How to Use Cognitive Psychology in Digital Signage

In today's fast-paced world, businesses often face a challenge when trying to capture and retain consumer attention amidst a sea of distractions.

Digital signage stands out as a smart way to draw people inside your shop. Sure, it looks good and it stands out, but does it connect with them on a deeper level?

This is where the psychology of digital signage comes into play. It teaches us how to use colours and content, including where to place screens to successfully influence what people think and do.

Below we will review several strategies that turn simple screens into powerful tools that grab and hold attention. Let’s learn some core principles in digital signage psychology first.

What are the Core Psychological Principles Applied in Digital Signage?

Digital signage has the power to captivate and engage audiences through a combination of visual appeal and psychological tactics. Here is a deeper look into how these elements work together.

1. Colour and Brightness

The strategic use of bright colours and illumination ensures that digital signs are not just seen but also remembered.

Brightness draws the eye, particularly in dimly lit environments, making the screen a focal point. 

Colours, on the other hand, carry emotional connotations. For instance, blue can evoke a sense of calm, while red might signal urgency or excitement. This psychological interplay of colours and brightness makes digital signage a compelling visual tool.

2. Pictures and Movement

Humans are visual creatures. Numerous studies have proven that our brains are wired to process images much faster than text.

This is why digital signs that use clear, engaging images or graphics can communicate messages more effectively.

Incorporating movement like animations or scrolling text exploits our instinctual attraction to motion, ensuring that the digital signage captures and holds our attention.

3. Size and Placement

The physical size of a digital display can greatly influence its impact. Larger signs are naturally more visible and can convey messages from a greater distance.

However, the placement of these signs is equally critical. Signs positioned at eye level or in high-traffic areas are more likely to be noticed.

The design layout, including the use of space and the arrangement of elements on the sign, also plays a crucial role in guiding the viewer's gaze to the most important information.

4. Contrast

Effective digital signage employs contrast to enhance readability and draw attention to key elements.

Best practices include contrasting colours, such as light text on a dark background or contrasting sizes, such as a large headline above smaller supporting text.

These contrasts create a visual hierarchy, guiding the viewer's eye to the most important information first.

5. Contextual Relevance

Digital signs that adapt their content based on contextual factors like the time of day, current weather conditions, or local events can capture attention more effectively.

This adaptability makes the content feel more personalised and relevant to the viewer's current situation, increasing the likelihood of engagement.

6. Emotional Appeal

Digital signage that connects on an emotional level can leave a lasting impression. This might involve using powerful imagery, storytelling or messages that tap into universal human experiences.

By evoking an emotional response, digital signage can create a more profound and memorable connection with the audience.

7. Interactivity

Interactive elements transform digital signage from a one-way communication tool into a two-way interaction.

This could be through touch screens that invite users to explore further, QR codes that link to additional online content, or even gesture-based interfaces.

This interactivity not only increases engagement but also personalises the user's experience with the signage.

8. Simplicity

While digital signage offers a wide array of design possibilities, simplicity often leads to the most effective communication.

A clean and uncluttered design with ample white space helps to highlight the essential message. It makes it easier for viewers to absorb the information quickly.

Exploring these elements transforms digital signage from a mere information display tool into an engaging, dynamic medium with the power to inform, persuade and entertain.

Cognitive Effects of Digital Signage

These displays do more than just catch potential customers’ eyes. They play a big role in how we think and remember information. Let's explore a few peculiar examples of digital signage's cognitive effects.

Memory Boost

As we mentioned above, our brains love visuals. That is why when a digital sign shows something like a catchy slogan alongside a vibrant image of a new sports shoe, we are more likely to remember it.

It is like when you cannot forget the tune of a catchy song - the combination of words and pictures sticks in your mind.

Influencing Decisions

Imagine walking through a shopping centre feeling a bit hungry. Then you see a digital sign displaying a mouth-watering burger with a "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" offer flashing next to it.

Before you know it, you are heading towards the food court. This is not just chance. The sign has cleverly nudged your decision-making process by presenting an appealing option right when you are most receptive.

Emotional Connections

Digital signs can also tap into our emotions. For example, a charity might use a digital billboard to show the happy and smiling faces of people being helped, making passersby hopeful and positive about contributing.

These emotional responses are powerful motivators that can drive people to take action, like donating to the cause or making a purchase.

Shaping Perceptions

The quality and design of a digital sign can influence how we perceive a brand. For example, displaying a luxury watch on a sleek, high-definition screen enhances the perceived value of the product, creating a more upscale and desirable image for the brand.

Social Influence

Occasionally, digital signs use social proof to influence us. Seeing a screen that highlights customer reviews and ratings for a product can reassure us that others have had positive experiences, making us more likely to try it ourselves.

While specific studies on each of these points are vast and varied, foundational principles come from established psychological theories and marketing research.

For example, the Picture Superiority Effect, which explains why images are more memorable than words alone, is a well-documented phenomenon in cognitive psychology.

This is exactly the reason why your business has a logo.

Likewise, principles of social proof and emotional influence are discussed in Robert Cialdini's "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," a seminal work in understanding how people are influenced.

In essence, digital signage interacts with our cognitive processes in multiple ways, from enhancing memory retention to influencing our choices, evoking emotional responses, and shaping our perceptions of brands and products.

Practical Tips for Implementing Psychological Principles in Digital Signage

Creating digital signs that grab attention and make a lasting impression is not just about making them bright and bold. Here are some practical tips for designing digital signs that connect with people.

1. Use Colour Wisely

Pick colours that not only stand out but also match the mood or message you want to convey. For example, use blue to create a sense of trust for a financial service ad or red to add excitement to a fast-food promotion.

Marketers and graphic designers use what is called the colour wheel to determine the best colours to use depending on their goals. It looks like this:


Image Source: Pinterest

2. Keep It Visual

As previously mentioned, people remember pictures better than words. Use clear and relevant images or videos to tell your story.

A digital sign for a travel agency might show stunning destinations to make people dream about their next holiday.

3. Make Movement Meaningful

Since movement catches the eye, use it to highlight key parts of your message, like a special offer or a call-to-action. But do not overdo it because too much movement can be distracting or confusing.

Limiting yourself to one moving object per ad is considered optimal.

4. Size and Placement Matter

Bigger is not always better. Place your digital sign where it is easy to see, but make sure the size is appropriate for the space. A giant screen might be overwhelming in a small shop.

5. Clarity Is Key

Your message should be easy to understand at a glance. Use simple language and big, readable fonts. A sign promoting a book sale might say "50% Off Stephen King Titles This Weekend!" in large and clear letters.

6. Update Regularly

Ensure your content remains current to provide people with incentives to revisit.

This might involve refreshing it with new promotions, products, reviews or even intriguing facts relevant to your business.

7. Tap Into Emotions

Use images, stories or messages that evoke emotions. A pet store might show happy pets playing, which can make people feel joyful and more inclined to visit.

8. Use Social Proof

Share customer testimonials or ratings on your digital sign. Seeing positive feedback from others can encourage people to try your product or service.


In conclusion, the psychology behind digital signage offers a powerful means to captivate viewers. Employing strategies such as colour psychology, visual storytelling, and social proof enables businesses to craft content that not only draws the eye but also leaves a lasting impression and drives sales.


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