By John Egan
Just as technology is transforming our everyday lives, it's also transforming the sign, graphics and visual communications industry. Digital touchscreens, virtual reality/augmented reality, “smart” capabilities and 3D printing are only four of the tech innovations reshaping the industry’s present and future.
A report from the International Sign Association’s 2016 Leadership Congress points out “that technological disruptions are a reality” for the sign, graphics and visual communications industry.
“Many disruptions are already here, some coming exceptionally fast,” the report says. “For the sign, graphics and visual communications industry, success will come to those who know and understand (to a degree) these disruptions and plan for them.”
To get you up to speed, here’s a deeper look at four technologies that are disrupting the industry.
These days, digital touchscreens are everywhere — smartphones, ATMs and cars, for instance. In 2016, an estimated 2.8 billion touchscreen panels were shipped worldwide, up from 1.3 billion just four years earlier. Today, some of those touchscreens are making their way into the sign, graphics and visual communications industry.
According to the National Retail Federation, touchscreen technology now on the market turns storefronts into through-the-glass interactive platforms that don’t require infrastructure modifications. The technology lends an e-commerce feel to the traditional brick-and-mortar retail experience.
A January 2017 article in the Nashville Business Journal noted that advanced touchscreen technology enables several people to simultaneously interact with a brand’s digital signage without those users interfering with each other.
“In addition, facial recognition software can be built into digital signage to detect the presence of a person, collect demographic data, and then serve up highly targeted content that captures their interest,” the article says.
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
Much of the buzz surrounding virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) centers on the technology's applications in the gaming industry. However, all sorts of business sectors — including the sign, graphics and visual communications industry — are latching onto the VR/AR trend, with global revenue for VR/AR projected to leap to more than $162 billion in 2020, up from a comparatively measly $5.2 billion in 2016.
With such explosive growth in VR/AR, the sign, graphics and visual communications industry is poised to be one of the frontiers for this technology.
Already, VR and AR are being incorporated into digital signage for trade shows and retail stores, paving the way for true-to-life graphics, 360-degree tracking and other immersive features. According to VentureBeat, there’s even an app that provides a VR-type preview of how typography will look on digital signage and other displays.
Going a step or two further, Australia-based Coates Group in 2016 opened a lab in Chicago that lets store planners use a VR tool to test ideas — including digital signage and interactive screens — in a virtual store before a brick-and-mortar store is built. Customers of Coates Group include various retail and restaurant brands.
“The VR tool has proven to be a powerful and effective method to help brand designers, marketers and development teams efficiently ideate their own virtual store, and quickly land on the ideal design without costly and time-consuming prototypes,” says Leo Coates, CEO of Coates Group. “Brands can walk through their concept environment and change the content on digital signage using our proprietary Switchboard CMS, to test and visualize how different campaigns roll out in stores, allowing for real-time revisions to the proposed store environment.”
3D printing is awe-inspiring. With a 3D printer, someone can make a gun, a guitar, a clock or a coffee cup. It all seems pretty futuristic, but it’s actually happening right now.
The report from ISA’s 2016 Leadership Congress emphasizes the signage capabilities presented by 3D printing.
As the cost of 3D printing goes down and the speed of manufacturing goes up, “this technology can assist sign, graphics and visual communications companies to create more versatility in signage options for changeable displays that are easier, faster and cheaper to print,” the report says.
3D printing also will affect the retail environment, with end users increasingly being able to produce signage on their own, the report says.
As it stands now, the market for 3D printing is booming across an array of sectors. One forecast indicates global revenue for the 3D printing sector will hit $35.4 billion in 2020, up from $15.9 billion in 2016. From 2015 to 2020, the forecast says, retail is expected to witness the biggest jump in revenue from 3D printing, whereas consumer revenue from 3D printing is predicted to grow “modestly.”
Want to explore the future of tech in the sign, graphics and visual communications industry? Then you’ll want to check out all the exhibits at ISA International Sign Expo 2017, set for April 20–22 in Las Vegas.