To Touch or Not to Touch

To Touch or Not to Touch

By Dorothy Shamonsky, Ph.D.

At Integrated Computer Solutions [ICS], we are proud of the many projects we develop and although we would like to display all of them, often we are restricted due to confidentiality clauses or because they run on specialized hardware. So recently we decided to create a touchscreen demo to exhibit some of our user experience [UX] and software development expertise. The demo was written in Qt and QML and can run on a variety of hardware. Initially, the demo was meant for display at several trade shows such as the recent Qt Developer Days 2012 in Berlin and in Santa Clara respectively. While at the shows, we had the demo running on large 22, 46 and 55 inch monitors. Some were even removed from their housings and replaced with Plexiglas frames to give them a clean and modern look.

    Is it a touchscreen or not? I’m sure many of you have had the experience of trying to interact with a touchscreen only to find out that it’s not a touchscreen. It’s a bit embarrassing and you may have fingerprinted an otherwise pristine monitor. Yargh! So it’s a known fact that people are shy about touching screens unless they know they are supposed to. We knew this could be a problem for our touch demo at the onset. Our team discussed the idea of adding signage for the demo that somehow said or symbolized “touch me.” In the end, we rejected the idea as not professional for our situation. After all, our demo was a portfolio piece and a talking point for our sales people. As a result, we had our staff actively use the demo with booth visitors, showing them that that the monitors were touch monitors. The demo was well received and currently, we are continuing to refine the demo and extend its usability.

Overall, the development of this demo has been a vivid reminder that context is such a significant aspect of UX. Users need to have some kind of prior knowledge about a system (e.g., tablet means touchscreen) or they need to get up to speed on a system (my in-vehicle display behaves this way) and then they know what to expect. When presented with a new and different system, especially one they might use only once, users need very explicit instructions.

Kiosks, for which our demo could be categorized, generally have the UX “problem” that they don’t have a prior defined context of use. It’s because the device can be so varied in its design. Each device can run the gamut of being either all touch, a combination of physical buttons with touch or have only physical button interaction with a standard keyboard. They can have deep interaction or very shallow interaction or they can have large displays or small.

ATMs and payment devices are a good example of kiosks that have evolved as a consistent, clear, contextual model mostly due to their pervasiveness. They often have a combination of keypads and touch screens and show explicitly when to touch and when to use a physical button. But kiosks as a whole can be very varied. Many information kiosks are one of a kind. The most unique UX challenge for kiosk design is to clue the user into awareness that it is an interactive and possibly a touch device—by the monitor housing, by signage, by clues on the screen and by other means. In other words, provide context for the user. 

View ICS's Interactive Touch Display demo.