas.

The result is a mix of technology, design, architecture, and guest experience. Moment Factory collaborated with Valerio Architects; the AV integrator, Fulkra; screen OEM, Apollo Displays; and SITU Fabrication for the custom screens and ultra-thin-bezel housing. The project drew on expertise from Moment Factory’s three key divisions: content production, interactive development, and environmental design.

Multimedia set designer Amjir Kandola and technical director Alexis Bluteau used a scale maquette in Moment Factory’s Montreal office as part of the design process for the overhead digital signage at Oakley’s flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York.

“We tend to develop a project from the beginning, first understanding the client’s objectives, and then discussing about how best to integrate a media platform into the architecture. That leads into developing the technical platform for content creation, distribution, and display,” says Moment Factory multimedia set designer Ajmir Kandola. Moment Factory’s clients are often visually iconoclastic and include Cirque du Soleil, Disney, Sony, Microsoft, Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, and the NFL. The company’s dramatic content and interactive displays are central to the impact of the new Bradley International Terminal at LAX.

For this project, the physical design of the video display took inspiration from the exterior architecture; large pleated metal components on the façade frame the display for those who see it from the street. Inside, the store’s long narrow footprint allows the overhead display to play out over a long distance. The 27 screens, arranged in rows of three, suspend from the length of the ceiling and are viewed from a variety of angles throughout the store. This presented opportunity for anamorphic tricks and an interplay between filmed and graphical 4K content that fragments or comes together to form a single image.

Because Moment Factory was designing a new media platform, they executed a scale model in its studio—a 7’x3’ model of the whole store with the screens mocked up and projectors standing in for the LCD displays. “We’re not just designing the content, we’re also designing the media environment,” Kandola says. “We find it necessary to visualize it as close as possible as it will be in real life, to test the content and tweak it.”

Next, the project went into technical mockup at Fulkra’s offices in Orange County, Calif. Here, they tested ways to distribute and synchronize the 4K sources to the 27 screens, overcoming some initial challenges with signal distribution equipment choices, says Moment Factory Technical Director Alexis Bluteau. After researching and testing, the team got the signal distribution they needed from Atlona components. Another product that stood out, Bluteau says, was the Datapath x4 signal splitter and scaler, which distributed streams from the Dataton Watchout playback system across the multiscreen canvas. By the time the system went to site, it was tested and proven. “That step—factory testing and approval—is crucial for us; it’s a very important buffer between design and installation,” Kandola says. Remote access allows Moment Factory’s team to do network and image monitoring, as well as maintenance.

The finished content, much of which was composed using Moment Factory’s interactive image generating software, can be scheduled according to varying parameters to ensure that it remains alive for passersby and those inside the store. “From Oakley, I’ve learned there’s definitely a place for a creative process between the architecture and the integration of media and content,” Kandola says. There’s a place for analyzing what the content is there to do, the space between the architecture, and the technical installation. That’s a space that Moment Factory is really excited to be part of.”

Driving Design

An interview with Moment Factory Partner and Chief of Technology Dominic Audet

Moment Factory’s signage projects can be for a public audience, as with the indoor/outdoor interactive LEDs that wrap and infuse Montreal’s La Vitrine Culturelle (pictured below) or they can be internal designs, intended to establish atmosphere and culture in a more intimate setting as was done for the head offices of Calgary, Alberta’s ATB Financial (pictured right). In both cases, interactive elements react to people in the building or the practicalities of the day’s schedule with content designed to communicate to employees, clients, or visitors; at ATB, both video and audio cue interactively. Whether public or corporate, digital signage is becoming a platform for much more sophisticated design, communication, and interaction.

Where are we in the cycle of technical and content development for digital signage? Are we just starting to see innovations with a great deal more to be done? Will we see a lot of innovation in the near future? more distant future?

Digital signage is arriving at an interesting point in its development cycle, with playback technologies and display resolutions supporting the delivery of content and information in creative and innovative ways. We’re seeing more and more systems that can support interactivity, live feeds, intelligent scheduling, and dynamic content support at reasonable price points.

As technical limitations are becoming less of a bottleneck, creativity remains the main driver of innovation. Signs have moved out of the dark into the daytime, and are moving away from rectangular screens into more organic forms, opening up unprecedented possibility. New languages are emerging, giving us new tools to perceive, understand, and experiment with our environments.

In the near term, there is a very interesting space opening for systems that are context-aware—able to anticipate, adapt, and react to human activities, to their environments, and to global data streams.

What drives technical development in digital signage?

For us, visitor expectations and technological evolution are the main drivers for new forms of digital experience. Our audiences are increasingly tech-savvy and demanding. They expect to be able to customize, control, and modulate their experiences. They expect a high level of quality in image, sound, interface, and interaction.

What’s key in our sphere is not just technical development, but how we combine and articulate technologies to create new experiences. There is a fast-paced cycle of technology uptake, with new products and formats quickly absorbed and assimilated. The key for us is not just to develop technologies but to use them to their full experiential potential.

What is the biggest obstacle to digital signage development?

One of the main challenges we face is integration across multiple systems and platforms. We see interoperability as crucial; digital systems need to be able to interface with different languages and existing systems, including legacy devices. The digital ecosystem is a larger and larger jungle, but at the end of the day, what is crucial for us is our ability to holistically address the visitor experience and enhance every part of people’s journeys through the environments we create and events we help shape.

How important will interactivity via handheld devices be?

Handheld devices have become seamless extensions of our lifestyles. They allow us both to interface with our personal data, music, video, and information, and with our environments; endless possibilities and applications are available in our hands. The relationship between individual devices and collective experiences is something we see as absolutely crucial for the future of public spectacle, and we feel the surface has barely been scratched.

How will digital signage function in an enterprise, like ATB, as opposed to a public space?

What we created for ATB didn’t really have a function as traditional digital signage. It was more of a multimedia signature, a rich media environment that reflects the brand and corporate values as a living energy within the headquarters, and creates a sense of purpose.

In our work, public and internal applications often share the purpose of placemaking, where technologies and content combine to create a distinctive, memorable environment. Where they differ is mainly in the content and symbolism—the emotion, messages, and stories we convey.

We’re also very sensitive to repetition and context; screens in interior environments are seen every single day by people who work there, so the nature of the content we create needs to take into account the architectural, perennial nature of the installation.

When you create internal digital signage for a corporation, like ATB, who is your customer? Where does the decision to do that kind of signage come from within the organization?

Every project is unique, but there is no doubt that having a visionary advocate at the executive level is a great starting point. For instance, ATB CEO Dave Mowat wanted to develop an executive space that would reflect the innovative, technologically advanced, people-focused culture of the bank. His vision was the driving force that made the project happen.

It might be more accurate to talk about key stakeholders than a customer in a project like the ATB headquarters. Architects and designers have an important role to play in terms of the built environment; the marketing department is key in making sure the brand is appropriately represented and in providing access to the institutional memory and archival content; and the IT department is, of course, crucial in getting things installed and running. Great projects happen when there’s a broadly shared vision.

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