Office of Information Technology

Digital Signage Strategy and Protocol


Digital signage allows academic and administrative units within the Brown University community to reach and engage audiences by showcasing various aspects of the unit’s programs or offerings. The signage can reflect the life and vibrancy of a unit in a way that enhances the audience’s experience with a program, and can improve communications about key information.

By virtue of their placement in locations frequented by a wide range of audiences, the signs also become a very visual and ever-changing part of what people identify as representative of Brown. The signs represent the offerings of the particular unit, but also very much become part of the narrative about the Brown community.

The Brown University Digital Signage Strategy and Protocol aims to foster expression of the strengths of the individual units administering the signage, while also ensuring that signs — in their content and presentation — acknowledge that all units within the University contribute to an overall experience of Brown for individuals who work on or visit the campus.

The policies outlined in the protocol recognize this sense of community by extending to digital signage the University’s existing policies. The guiding principle for many of these policies is the responsibility of all employees to keep student and personnel data confidential. The policies should help sign administrators avoid liabilities, such as claims related to violations of copyright and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that might result from posting or redistribution of content. In addition, the signage is expected to reflect the same visual identity conventions that are intended to unite all of Brown’s communications.

The policy and protocol for use of digital signage at Brown outlines guidelines, as well as copyright and other requirements, for the use of technology resources to display information and messaging on digital signs on campus.

For the purposes of this protocol, digital signs are defined as any digital display or projection system whose content is managed by a Brown University resource and driven by an automated or unattended playback device. This protocol does not apply to large television displays in internal building spaces (conference room, classrooms, residences, etc.) that have as their primary function the broadcast of cable or satellite signals, academic course material, or projected internal presentations or as external computer monitors or projectors for presentations.

Digital signage is a visual communications medium where images, videos, and other multimedia content are shown on a digital display (LCD or LED) or projection system. Digital signs are typically placed in public locations for the purpose of informing, engaging and advertising to a targeted audience during a specified time. Digital signage systems usually comprise a content management system, playback devices, and television screens. These systems allow content to be frequently and easily updated collaboratively by many groups of users.

The standards and guidelines comprising the Brown University Digital Signage Protocol apply to all digital signs at Brown University that are owned and operated by academic or administrative units, Brown faculty or staff, or student organizations recognized by Brown’s Student Activities Office (“Brown entities”). Signs owned and operated by affiliates (alumni organizations, contracted vendors, etc.) are governed by the contractual agreements in place for those signs (such agreements require review by the University’s Office of General Counsel).

The standards for University signs are as follows:

  1. To acknowledge the community narrative that signs play a role in communicating, all digital signs that have as their primary function the hosting of content produced or sponsored by members of Brown entities are expected — in their fabrication or slide design — to include the recognized Brown University identity.
    • Most administrative and academic units currently follow Brown’s standard approach of combining their unit’s name with the approved Brown identity to visually represent their units in various communications, and continuing this practice on the digital signs will keep these units in alignment with the signage protocol.
      Image 1a
      Image 1a. This example demonstrates an approach that uses a similar look and feel to the Brown University website. The bar beneath the header houses an area to display the name of your department while using approved Brown fonts and styles.
      Image 1b
      Image 1b. This variation shows an alternative way to present a co-branded layout, still maintaining Brown’s colors and other visual identity elements.
      Image 1c
      Image 1c. Shifting the logo and department information to the bottom is another option for this approach to co-branding.
      Image 1d
      Image 1d. In this example, the formal department logo already incorporates the Brown visual identity. Therefore, it is not necessary to show the Brown logo elsewhere in the signage design.
    • For Brown entities that have chosen to establish a visual identity separate and distinct from the recognized Brown identity, the key elements of the Brown visual identity are expected to be co-branded with the formally established visual identity of the department(s) administering the signs. This may include the coat of arms and/or the Brown wordmark in the appropriate typeface.
      The images below show a few examples of how this may be accomplished. Sign administrators may choose other creative approaches that align with these standards.
      Image 1e
      Image 1e. The co-branded header area in this example incorporates both the Brown University shield as well as a logo that the department has developed.
      Image 1f
      Image 1f. This example shows that the co-branding also may appear in the footer, making room in the header for other widgets, such as weather.
      Image 1g
      Image 1g. For departments that have departed from the standard Brown identity with different brand colors that have been formally established for their department, working the colors into the digital signage layout is one option to create co-branding with other University identity elements.
      Image 1h
      Image 1h. This example demonstrates the use of a department’s formally adopted graphics, colors and logo alongside the Brown logo to accomplish the expected co-branding.
      Image 1i
      Image 1i. This example does not meet the standards for co-branding. It reflects only a (fictional) department’s logo, colors and fonts and does not acknowledge the department’s membership in the Brown community.
      Image 1k
      Image 1k. Like the example above, this layout also does not use any recognized Brown logos or branding and therefore does not meet the standards of the protocol. It also has non-contrasting colors, complicated background image and font choices that are difficult to read.
  2. To ensure alignment with existing University visual identity policies, the Office of University Communications must review changes in layout that alter the background design and/or fabricated frame. The University welcomes creativity, so this review simply ensures that layout changes do not revise or update presentation of the Brown identity in a way that conflicts with visual identity policies.
  3. Because sign branding is intended to reflect ownership or sponsorship of signage content, digital signs whose content exclusively (100 percent) is not produced or sponsored by a Brown entity should not bear University branding.
    • Signs used exclusively as media players to host photographs, videos, creative writing, performance art or other intellectual property not owned or produced by University academic or administrative units should not bear University branding (which might imply ownership of this content). However, this content must be appropriately credited (see # 7 in this protocol).
    • Signs used exclusively to host content produced by external entities (businesses, community organizations, affiliates, etc.) should not bear University branding, as such branding might imply University responsibility for the content or endorsement of the organizations.
    • Signs owned and operated by entities other than Brown academic or administrative units, Brown faculty and staff, or a recognized student organization should bear the branding of the entity that owns the sign and is responsible for its content. This is a best practice to ensure accountability for content, and to provide a source for individuals who may have inquiries about sign submissions or content.
  4. If sign administrators representing a Brown entity accept submitted content from entities external to the administrating unit (the administrating unit may be an academic department or program, including all of its faculty and staff, an administrative office, department or division and its employees, or the members of a recognized student organization), administrators should establish written, clear rules for all submitted content to ensure that no groups feel discriminated against if their content is not accepted. These rules should be provided to individuals or organizations the first time they request to submit content. Discrimination on the basis of group or content preference can create issues of liability and the potential for accusations of censorship.
  5. To protect the sign administrator and the University from liability, signage content cannot violate the University’s rules of confidentiality, or state or federal laws protecting the privacy of student information. Signage administrators are not permitted to divulge confidential information concerning Brown University, or information concerning third parties, which the University has a duty to keep confidential, including, but not limited to:
    • Health, financial, employment and other personal information regarding faculty, staff and students.
    • Student academic or disciplinary information (this includes class rosters that include student names).
    • Information regarding the University’s business, marketing and financial plans.
    • Information regarding the identity and finances of Brown University donors without express written permission.
    • Information regarding litigation and other legal matters involving Brown University.
    • Information that Brown is contractually obligated to keep confidential.
    • Methods, designs, software, manuals, patented information, and other trade secrets.
    • All other information that, by its nature, would be understood by a reasonable person to be confidential.
  6. Signage administrators cannot post copyrighted material unless that posting is clearly permitted under the fair use doctrine of U.S. Copyright law, or has been expressly authorized by the holder of the copyright.
    • No images can appear on the screen for which the unit or University does not have rights, or for which the user or University has not obtained written permission for multimedia dissemination and redistribution. Images in the University’s Assets Collection are available for the entire campus to use, and images produced internally for or by a Brown entity are generally considered the property of that entity.
    • Any content created from external copyrighted material must be credited. The source must be properly identified. This applies to copying news headlines and any content from news stories or external websites into slides (external RSS feeds with an identified source do not require individual sourcing of each news item; see #6 below).
    • Signs cannot violate the trademark rights of any third party, including Brown University, by violating visual identity policies.
  7. Any non-Brown University created content that is automatically published to a sign without user interaction must be properly identified with the source. Common examples of automated external content include: RSS feeds, Web pages, and dynamic image files.
  8. All touchscreen signs designed for interactivity (viewer-driven or viewer-facilitated content navigation) must meet federal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act:
    • Minimum and maximum height or touch point for the control area of the user interaction must be between 15” and 48” from the floor.  Interactive content can either be designed within these standards or an option must be present to switch from a non-ADA mode to an ADA compliant mode.  
    • Text must be at least 3/16” with sufficient contrast.
    • An area of 48 square inches directly in front of the interactive sign must remain clear of obstruction.
    • For more detailed information regarding ADA regulations please visit the U.S. Access Board website.
  9. For security and to avoid issues of liability, students, student employees, contractors, vendors and non-employee affiliates may not submit un-moderated or non-approved content.
    • Any student-, affiliate- or externally-submitted content must require an approval process managed by a regular Brown employee.
  10. Commercial endorsement may violate the University’s non-profit status. Do not post content that might cause someone to believe that his/her name, image, likeness or other identifying aspect of his/her identity is being used, without permission, for commercial or for-profit purposes.
  11. In keeping with the University’s non-profit status, signage content cannot promote political campaigns.
    • Statutes regulating non-profit entities include prohibitions against using institutional resources to endorse individual candidates or parties in a political campaign (this prohibition does not apply to publicizing events featuring political figures, but rather language endorsing a political party or figure).
  12. All signage users are expected to use the naming conventions approved by Computing & Information Services for use campus-wide for all elements of the signage system: the media players; sign layouts; message and ticker playlists; and messages and tickers.
    • Consistency in naming for media players ensures that software users know which players are attached to which screens and their location in order to push content to the correct display and location within the layout.
      The naming convention that must be followed for the media players: Department_Building Name_Location
      For example: CLPS_Metcalf_L1 Stairwell
    • The naming convention for layouts provides a description of how each layout looks. Consistency in naming for layouts is important because a preview option for layouts is not available in all software versions.
      The naming convention that must be followed for layouts:
      Department_Display Resolution_Number of Content Blocks and Type_Theme
      For example: CS_1920x1080_2CNT_Ticker_Theme1
    • Consistency in naming for message and ticker playlists is imperative to ensure that the content creators and individuals creating the layouts push content to the correct playlists (each layout likely will include more than one playlist in different areas of the screen). Also, consistency in naming will allow flexibility for signage administrators to share playlists with other units should they wish to do so. NOTE: If playlists have non-standard aspect ratios, like 16:9 portrait or date/time content blocks, use separate, dedicated playlists for those so that content doesn’t get distorted by pushing it to content areas in the sign with different resolutions.
      The naming convention that must be followed for message and ticker playlists: Department Aspect Ratio_Description
      For example:  IBES_16:9_Events
    • Consistency in naming for messages and tickers is important because this content may be created daily in the system, and standardizing the naming makes it possible to track these messages over time. This is especially the case if there are content approvers or others maintaining a library of messages.
      The naming convention that must be followed for messages and tickers: Department_Location_Description_Timeframe.
      For example:  OIT_Service Center_Back to School_SEP2015

For questions about these standards and guidelines, please contact the Office of University Communications. For questions about the technical or software aspects of digital signage implementation or operations, contact

Policy last updated August 31, 2015