First impressions

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Not so long ago, foyer or reception lobby design was all about security and process – is the visitor in the right place? Do they have an appointment? The graphic elements within a foyer were usually limited to the company logo and perhaps a mission statement. Today, the thinking has changed. Large format displays, content networks and interactivity turn a graphically barren waiting room into an experience that communicates an organisation’s activities and values.

What is the function of a foyer in a large corporate or public building? The list might include: keeping out undesirables; welcoming legitimate visitors; managing the appointment schedules; and, increasingly today, communicating the more subtle values and ethos of the organisation.
James Abdool, Group Sales Director at MediaZest says: “Large screen displays in receptions areas have moved away from just playing Sky News to being an integral feature. The screens are now incorporated into most designs and are able to bring technology together with art and visual communication. The end result is a subtle mix of entertainment, information and education.”
When did this change from security and process to communications of brand characteristics come about? Certainly within the last 30 years, when the availability of new display technologies gave designers, architects and directors of communication the opportunity to educate and influence visitors, even before they entered the organisation’s offices proper.
Jason Bacon, Corporate Account Manager, NEC Display Solutions believes that: “Corporations believe that the look and feel of their reception area is a reflection of their organisation – are they investing in the future? Do they care about their appearance and therefore the quality of their work? This is the first impression a visitor has of the company and can set the tone for subsequent dialogue.”
Technology choice
As the technology has evolved, the requirements for foyer deployments have become ever more aspirational and ambitious. David Wilson, creative director at the award winning systems integrator Engage Production explains: “At one time, companies were happy so long as their foyer display was bigger than their rivals. Now they are willing to engage in discussions about whether a network of smaller screens might be more appropriate for their content. We even have clients talking about facial recognition systems for identifying and tracking VIPs when they enter the space.”help sue
Bacon concurs that size is a factor: “Digital signage in reception areas is getting more and more ambitious as companies perceive that bigger is better, with creativity in video wall configurations to make them even more eye catching. Being modular, there is almost limitless scope in scaling up the installation to suit!”
But Abdool argues that customers are becoming aware that the choice of a specific display technology is an important element in the communications process: “The choice of technology illustrates a level of appreciation of the future for companies when used in their reception areas. It can make an important first impression and the key is using the content to reflect the right image. Today technology is expected in a reception area so unique uses of technology stand out to visitors.”
Whatever the technology, Wilson is adamant that the whole design and installation has to start with the concept and the content that supports it. He says that; “Good content is good content – if it’s interesting enough, it doesn’t particularly matter what it’s shown on,” but whatever the display solution, Wilson argues that it must be ‘real’. ‘Green-washing’ and other common corporate misdemeanours are “just an empty vessel”.
Return on Investment
The character and function of a foyer space often influence a visitor’s first impression upon entering a building, but does this first impression have a value? The difficulty inherent in any consideration of the ROI of any foyer installation is that the calculation of the benefits has to include factors such as ‘prestige’ and ‘quality’ which are almost impossible to express in monetary terms.
Abdool believes that, in this instance, Return on Investment is often a secondary consideration in comparison to the communications requirement: “An ROI is really reserved for the digital advertising screen networks. For a reception area it is more about entertainment and information – adding to the high class ambience for all visitors.”
Bacon proposes a different method for calculating the benefits of this type of installation: “It would be unusual for any corporate to invest heavily with no consideration for ROI although as the financial squeeze eases, certain companies are able to justify the spend on luxuries to enhance their visible company profile. It might however, be more appropriate to consider the ROO or Return on Objectives”
“If the corporate is hoping to attract high calibre clients and staff, to influence the visitor’s perception of the company, to enhance the working environment, or to create a space for the company to gather for training and CEO communications for instance, since there is no direct influence on sales, there can be no measure of success in terms of ROI. The key measure therefore is of the Return On Objectives (ROO) in order to understand the potential success and hence the potential costs if the investment is not made.”
Liam Norris, Product Manager at PSCo, agrees that investment decisions are usually inspired by perception rather than any detailed financial analysis: “The choice of technology can say a lot about how an organisation wishes to be perceived. A display can portray a company as leading the way with the latest, cutting-edge technology or it can give the impression of falling behind the times. Large public displays are becoming increasingly common and companies will tend to make the extra investment to ensure their display satisfies expectations.”
Replacement schedule
A further factor in calculating the costs of a foyer installation is that of the effective product life cycle. If the purpose of the installation is to generate impressions of prestige and quality, what happens when the installation starts to look a bit dated? Wilson explains: “We like to talk in terms of a three year lifecycle for hardware, but, at the very least, we would suggest to a client that we review what’s happened in the period since the installation was put in. Examples of material changes include the move from wide to ultra thin bezels in video walls, and 4K will certainly prove to be a driver for change.”
Norris agrees that, as a rule of thumb, reception displays are assigned a standard writing-off period, but again finds that it’s not a hard-and-fast provision: “ If a technology is 3-4 years old and still looks good then most companies would avoid the extra capital expense on a new purchase. If operations cost is high due to regular maintenance and servicing, and it’s no longer performing as it should then it’s not creating the right impression and a replacement should be considered. Most major organisations will undergo regular refurbishment and upgrades to stay ahead of the competition and refresh brand positioning.”
But Abdool says that the requirement to change can sometimes be prompted be more by competitive instincts that any rational calculation: “End of life tends to come with a new tenant who wants to stamp their mark on the reception area or more commonly when a major overhaul takes place. These periods aren’t as long as one would imagine given the rate of technological advances and the desire to have the most impressive reception area – competition to create the wow factor can make the budget get extended to match the ego of the CEO.”
Multitouch Ltd’s VP of Business Development Hannu Anttila has seen the impact that interactivity has made on foyer installations. The company’s first foyer solution, based on its ‘tileable’ multitouch displays, was installed as recently as 2010. This was the Siemens Identity Display at subsidiary Siemens’ Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) headquarters facility in Vienna, Siemens City.
The Siemens Identity Display is based on uma’s SKIN product (and consisted of 14 MultiTouch Cell 46-inch Full HD LCD displays, in a 10.5-meter wall that enables visitors to simultaneously interact with Siemens information, as well as digital art, local and global news, and other rich media and Web 2.0 content. world
In keeping with the thoughts of David Wilson, SKIN enables visitors to explore Siemens’ values and topics that are presented from different data and web repositories, minimizing the content development effort for Siemens Corporate Communications. SKIN also includes person tracking technology, which allows it to react to the presence of people in front of or passing by the display. The interaction with the content is personalized on demand through RFID technology.
Developments
The pace of development has been rapid since the Siemens installation, with the potential of the technology fully realised in The Cube at the University of Queensland (look out for in in any coverage of the G20 meeting in Brisbane next year). For more general use, MultiTouch Ltd has packaged developments into a more standard product offering, the MultiTaction iWall.
This is a 5m x 2.5m turnkey interactive videowall solution comprising 12 x 55” ultra-thin bezel MultiTaction displays with 24 megapixel resolution. The iWall’s raison d’être is to inspire users to collaborate, communicate and explore, with the MultiTaction Experience application enabling users to configure rich media right out of the box.
Users can also personalise the user experience by utilising MultiTaction Codice, which creates a much richer communications channel between the user and MultiTaction iWall content than that provided by RFID technology. Codice IDs can be printed on visitor badges or ID cards, improving the user experience allowing the iWall owner to generate valuable analytics on user behaviour.
The purchase route
Whichever technology is appropriate to the needs of the customer, the selection process typically starts with the design consultants and architects. They work closely with display experts who keep them abreast of the new technologies so that they can incorporate them into their designs.
Norris has found that the purchase decision can often be pretty diverse as all manner of people have an interest: “The decision makers are often directors, owners and senior management, but marketing and facilities teams also pay an important role in finding the right technology. We work with all levels during the selection process to help them review the available options and make informed buying decisions based on their specific criteria. We assist partners and their end customers with product demonstrations at our Reading Assessment Centre to see and test the latest, innovative large format display, video wall and LED technologies side by side.”
“The choice of technology can say a lot about how an organisation wishes to be perceived. A display can portray a company as leading the way with the latest, cutting-edge technology or it can give the impression of falling behind the times. Large public displays are becoming increasingly common and companies will tend to make the extra investment to ensure their display satisfies expectations.”
If this market interests you, and it most certainly should, be prepared to put away your standard sales playbook – creating the visual expression of what a company actually is will be about more than ROI, TCO and even price. Purchase decisions will almost always be an emotive choice and so be prepared to run out the superlatives and those all so important ‘soft benefits’. If this isn’t your style, work with a creative partner to develop a concept, with content that really expresses brand values and activities. It’s a long way from a consumer TV with Sky News and muted audio.
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