Tuesday, December 11, 2012

LED Signs- Be a Good Neighbor!

One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.

-          Josh Billings

  Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength

-          Eric Hoffer

In my lifetime, the population of the United States has almost doubled! That’s twice as many people living on the same block, twice as many people on the Florida highways, twice as many people breathing what used to be “my” air, and the once empty beaches now clearly reflect this population increase. This change happened slowly over the last 50 years plus, and adaptation, lowered expectations and patience on my part has been required to deal with this. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve had to change.

The rapid explosion seen in the digital LED sign industry is requiring change also. Call them Electronic Message Centers, or LED Displays, or Outdoor Electronic Signs or whatever you want, but they are still a new technology and not everyone is moving at the light speed of the industry. What can be done to help automobile drivers, business owners, and the Sign dealers live with one another and allow the full potential of the outdoor digital media industry to be realized?

I think that Judith Martin “Miss Manners”, the icon of American etiquette, would be proud to know that her ideology would go a long way- be nice, play fair and be gracious. Here are a few tactical ideas that can sign users can employ to be a Good Neighbor:

1)  BRIGHTNESS…  An LED sign is not a lighthouse. A lighthouse sits on the coastline and emits an extremely bright light to guide ships. An LED sign should be an information center not a blinding beacon. Yet, on any road, in any city of America that allows LED signs, there is at least one LED sign that is too bright. This over-drives components shortening their functional lifetime, requires excessive energy use and therefore a higher operating cost, annoys drivers, and labels the business as a negative member of the community. Each “LED BEACON” puts another dent in the reputation of the LED industry.

What to do? One answer is to install a very common light sensing device on the sign and allow the attenuation to occur automatically. But, this is not always the most reliable method. Most software control systems allow for the scheduling of brightness levels. Program the time and the desired brightness level into the scheduler and “let it roll”. This makes it simple and controllable. Select the time the sign dims and then select the time the sign brightens using the controller software program. 
Remember if you think it's "too much" it usually is!

2)  CONTENT…  Appropriate content is vital. A $50,000 LED display can be reduced to the effectiveness of a reader board with the wrong choice of colors, the wrong content, too much motion and an overly complex message. Look at the time the driver actually has to view any message and the imperative “keep it simple” becomes critical in the design of the message. Do not allow your well-intentioned business owner to sabotage their advertising efforts by “showing off” with a psychedelic light show (for example). The goal of an LED sign is not for it to compete with the “burning man” event for attention (for example).

Cost-effective, professional content providers exist that can deliver excellent, and appropriate advertising slides and animation. Unless your customer has a professional designer on staff, they should consider using one of these services.

On the subject of slide duration timing- not too fast! The absolute quickest time is 6 seconds, many users time their slides to 10 seconds.

On the receiving end of the LED message, the driver does not want to experience a cornea-burning, cerebrum-stinging advertising message each time they drive by the offending location. This may not drive as many new customers into the business as the well-intentioned business owner anticipated! Being subtle with rich colors, simple text, and well planned message is the best way to manage an LED sign.

3)  QUIET TIMES…   “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…” goes the creation message, but on the seventh day even he rested. If this is the case, why does every LED sign have to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year?

An “essential LED sign” is one that is used for traffic control, government use, transportation information or emergency messaging. Most of the others have times when they could be dimmed to zero nits with very little loss of advertising exposure. This would probably never happen on a commercial billboard of course, but on the “Frank’s Hot Dogs” LED sign, why not turn it off from midnight until  the morning drive time? The traffic counts may drop to a near-zero after midnight so why waste electricity?

There are two ways to turn off an LED sign using software controls. The 1st way is by allowing the software to literally power down the LED display thus requiring a cold start reboot of the LED sign and the controlling computer. In cold weather, sometime the boot time creates issues for the customer as they see extraneous output on their LED sign during the boot. Also, the actual cold weather time required from boot to normal functioning may be longer than the customer desires.

The 2nd and preferred method to turn off an LED display is to simply allow the software to dim the screen to zero nit intensity. This keeps the LED sign powered-up and the computer on-line and does not require the cold start re-boot.

As the LED sign industry evolves, customs and practices will become more defined and formalized. For today, it’s simple- be a good neighbor and remember that an LED sign is just a very effective way to advertise and share information when used properly.

- Mike Prongue

** Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

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