In 2024, amid our post-brick-and-mortar retail, smartphone-obsessed digital world, signs, or at least digital signs, will play a bigger role than ever in terms of influencing our purchases and overall decisions.
That’s according to Nita Odedra, strategy director for Blue Rhine Industries, a Dubai-based system integrator for digital signage and customer passenger experiences.
Gone are the days of neon and light bulb-illuminated signs, and in are the days of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens with sensors that potentially work in tandem with the smartphones in the pockets of millions of customers.
“There’s a transition coming that will bring both mediums together,” Ms Odedra said, referring to physical retail stores and screens.
“We’ve seen this transition in the UAE especially, where you have these flagship stores where there’s less product on display, but there’s more experiences viewable on screens.”
Sustainable design and technology
Although LED and OLED screens already consume far less power than traditional signs and monitors, as more businesses and entities strive to reduce their carbon footprint and potentially achieve net-zero goals, Ms Odedra said signage technology will push the envelope on existing OLED designs to help make that possible.
Sensors in and near the screens and monitors will play a bigger role, she said.
“The sensors would trigger content to display only when someone is in close proximity in a store,” she said.
“You’re also going to have screens contained in housing that’s more eco-friendly,” she added, noting the plastic that generally surrounds the screens.
Software that allows for the remote monitoring of signage too will play an increasingly important role.
Zayed International Airport is an example of what to expect in terms of demand for sustainable signage.
“They wanted to reduce energy consumption as much as possible … so we designed something custom made, not only in the form of the LEDs, but also to reduce energy consumption,” she said.
Patent filings and plentiful prototypes suggest that interactive store sign experiences based on gesture control will also begin to hit a stride in 2024, said Ms Odedra.
Such technology will enable customers to interact with screens in stores without touching them, heightening the overall shopping experience with the wave of a hand.
She added that some of those signs will also be transparent.
“We’ve partnered with a company called Ameria AG,” she said. “And there’s this clear screen that’s in between two poles … able to track gestures.”
In a social media post, Ameria AG explained the technology and what it might accomplish.
“This futuristic technology opens up a world of possibilities for interactive presentations, gaming, retail experiences, and so much more,” the Instagram post from the company reads.
Similar signage technology and shopping experiences were also previewed back in 2022 at Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, through a partnership between Cisco and Majid Al Futtaim.
Ms Odedra said with the technology quickly evolving and prices coming down, gesture-controlled sign experiences will soon become more prevalent as well.
“It’s a Minority Report experience,” she said, referring to the sci-fi film.
Augmented reality and hyper-personalised experiences
“You could hover your phone over a screen or a mannequin, and it could give you information on that product,” she said. Proximity sensors and various beacons, which are increasingly being showcased at industry trade shows, will also be a part of the shopping experience, potentially making for more dynamic content that is displayed on screens throughout the store.
“What you see [on the screen] might be hyper-personalised based on your interests,” she said.
Digital billboards will also be increasingly reliant on sensors and data that is contingent on things such as weather and events.
“If you’re somewhere in the UK where it’s not so sunny all the time, on those sunny days, you might suddenly see an advertisement for ice cream or air con units,” she said.
Las Vegas Sphere will inspire new ideas
For a good portion of 2023, The Sphere, an auditorium and entertainment venue in Las Vegas managed to make headlines for its technological prowess as it took the title of being the world’s largest spherical structure with a 16k-resolution wraparound LED screen that measures 15,000 square metres.
To make a splash in Las Vegas, known for its bright and plentiful lights, was no easy feat, but it was the culmination of a trend that had been building momentum.
“Burj Khalifa was an innovator in this respect,” she said, referring to the illumination on the façade of the Dubai buildings, showing various videos and commemorating important moments with pictures or symbols.
“And if you look at the UAE skyline overall, you have these building facades that light up as well,” she added.
However, she cautioned that while The Sphere might look impressive from afar, the exterior, up close, looks more ambiguous and is not as pleasing to the eye.
“If you’re walking close to it on the street, it’s not exactly clear what you’re looking at,” she said. “The lights on the exterior are spaced apart when you’re close … but it looks great from afar or from a plane.”
Still, it is a safe bet that we will see more exteriors of buildings with lighting that can be customised and yield viral content designed to be recorded and shared on mobile devices, she said.
“We’re actually ahead of the curve,” Ms Odedra said, referring to the Mena region’s use of the screens on the exoskeletons of buildings.