User Attention and Duration of Engagement in Public Kiosks

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 | Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Common user experience (UX) wisdom says that you have a short period of time (approximately 3 seconds to 3 minutes) to attract, seduce and convince a user to use your app, site or device. Once you capture their attention, you need to sustain a long-term relationship by offering the user real value (Skype), enduring enjoyment (Candy Crush) or at the very least, an obligation to be a participant in popular experiences (Facebook). Do the same principles apply to public kiosks, such as ticketing, retail and museum kiosks? The answer is yes and no.

Yes, Kiosks Depend on Attraction, Enjoyment and Value

A public kiosk UX is as dependent as any UX, on attracting users with compelling visuals and delivering clear usability. I would argue that retail and museum kiosks that offer little or no services that are required by the user, are very dependent on attracting users by having beautiful and intriguing visuals. Otherwise, they risk just being ignored by the bulk of passersby.

Once attracted, the user needs to find a way to engage, or they will quickly walk away. First, the usability of the kiosk must allow a user to navigate the content with simple, commonly known interface cues. Second, the content needs to deliver fun or value to sustain any duration of use. However, with a kiosk, all this must happen in the rarified context of a public space. This is where a kiosk differs from the experience of a personal device.

No, Public Kiosks are Not Like Using a Personal Device

Clearly there are a combination of reasons that cause a user to spend their valuable time, or not, on a particular app, site or device. As already mentioned, the reasons range from pure enjoyment or needing a particular tool to accomplish a task no matter how painful or unappealing the experience might be.

However, other issues can influence the duration of use, such as, do you own the device? Can you use it freely as you wish? Can you use the device privately in your home or at least within only your range of vision, like your phone? Unlike using a privately owned device, public kiosk use is limited by certain constraints related directly to their shared, non-private nature.

First, since kiosks are public devices, as a user, you will always feel an obligation to limit the duration of your engagement with one. A kiosk is by definition a shared device, so you get your chunk of time and then move on and let others have a turn. Public kiosk interaction is always short-term.

Second, since kiosks are public, others can often witness user interactions, and this alone can curb someone’s duration of use. If you are at all shy to share your interactions, you will keep your duration of use to a minimum. Conversely, a user could enjoy the performance aspect of a public kiosk and make the most of their interaction time.

Third, most public kiosks require that the user stand to interact with them. In this context, it is not conducive for someone to have a sustained engagement with content.

As a UX designer, if you realize that the average time that any one user will interact with a public kiosk can be counted in minutes, you will realize how important it is to construct an experience that delivers its full impact within a very short timeframe.

If you put the bang at the beginning of the user experience, you will attract users and engage them to interact. If the content in a kiosk is deep, you’ve probably wasted your efforts adding things that few will ever get to. My rule of thumb for kiosk content is keep it thin but make what is there – amazing.



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