To communicate the same message quickly to a lot of people in your school, nothing beats outdoor LED sign. And if you’re driving past, the school marquee sign might be the first part of the school building you see. So it’s a unique opportunity to make a first impression. You can use a LED school sign to inform, persuade, inspire and warn, among other things.
But what makes a marquee sign a marquee? How do they work? And where do they fit into your overall signage strategy?
Let’s start at the top.
What’s a school marquee sign?
Marquee signs are usually permanent or semi-permanent signs attached to buildings. Normally, they’re at or near the entrance, and they’re designed to be visible to passers-by.
Where digital signage is used inside schools it’s usually aimed at a portion of the school community, like members of a certain grade or team. Sometimes school LED signs are aimed at visitors, but they’re visitors who have already decided to come inside. Marquee signage has a different target audience and different messaging. It’s aimed at the general public or people passing by, who don’t necessarily yet intend to come in at all; or it’s aimed at large groups who need to know basic information quickly. Either way, school signs are designed to get a simple but coherent message across quickly from a distance. It’s this function which explains the design and siting of marquee signs.
While we’ve all seen plenty of analog school signs, including totally static ones as well as neon, movable-letter, and ‘cinema light box’ signs, what we’re really interested in here is how to use digital marquees for schools that go beyond the traditional look and functionality.
Digital marquee signs are specialized screens, toughened for constant outdoor use, displaying digital content. Because of their unique display environment, a LED marquee sign is a big-ticket item, and this means a slower-moving, more conservative market. Most digital school signs are running on outmoded systems, and many use LED lights to offer a display that works like a zoomed-out cinema light box. Resolution is poor and there’s little opportunity for variety in content.
What can schools use marquee signs for?
Marquee signs can be used to notify the whole school of important information and upcoming special events to students, or to communicate with people from outside the school altogether.
Events might include:
- Sports games and athletic events
- Fundraising Events
- Open houses
- PTA meetings
- School cancellations
- School functions
- Schedule reminders
- Weather warnings
- Fun countdowns
- School motto
- Science fair winners
- Concerts, plays and other performances
A LED sign can also be used to remind students of upcoming events that affect the whole school, such as rules, exams (teachers know to the minute when exams are, but students are often shocked to discover six weeks have passed and the time has arrived) or holidays and cultural celebrations. Electronic signs can also benefit new students by helping them find their way by displaying campus directories and virtual tours.
On the other hand, marquee signs are a great way to get a simple message out to your students quickly when there’s an emergency. Road closures and unexpected weather events like floods affect everyone and signs for schools can be used to spread the word during school hours. (Bonus points for high-quality signs that let you display QR codes so people can look up additional detail on their phones.)
How do school marquee signs work?
Typically, school signs work by using direct, manual communication between the signage and the software that tells it what to show. Some need a wired connection! The typical arrangement is to use software supplied by the sign manufacturer, over a local network rather than via the cloud.
Software provided by sign manufacturers is a little like furniture provided by chainsaw manufacturers: it’s not necessarily going to be awful but the initial signs aren’t good. School sign manufacturers frequently outsource software creation or white-label it (use generic software wrapped in a new ‘skin’ of branding); the results can be usable, but they’re often clunky and restrictive. They often take considerable time and effort to update, as well as making scheduling content difficult.
This means the software is generally not quick, intuitive, easy, fun, or versatile… and it’s a shame to leave all that on the table. Worse, they seldom play nice with the software you’re using for indoor digital signs, meaning you’re duplicating effort and adding busywork — something no one who works in a school needs any more of.
Best communication practices for school marquee signs
The best practices for new signs are essentially the same as those for internal digital signage, they just need to be adjusted to take account of the specific needs of marquees.
Those best practices for digital school signs include:
Cloud-based content management
Content management for signage should be cloud-based. It’s more secure, more robust and more versatile. When you want to add new users, setting up and managing accounts takes a couple of clicks. You can control who has access, and it’s equally easy to add new displays.
There’s no point of failure for the system so it’s more robust; a single server can’t crash and stop everything from working.
Most importantly, if it lives in the cloud you can access and update it from everywhere. We’ve had feedback from users saying they heard new information, ducked into a classroom and opened a laptop: a half-hour later, that updated information was on screens schoolwide. Whether you want to share tips for the cold and flu season, daily essentials such as lunch specials or warning against humid weather, you can instantly update your content.
Easy-to-use content creator
Options are limited when it comes to creating content for school signs. Poor screen definitions play a part. But clunky software that locks you in to a few ‘all-purpose’ templates or forces you to reinvent the wheel every time doesn’t help either.
Content creation tools should let you choose between templates that fit your exact situation as closely as possible (‘Halloween,’ not ‘Holiday’) and give you plenty of room to move, adapt, import graphics of your choice, and brand and has an interface that’s easy to pick up and use.
Reach the right audience
Reaching the right audience in your school is about saying the right thing, the right way, in the right place and time. For school signs, messaging has to be succinct. Think headlines. Think slogans. Or, think one message you’d yell about your school if you only had one lungful of air to do it with.
When you’re planning a new LED sign, your target audience is often ‘tuned out.’ Students are already busy doing something else or with their after-school commitments, and you need to grab their attention, reward it, and inspire action in just a few well-chosen words for the entire community. Those words also need to be legible, so you’re looking at simple layouts and clear typefaces.
It’s worth considering changing the messaging on LED school signs depending on the time of day. A lot more commuters will see a sign at 8:30 AM than will see the same sign at 10:30 AM. If you want to reach out to parents of potential pupils, school run time is your slot; after that you can change to more generalized school sign messaging.
Or at least, you can if your signage solution allows for rapid changes in content that can be scheduled in advance.
The next steps for signs for schools
If you already have a functioning marquee sign system, it might be adequate to your needs as they stand now. But many schools are seeking to move into a more digitized future where communication with the school and the community is done using modern web technologies and advanced digital sign solutions. There are reasons for that, chiefly that it’s much easier to schedule, scale, change and design signage that way. It’s also easier to knit your marquee signage into your overall digital signage strategy if you can control it using the same software that manages your other signs.
The gold standard is marquee signage as a part of an integrated signage system that gives you schoolwide communication you can schedule, adapt, and manage from anywhere.
LED school signs can be a uniquely powerful and effective way to communicate with large numbers of people quickly. Whether it’s encouraging walk-ins and visits from parents who’d never have considered it otherwise, or making sure everyone on campus knows about the hurricane warning, LED signs are a vital piece of your school’s digital signage jigsaw puzzle. Schools should look to approach this through a lens of integrating the control systems for their signage as much as possible, to increase the coherence of their messaging and to improve efficiency.