Leonard C Suskin's musings on writing, parenthood, and the wonderful world of commercial AV.
Friday, March 21, 2014
Looking and Seeing - The World through AV Eyes
Before my AV career I did a few other things, including telephony and the unparalleled horrors of residential cable installations. One interesting thing about these three fields is each has lead me to a greater focus on parts of our world the rest of us take for granted and fail to notice. If you drive down a residential street with me, for example, I'll notice if services are brought in aerially or below ground, if cable and phone drops are run neatly at right angles or lazy diagonals from the pole, perhaps even if homes are being fed with fiber or copper. A closer look and I'll see if connections are properly grounded. Why? It's simply become part of my world. So to it is with AV. Sometimes as a consultant I can even see things which aren't really there.
Earlier this year, Molly Stillman asked the following question: Does work in AV "ruin" live events for you? I've never worked in the live-event side of the industry and, for that matter, don't attend all that many live events. What I do know how to view - and what has become part of my world - is installed AV. What's interesting is the different things that irk or interest me as I've moved from the integration to the consulting side of the world. Over a year ago when I was first seeking work with the SMW team, Tom Shen asked me a very good question: why did I think I was ready to work in consulting? This was part of my answer: a passion I have for the technology, and an eye I develop towards seeing it. If you were to walk through a hotel lobby with me, I'd very likely be able to tell you where they have video monitors, where there are speakers, and what I think they should have done as compared to what they actually did. This game of asking myself what the designers were thinking, what they should have been thinking, and what I would do differently is one I am constantly playing in my head.
Two recent examples come to mind. One is a digital signage display at my local grocery story (the Douglaston outpost of the New York based chain Fairway). My contractor eyes see a nice Sony display surface-mounted above the deli counter, fed by a signage player of some sort. It matches the similar monitors pole-mounted near the frozen foods. My contractor eyes see that it might be mounted slightly off-true, and that someone left the protective plastic cover on the bezel. These kinds of small installation details are easy to spot anywhere.
Digital Signage in the wild.
My consultant eyes see something different. They see that if one waits in a natural position a few feet back from the deli counter the display is too high to see without craning ones neck and that if you're actually AT the counter it is directly over your head. Given the pace of the Fairway deli counter, customers standing far enough back to view the content will almost certainly lose their place in line. The content consists of a loop of what appear to be in-house produced cooking and food videos with an overlay including the store's social media address and a few announcements. It's nicely chosen content for a grocery store, but misses an opportunity to highlight anything special in the specific area where it's placed. The consultant in my head wants to push the display back behind the deli counter, adjacent to the pricing board. This is where people will be looking anyway, greatly increasing the attention the sign is getting. As there are more than one of these in the store, content can be adjusted per location; perhaps the deli counter could show sandwich making, the creation of some of their salads and slaws, or give an idea of what we're supposed to do with that hundred dollar a pound Iberico ham I've always been tempted to try but have feared that I lack the sensitivity of palate to appreciate. As things stand, it's a reasonably clean installation with appropriate content. With a tiny bit more thought, it could be something more. And, of course, with a tiny bit more thought and a great deal of extra money the menu board could be replaced with a video wall for something truly spectacular. That's the part where my consultant-eyes see things which don't, in fact, exist. This also might, in all fairness, be a bit of overkill for store signage.
A good value!
I'll give you a quick preview of my second example from the wild: interactive kiosks at rail stations here in New York. In addition to form and function, those suggest another theme which I'll be exploring in a future post exclusive to ExpresSHENs, the official blog of SMW (but please remember - whether I post here or there, my opinions are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the SMW team at large).
What do I have to say about this?
Tune in next time!
For the nonce, I'll leave you with a question: with what kind of eyes do you look? And what do you see that isn't there, or that others don't?