I am designing an iPad application that will be used in a kiosk. The user will not download the application from the Appstore but will instead walk up to the iPad with the application already running. This is what I have so far.

  • Can't assume the user has learned the UI conventions that most iPad applications use.
  • All UI elements should be slightly larger than a typical iPad application since it will be used at arm's length i.e. the user will not be curled up with it on a couch.
  • As per almost all Kiosks I've used there is a 'Start Over' button on every screen

I'm kind of conflicted on the the start over button because the UX on the iPad is more explicit than any Kiosk I've ever used before (animations showing deeper/shallower navigation).

Are these ideas valid and are there any other considerations I should keep in mind while designing this application?

  • Where will this kiosk exist? Is it in a retail environment or more like a museum or is it part of a restaurant? All of those have different contexts associated with them and a set of behaviors that impact a lot of the design. Dec 7 '11 at 18:51
  • Also is this digital signage? Or is it self-service technology (super proper term :) ) ? Dec 7 '11 at 18:52
  • Not sure how much I can tell you about the specifics, I wanted this question to be more general so that others can get something out of it but it will be a informational kiosk in a service center setting. Dec 7 '11 at 18:58
  • Interesting, in that case check out what I just added to my answer concerning first impressions. Dec 7 '11 at 20:43

There is good Question from before around general iPad design: Are there any good resources about designing touch screen interfaces?

Design Considerations

These are really high-level and do not touch on UI design in particular.

  • Staff/Employees - Since it is an iPad kiosk I assume there will be people there. Employees are key to any business and this should be augmenting them or helping them. Watch for threatening their job functions and also think about how to integrate them into the design thinking.
  • It's more than a screen - Think about and design the entire process of what you are creating. For instance if people can order things see if you can get a deal with the retailer for free shipping. We don’t design in a vacuum, if our implementations don’t simplify process or make a process more enjoyable for our users then we should question the reason for it in the first place. This can of course also be achieved with a higher level of integration.
  • Integrate into context - Make sure that it doesn't stick out but fits into the process and works with surrounding assets. In a store this might mean that it points you to the correct isle. In general it could mean that it works together with your phone.
  • First impressions last:
    • Visible from 6'' away.
    • Don't start the transaction with “Touch here to begin.” --> Begin what? Does the customer have time to find out?
    • No need for "attract" screen if it is obvious what to do. Better to jump straight into the action.
    • Video loops often get mistaken for digital signage. They then end up being used by less people.
    • Better with a clear call to action "Get Special Order products"
    • At a glance it needs to be clear what a person is committing time to. They won't simply browse/play.
  • Loads more... - Just don't have time now. Sound / Simplicity (one action/screen) / Navigation / Privacy

Hardware considerations that affect design (ref)

Usually purpose built screens are recommended because of wear and tear, in particular those used outdoors. But also because badly executed kiosk can look amateurish. There are several challanges to using consumer devices such as an iPad:

  • Durability
  • Structural Integrity
  • Mounting Options
  • Theft
  • Tampering
  • Connecting to peripherals

Maintainance is key to understanding risks and costs since the intial cost is only one piece of the puzzle.

  • Service Life - Commercial products generally have longe service life than consumer products such as an iPad. Reason is that their intended use is also different.
  • Screen Life - Generally consumer device LCD screens are rated at 10,000 (1 yr) hours until their brightness is on 50%. Commercial LCD screens rate at 50,000 hours (6 yrs)
  • Repair cost - Repairs might be easier to do for bigger kiosks where nuts and bolts are involved but I would assume they are not cheaper than tablet repairs. What if an extra tablet was always available so that a broken tablet could be replaced while the other one was sent for repair?
  • Thank you for your pretty comprehensive answer. I upvoted others that answered my question about the start over button. Some other things I learned about using the iPad as a kiosk: 1) Turn off the screen auto-lock 2) Turn off multitouch gestures so that they can't escape the kiosk app 3) Turn off ask to join wifi network just in case Dec 30 '11 at 14:40
  • 4)Turn off bluetooth Dec 30 '11 at 14:43

A kiosk application by definition should not expose its underpinnings. As a kiosk user, I should not have to understand the UI conventions of an existing platform to make the kiosk application easy to use.

A common approach would be a wizard style interface. It would walk and guide the user to their destination and allow them to answer questions and move both forwards and backwards in a linear manner. Simple, generally effective and requires no formal understanding of UI conventions.

Every kiosk application I have encountered has a defined linear path to completion. It must exist. Be it at redbox, the post office, or other application; getting to done should be as easy as possible.

The Start Over button is a nice bail out feature for the user. Depending on the depth and complexity of the application a Start Over button allows the user to throw up their hands and start fresh, which can be a welcome addition if as a user you have gotten yourself into a pickle and you are not certain what constituted default when you began this journey.

  • I agree. The fact that it's an iPad is a bit of a red herring. The end-user shouldn't need to know/care what device is running things.
    – DA01
    Dec 7 '11 at 16:14

The start over button is not only useful for the current user. When the current user walks away from the screen and leaves the machine in a non-default state, the next user should have an easy way to start over and get the entire context of the kiosk procedure.

For example a ticket machine at a train station: when the previous user already made some selections but did not finish the procedure, the next user should be able to start making his own selections easily.

  • Thanks for your answer. I didn't think about the start over button helping the next person in line to restore the machine to it's default state. Dec 30 '11 at 14:35

In addition to a "start over" button, as mentioned previously, an automatic time-out is a must-have feature for any kiosk system. After X period of inactivity, you should reset the app to it's "home state". However, you should also provide a time-out warning before the reset, basically asking users "are you still there?" in case they're still there but not actively touching the screen. Time-outs, in particular, scream for testing... so keep pushing make sure to watch your users actually using the thing.

The home state should also likely not be static, but rather be an attract loop with video/animation that entices a user to use the machine (exception: purely "functional" kiosks like airline check-in kiosks likely don't need this, as you're not really choosing to use them... and as such, they don't have to attract you to use the app).

Don't think of the app as an "iPad app", but rather as a kiosk app, as Aaron McIver previously mentioned. You can't assume that the user will be familiar with iPad conventions (or indeed, will even realize that the app is running on an iPad!), so actions should be readily apparent and have great affordances. Most tasks should be accomplished by tap, although swipe/scroll can be OK as long as the UI is readily apparent. Pinch zoom can also work, but you'll need to give explicit instructions.

In terms of general kiosk design best practices, here's one of my favorite articles on the subject. It's a little old (2004), and certainly not specific to iPad, but it will put you in the right frame of mind for the practical and logistical challenges presented by kiosks.

Good luck!

  • Thanks for the time-out warning suggestion, I forgot to mention that we were considering an automatic time-out but the time-out warning will definitely be needed. Dec 7 '11 at 18:33

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