2021 has been a year of immense change, so much so that it might feel a little dizzying to look ahead. Next year, however, will see some long-running trends start to come to fruition. These are big macro trends that will be impactful across sectors. There is a way, to view them through a narrower frame, namely the technology that will be deployed for them. Several of the larger trends for 2022 will find expression in how each sector uses signage and displays.
The idea of sustainability in business has of course been gaining steam for quite some time. Several factors are combining to move sustainability from a fringe benefit to a must-have. Sustainability is becoming a decisive factor in purchasing, whether in B2B or B2C. It’s also economically more practical, especially as it relates to signage. There are two major themes with sustainability in signage.
The way in which signage is affected by sustainability is use case. Whilst usage uptake has been uneven across sectors, signage has been replacing more consumption-heavy means of communication. Companies and civic infrastructure are using signage to replace everything from paper signs for wayfinding to life-size cardboard advertising figures. It is more time- and cost-effective over the long term, as well as consuming fewer resources.
The major aspect of sustainability where signage is already in use is design. At Sharp/NEC, we define this as: recycle, reuse and reduce consumption. Recycle refers to the material used within the screen. Sharp/NEC, for example, uses metal framework that can be 100% recycled into the production cycle. Reuse means not just building a production cycle that allows components to be put to new use but also building a product that’s meant to evolve. Modular design can help ensure that displays aren’t thrown out but built upon as needs change. Both play into the final piece, which is durability. Buying a display that will outlast its competitors means that the resources consumed are amortized over a longer period.
As the drive towards environmental consciousness accelerates in 2022, the general public will become more conversant with the details of true sustainability, as well as more suspicious of green-washing. That will show up in various ways across sectors, but one visible place will be in signage usage and design choices.
Even more than 2020, the year 2021 may be remembered as the year work has changed. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 forced businesses around the world to quickly adapt to working from home. 2021, however, saw a shift towards partially remote employment becoming a permanent part of the economy. Certainly, part of this shift is the uncertainty around COVID, as high-profile companies such as Microsoft, Google and Uber continually pushed back their return-to-office dates. A larger part of it, however, centres around employees.
By any metric, we are in the midst of a shift to a more empowered workforce as businesses navigate a labour shortage and employees reassess their relationship to work. Not only do job boards like ZipRecruiter see a staggering increase in the benefits offered in job postings, but the labour statistics also show a huge jump in turnover1. That means an entire generation of managers who’ve spent their careers in a market of abundant labour is having to learn a new way to lead, as the NY Times reported recently2. One of the biggest things employees are looking for, across sectors, is flexibility.
One key way that the move towards flexibility will show itself in 2022 is through remote work and hybrid teams. Everyone has a different idea of what that will mean. For more in-depth look at the practicalities, visit the recent Sharp/NEC technology paper on Hybrid working. Hybrid work will show in collaboration displays, through the tools it provides. Teams adapting to partially remote work will need tools for clear communication, so collaboration isn’t impacted by absences. In larger collaboration displays, that means videoconferencing solutions that are exquisitely sharp, allowing team members to read each other’s expressions and body language from a distance.
As companies look to facilitate hybrid work in 2022, they will be seeking out ways to ensure collaboration and company cohesion remain strong. High-definition displays will help videoconferences remain productive. They are also an effective communication tool when used to create a sense of culture and community in the physical office, which will make the office more attractive to employees.
This is a trend that’s taken a sharp turn in the past year. Businesses have been expanding their use of data to drive content for several years. In the past year, however, there has been an increased awareness of privacy. In Europe, GDPR brought the extent of personalised date usage into sharp focus. Even Facebook, which has been revealed to be ruthless in its data usage, has ended its facial recognition software over users’ privacy concerns3.
In the coming year, businesses will be attempting to find a balance that respects individual privacy whilst making the most of data. Sectors such as retail, hospitality and entertainment will find this in signage that uses data in aggregate. A good example of this is Sharp/NEC’s Entrance Flow Management, which uses integrated sensors to register individual movement, but not personal characteristics. This means that content can be linked to movement and the sign itself picks up traffic data.
Think of a large retail store with several exits and hubs. A data-driven usage tool like Entrance Flow Management can help managers be sure people see specific information as they enter, whether it’s the latest sale or the latest COVID-prevention regulations. At the same time, management can see where people tend to move and congregate. That allows them to deploy the best content for each stage of the customer journey or to figure out where traffic flow is an issue. Because the tool doesn’t store personal information, users can get the most out of their signage without raising traffic concerns.
The pandemic has forced a huge rethink of how cities use space. During restrictions and semi-lockdowns, the public space has become more important than ever before. As only 2-15% of city centre land in Europe is public space4, that means planners and governments have to make the most out of the space that they have. The increased focus on the carbon footprint of transportation has also given fuel to smart IoT systems in transit and the huge movement towards decentralisation. In the 15-minute city concept, everything needed for urban life is available locally5.
All of this leads to smart usage of signage in the outdoor spaces. It can be deployed by the city to help guests navigate spaces and to inform locals about current events and regulations. It can be used by local businesses to inform and entertain whilst transit stops use it to keep riders up-to-date. All of this means, that the signage deployed must be weatherproof and easy to use.
Signage can be a huge tool for urban management, but only if the messages get through. That means the signage needs high brightness to combat ambient light, as well as casing and ventilation that will prevent rain, snow and dust from damaging the sign. Moreover, the content management needs to be simple enough to use that messaging can be constantly updated.
The coming year will see a further expansion of trends in signage towards sustainability, hybrid-team facilitation, data-driven usage and deployment in the public space. These trends come together in signage that is durable, clear and easy to use. Luckily, solutions are there for anyone who looks.
1)www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/business/jobs-workers-economy.html 2)www.nytimes.com/2021/06/05/upshot/jobs-rising-wages.html 3)www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/11/02/facebook-ends-facial-recognition/ 4)urban.jrc.ec.europa.eu/thefutureofcities/space-and-the-city#the-chapter 5)www2.deloitte.com/xe/en/insights/industry/public-sector/future-of-cities.html