Decoupled Drupal: Powering Digital Signage

As companies look for new ways to deliver highly personalized digital experiences to customers, Acquia advocates an approach using decoupled Drupal.


We all know this long-held principle of business: when you put the customer first, you increase brand loyalty and success. As companies look for new ways to deliver increasingly sophisticated, highly personalized digital experiences to their customers, Acquia advocates an approach using decoupled Drupal, a rapidly growing development approach to meet the demand. 

Decoupled Drupal is powerful and ambitious, opening up new possibilities for digital experiences that harnesses the latest technology innovations and acts to future proof of your platform for delivering content and experiences to channels, devices and end-points that may not even exist yet. A few short years ago, who’d have thought we’d be creating content for Amazon Alexa devices?

With a decoupled, or headless, architecture, the user experience on the front-end is no longer limited to what is offered by Drupal. Instead, Drupal exposes its back-end data to other front-end applications, such as native mobile apps and conversational UIs, which are then responsible for rendering the front-end presentation layer.

In this article, we’re going to highlight just one application of decoupled Drupal: digital signage.

Why Digital Signage? 

Brian Reese, a senior developer at Acquia, describes the nature of digital signage as allowing for the delivery of the most current and relevant information to a consumer in ways that other marketing experiences can’t compete with: “Targeted communication, and well-placed and well-timed messaging can really influence buying decisions.” Digital signage allows brands to meet customers at the point of greatest influence.

It’s also a great medium for increasing brand awareness. “When it’s used most effectively, it has the ability to not only inform, but engage your target audience,” said Reese.

Case Study: A Digital Kiosk for the United States Air Force Band

The United States Air Force Band, based in Washington, DC, was searching for an interactive, user-friendly way to engage its audience and share information, such as concert dates and locations, musician bios and social media feeds. 

Reese and his team worked with band members to create a proof of concept. Based on the list of requirements, a touchscreen kiosk was determined to be an ideal solution — the original plan did not involve Drupal at all. 

“The band was using a legacy CMS,” said Reese. “However, we quickly discovered it wasn’t able to provide the approved proof of concept that was required from the back-end, and the band did not have the resources to update it. That’s why we pivoted to Drupal.”

To build the front-end application, Reese turned to AngularJS, while the back-end was created in Drupal. The navigation featured sections for ensembles, a photo gallery, a video gallery and a calendar, all of which pulled data from Drupal as well as unique sources, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google Maps and Calendar; in some cases sources relied on multiple data sources for a single section. 


Reese said one of the key findings of this project related to the importance of digital presentation. “As far as the front-end application and the user experience, where the data comes from isn’t nearly as important as how it’s presented,” he said. 

For Reese, most of the project’s work with Drupal dealt with configuration, such as setting up content types, writing a small amount of code to assist with a lightweight content migration component and creating code to build the API. However, out-of-the-box Drupal tools largely met most of the project’s requirements. 

“It was eye-opening to see how big of a web I weaved together for what seemed like, at the onset of the project, a really simple kiosk,” he added. “A lot of the improvements in Drupal 8 make it easier to expose these kinds of web services. Drupal really holds its own in this complex web environment.”

Flexibility was another key benefit of the decoupled architecture. Reese and his team built the proof of concept with an API in mind and approached it in such a way that they anticipated data from a variety of sources. Further, they described how much of the responsibility for normalizing the data of the front-end application was pulled in to Angular, rather than being tied to or hindered by variances in data from different sources.

Because Reese was building the project’s API from scratch, Drupal maintained full control over the fulfillment of that API, which was particularly beneficial given the front-end application was built first, with the API expectations set. The custom implementation allowed Reese and his team to build the API toward those pre-set specifications, rather than adjust the approved front-end to a new set of structured data. 

In addition, the project’s cloud-based architecture was a particularly big win for the client, providing not just a native app for a specific piece of hardware, but a web app that allows for easy, low-cost replication. 

“Originally, the kiosk was intended to serve as a single location with the concert band’s performance space,” said Reese. “But since it runs on just a web browser, there’s very little configuration on each physical machine they have, so they’ve been able to set up additional units with very little overhead. It’s also really easy for them to keep the content up to date and relevant.”

Learn More About Decoupled Drupal

If you would like to learn more about how decoupled Drupal can help your organization create innovative, customer-focused digital experiences, download our guide, Decoupled CMS: Decoupled Drupal 101, which provides an overview of how a decoupled architecture works, when you should consider decoupling, and how developers and designers can leverage decoupled Drupal to deliver ambitious digital experiences. 

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