Kiosks and Learnable Interfaces

Dorothy Shamonsky

Dorothy Shamonsky, Ph.D., is a User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) Designer for ICS, who holds broad practical experience and theoretical knowledge in the field and works extensively on new touchscreen product development at ICS.

By Dorothy Shamonsky | Monday, September 15, 2014

When a person encounters a kiosk or computer device in a public space, such as a sales or museum kiosk, they can only benefit from it if they can figure out how to interact with it rather quickly. So one of the requirements of public interactive devices is that they be very easy to use, or easy to learn to use. But the learnability must be part of the user experience design. Depending on the content, a design may use very common interactive navigation patterns such as “next” and “previous” buttons that leave no questions about how to interact with them. But likely, the content needs more complicated design patterns, and then the designer is faced with the responsibility of making the device highly learnable. What techniques or approaches can a designer use to achieve this?

When I needed to design a highly learnable user experience for our ViewPoint Kiosk product, I thought about all the various techniques or principles that I could use.  Some of the principles are simply core to any good interface, but also support learnability. Consistency allows the user to use knowledge gained in one area of an application about how a particular component works and apply it again and again in other places where that component appears.  For instance in the ViewPoint Kiosk application, we have a slide viewer that holds many images or videos and the user can swipe to navigate through the stack. Once they learn that they can swipe to move through the stack, every instance of a slide viewer behaves exactly the same and the user now navigates those instances without confusion.

Prompt feedback lets the user know that their actions were registered and what the result is of their actions. Not prompt feedback is always confusing and makes it difficult for the user to determine or learn how a particular component works. But again, both of these principles are core to designing good user experiences. What takes learnability to another level?

When ViewPoint Kiosk is installed in a public space, it is deployed on a touchscreen device, so rollover hints and tooltips are not an option. There is always an option for just adding directions within the actual interface, such as next to a control have text that says, “Tap here to see which colors are available for this product.” However, if you are trying to create an aesthetically pleasing experience and a little magic, as we are with the Viewpoint Kiosk, helper text kills the mood, so to speak. We want users to have fun learning how to use the kiosk, so we want it to be discoverable and not in your face with tedious directions. So we have avoided using explicit directions on the screen as much as possible.

Subtle interface hints are a more desirable way for our product to support our users and I would argue is the case for any product attempting to feel like a natural user interface (NUI). Hint text is a staple of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) where an input field has phantom text that suggests what you will need to enter, such as “first name.” Hint animations, although they exist in GUIs, are much more the domain of NUIs. Small, subtle animations can bring the eye to an important item on the screen and can suggest the place that requires user input to proceed.

It can also hint at specific items that are touchable and even how you might touch them. We are currently experimenting with adding hint animations in the ViewPoint Kiosk. Where there are touchable elements that may not be obvious, we are experimenting with animations that catch the users attention by showing them a hint of what would happen if they did touch that element. If the user is not interacting, the system will suggest what the user might do by showing that a certain tile could flip to reveal more info, by beginning a flip and then the element can return to its original location. As you can imagine, doing hint animations successfully requires clever and creative design ideas, lots of trial and error and some user testing. Done well, they can be very appealing and useful, but done badly can be highly annoying to the user.

Public kiosks require an interface that supports quick learnability or we can assume users will get frustrated and walk away. Following the principles for designing highly usable interfaces will get you halfway there. Beyond that, carefully designed hint animations are a powerful solution to communicate what components are interactive and how to interact with them.

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