Click here to close now.


Adobe Flex Authors: Matthew Lobas, Newswire, Shelly Palmer, Kevin Benedict

Related Topics: Adobe Flex

Adobe Flex: Article

Best Practices in Kiosk Design

Best Practices in Kiosk Design

Kiosk systems provide a unique set of development conditions and challenges. Whereas most multimedia development produces a software application, a kiosk is a collection of physical, hardware, software, and support systems. This article attempts to look at the entire kiosk project, in hopes that you will have control over most of it.

Design the Process
You already know to do your information architecture (IA), user interface (UI), and usability design for software before the visual layout and software development. You may even have the time, budget, and foresight to do usability testing focused on your target user base with wire frames on paper or with quick software mockups before starting on graphics and code. But for a kiosk, the product is more than an executable file; it is the entire system and process. Besides creating a simple and intuitive UI, you want to simplify the installation, deployment, and support of your kiosk.

Run the entire process through an IA/UI/usability design phase. Create end-to-end use cases; remember to include service and support personnel as users as well as the end user. Consider every aspect you are responsible for or interact with. Don't forget:

  • Computer hardware
  • Peripherals
  • Cabinetry
  • The operating system (OS) and third-party software
  • Networking
  • Installers
  • Documentation and training manuals
  • Online portions
  • Administration and configuration components
  • UL-type consumer safety testing and certification
  • Contracts with third-party vendors
  • Support systems
If no one considers a component, such as the base system OS, as a part of the end product, no one will be assigned responsibility for it and have time budgeted for it. Parts of your process that fall through the cracks will fall to whoever has the free time or gets stuck with it at the last minute, not the best person for the job.

Your initial sketches, charts, and use cases don't have to be incredibly detailed. It is better to realize that these "work products" are just as important to plan, document, and have in source control as the code. Continue to add to them and assign responsibility for the sections as the project grows.

We Control the Hardware
Choose Your Platform
Look at the entire scope of the project to determine which platform(s) you are going to focus on and develop on. It may be helpful to develop for full cross-platform compatibility even if the in-kiosk machine specification is for only one. A cross platform-compliant program can quickly turn into a demo CD-ROM or be viewed by that one client who uses "the other platform." You also want to try to keep your options as open as possible to limit your risk to hardware going out of production. There are several limiting factors on your hardware selection: certain required hardware components, components without drivers or features for a particular OS, sponsorship arrangements with hardware providers, and required software components such as an ActiveX controller for a digital camera.

Use industrial hardware components whenever possible for parts that the end user interacts with. Or, use cheap consumer devices with plenty of spares and a quick replacement process. Most consumer keyboards, mice, trackballs, and joysticks weren't made to withstand children playing on them and drinks being spilled on them daily. I have seen consumer components with impressive technical specs used - and replaced after a year's worth of sub-par performance.

With keyboards there are several options:

  • On-screen with a touch-screen monitor: This works best for a small amount of data. It may be more prone to vandalism and require more frequent cleaning, and have a major impact upon the UI/usability and visual design.
  • Custom industrial keyboard: This is a more expensive option and probably requires a third-party vendor, may require a Quality Control/Quality Assurance cycle of its own, and allows you to define exactly which keys are available to the user.
  • Standard keyboard (industrial or consumer): This keyboard already exists, is less expensive and more thoroughly tested than a custom one, and will require some work with the OS to lock out certain keys and key combinations to protect your system.
Choose your industrial hardware supplier and/or physical kiosk fabricator carefully, though. My last kiosk project had a running joke about the vendor's "Don't worry about it, we'll handle it" attitude and inability to complete even simple tasks. They shipped us a "new replacement trackball" that had been removed from service three months prior. The stainless steel kiosk cabinetry arrived on location in a distant city without a hole for power cables to exit. Custom industrial keyboards had their letters rubbed off by use within six months.

Just as you may separate generic code and graphics from specific, it can be helpful to keep user-generated data separate from the OS and application. When the OS hard drive becomes physically damaged, you won't lose any of the previous data. You may even separate the OS from the application.

And We Control the Software
The basic kiosk is just an application program (the Show) running in a box. It probably has an "attract loop" that runs between user sessions, and a time-out mechanism that detects when someone has walked off and returns the application to the attract loop.

The Show (and other kiosk applications) should create at least a couple of levels of logs. A user-interaction log will record the path the user takes through the application in order to data mine for information about how the kiosk is used. Each component may also have its own process or debug log to record the progress through the code, the beginning and finishing of functions and methods, relevant variables and states in the case of trapped errors, interactions between components on the kiosk, as well as attempts to talk to other machines and network processes. These debug logs are indispensable in solving problems if the kiosk does lock up, crash, or error, or even in knowing whether the problem is the code module, the data, the network, or a change to another component having side effects. All log files should be written locally in case off-kiosk communication isn't working and may also be remotely accessed or uploaded to a central location. The data may also be transmitted to a server as it is generated so you can track exactly where a user is, or as part of some multi-user system.

Logging data can be very important for understanding the long-term usage of your kiosks. It also may be important to have archived for historical data: I have parsed through debug logs to discover that the 1.3 release was actually more stable than the 1.2 release - despite the client's convictions to the contrary. Version 1.3 was receiving refocused attention due to the upgrade, showing the weakness of relying on anecdotal evidence of kiosk performance.

The Show and kiosk components have a variety of ways to transmit data depending upon your situation: it can be sent immediately via a direct connection, sent as tasks are completed (at the end of a user session), or queued up in batches to be sent only late at night.

Use audio sparingly and wisely. Audio should work with the entire kiosk, not be something someone just throws in at the end. If you do have audio, consider what can be done to make it more tolerable to any people who work around your kiosk installation. There can be quite a lot of intentional damage to your kiosk installation if it aggravates the people who have to work around it. Even during development, it may not be long before someone who sits near the QA machine asks someone to turn off the sound. (A cheap pair of headphones left plugged into each machine may help ensure office tranquility and allow people to hear the audio when they need to.) Attract loop audio can be especially annoying. Adding randomness and variability to the attract loop audio can greatly increase the experience for people exposed to the kiosk for long periods of time.

Herd animals use deep bass "lowing" sounds because these can travel over greater distances and are hard for predators to pinpoint the location of. Unless you are creating a kiosk about cows, dinosaurs, or the science of sound waves, you should avoid bass, especially when you have a group of kiosks together. This also means you can save money by not buying a subwoofer for the kiosk sound system.

One way to reduce the risk of the effect of downtime due to computer errors is a software or hardware "watchdog" component that reboots the machine if the show quits giving it a signal on a regular interval. A hardware version is more reliable than a software solution because the machine may lock up beyond the ability of the software to restart the system. The watchdog doesn't solve any problems with the kiosk crashing, and any user interacting with the kiosk when it crashes will still have a bad experience; however, if the kiosk is automatically back up and running shortly, it may still give many users a good experience. A kiosk that has crashed or locked up (possibly with sensitive user information left on screen) and sits for hours or days can give a lot of potential users a bad experience.

The kiosk may also require access to configuration settings, utility functions, and the standard OS. It may be helpful to be able to view logs, turn "restricted keys" on the keyboard back on, or to re-enable the cursor on a touch-screen kiosk for development and testing with a mouse. These configuration components and utilities may also be useful as parts of the Console.

The basic idea of the Console is to be able to control any kiosk from anywhere. Technically proficient on-site support is expensive; design and develop as if you will never be able to have a live human configure or support it again. If programmed well, a configuration application may work on kiosk, on a local console machine, and as a remote console, possibly through a Web interface. By making these features usable anywhere, you can change settings or fix problems from around the world or right in front of a suspect kiosk with a wireless device, with the same interface.

The console should be able to make configuration changes to the kiosks, either to a specific kiosk, or broadcast changes to groups of them. It may be useful to be able to control a kiosk by sending it a message that simulates a button push, allowing you to remotely "drive" the kiosk through a workflow.

So, How Are the Kiosks Doing?
One of the most useful features for your remote console is a "heartbeat monitor." (see Image I). The Show can send a "heartbeat" at a regular interval to a remote server, and the heartbeat monitor allows you to view that information. The heartbeat contains a minimal amount of information: kiosk ID, time and date (if the kiosk is scheduled, otherwise skip it and just use the server's time), and maybe what state the kiosk is in. Some useful states are "StartUp" when the machine reboots, "Error" if an error has been trapped and the kiosk is in an error state, "OK" when the kiosk is running fine, or any other modes or states the kiosk has, such as a "Night" or "Closed" mode, or periods of inactivity. The heartbeat monitor then allows to you see what is going on with your kiosks. The minimal heartbeat monitor may just display a green light next to a kiosk name that is okay, a red light next to one that isn't. Without this, you don't have an answer to the question, "How are the kiosks doing?" You can also display more information such as state, timestamps for last error, last restart, last OK ping, etc. With this information, you may end up alerting support staff to things such as the network being down or kiosks needing rebooting, or that maybe something else is wrong because, for example, no has used Kiosk 12 all day.

The heartbeat monitor can also come in handy when you're running QA tests. Your team can monitor the 10 machines across the hall in the QA lab all day instead of walking back and forth only a couple of times a day.

The holy grail of modern kiosk development is remote updating. If you never have to physically intervene with a kiosk in order to change the underlying software, you can greatly decrease the cost of bug fixes, content changes, upgrades, and updates. The console should be able to schedule remote updates and view versioning information for all the kiosks.

The console application may also be able to create and display other kiosk information, including data-mining information. Any information that can be used to chart user interactions, display usage statistics, orders, purchases, media usage, kiosk uptime or downtime, revenue, etc. Image II shows the console application main screen; Image III shows the console "settings" screen.

The Operating System and Supporting Applications
The creation process of the base OS and the installation of any drivers or supporting application programs is just as important to the success of your kiosk as the kiosk show application. Any third-party software required for your kiosk to run should be handled here. This process should be well documented, controlled, and versioned. Small things like the order of installing drivers may be important. Don't upgrade any component without realizing the inherent risk that change can pose. Make changes one at a time with testing, just as you would test major software changes. The more open-ended you can build this process, the better. Work to have a single OS recovery package that will adapt and work for variant hardware.

Quality Assurance, Too
Develop on Your Target Platform and Environment
The more restricted the target hardware/OS/supporting application environment is the more important this is. I know...I've got a snazzy laptop and I don't like the "other" platform either. But it takes only a couple of seconds to test a feature or make a screenshot to illustrate a problem on the target platform. And if I can't control that camera with my preferred system or I can't interface with the database because we don't have a network, the development process will take much longer.

Visual designers should also inspect their artwork on the target hardware displays. Graphics look a lot different in a dark cubicle on a perfectly tweaked 21" flat-screen monitor than they may on an out-of-the-box touch-screen monitor in a brightly lit room. LCD monitors may have problems displaying high-contrast images. Find out that the black, white, and red interface looks like with badly compressed JPG graphics on the kiosk's LCD screen before the client has signed off on the design and all the hardware has been purchased.

Test on Your Target Platform
Independent of your development system, you should have a target platform with controlled and documented hardware, OS, and supporting applications.

Test for the Long Term
Most multimedia application programs are run for only a relatively short amount of time in one session and can be recovered by the user if necessary. But tiny memory leaks can add up over 12 or 72 hours, and may be caused by your application, faulty supporting applications, or even a specific combination of motherboard, audio card, video card, and drivers.

Have at least a basic test constantly running on the target platform. I've been known to utilize "RECORDER.EXE" from Windows 3.1 to record primitive user interactions and then loop them for a week. There are much more sophisticated testing programs available. Target a full week of uptime, but build in a daily reboot if your product allows.

You'll also want to have a real QA process. Because you have a narrow target platform, QA can spend their time on the software functionality, rather than testing for compatibility issues. QA should evaluate and verify the entire process, not just the program, whenever possible, from building the OS, adding supporting applications, installing the application, configuring and deploying, and hardware component replacement.

While you may not be actively involved in supporting the kiosk over the full life of its deployment, there are many things that you can do to aid the support of the system.

Keep a backup of the base OS and of the OS plus the kiosk application at hand at any deployment. This can be used to wipe a troublesome machine clean or to format a replacement machine.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," but a reasonable consistency is necessary for kiosks. Imagine trying to fix an upside-down kiosk monitor in a remote location and discovering that two of the screws in the bracket holding the monitor require a star screwdriver bit. Work for consistency. Watch for computer hardware consistency - chipsets change in production runs and you never realize the variability in what appears to be the same video card until something doesn't work. Demand consistency from any third-party providers.

Take pictures of the hardware when it is set up correctly, as an illustration. Take pictures of the finished and deployed kiosks for reference later (see Image IV). It may take a long time to figure out remotely that the problem with the kiosk is related to which USB port the digital camera is plugged into.

Keep an adequate supply of replacement hardware on hand at the deployment site. Hardware seems to fail in pairs, but it may be that hardware failures are only noticed and reported by local staff after multiple units have failed. If you have a bug reporting console component that can be used on-kiosk or on a console machine, you will receive more accurate and helpful data than someone trying to decipher a handwritten log a week later. Remember that local personnel are already fully employed; don't count on adding any task to someone's job, even if it will "just take a minute." The security guard doesn't want the added task of shutting down all your machines every night any more than you do. Make sure any contracts and agreements define who is responsible for and who pays for upkeep, cleaning, checking on the physical system (blown monitors) and theft/vandalism. How hard or easy it is to support your kiosk systems is going to depend upon how well you are able to document, control changes, and simplify systems during development.

Kiosk systems can be rewarding to develop, allowing for far greater control over the system and the ability to push the limits of multimedia development. A kiosk is so much more than the interface the user interacts with, and thus requires more planning and development than typical multimedia software.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan, Chief Architect at CTS, will explore the synergy of Big Data and IoT. First he will take a closer look at the Internet of Things and Big Data individually, in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. Then he will explore the relationship between IoT and Big Data. Specifically, he will drill down to how the 4Vs aspects intersect with IoT: Volume, Variety, Velocity and Value. In turn, Tony will analyze how the key components of IoT influence Big Data: Device, Connectivity, Context, and Intelligence. He will dive deep to the matrix...
When it comes to IoT in the enterprise, namely the commercial building and hospitality markets, a benefit not getting the attention it deserves is energy efficiency, and IoT’s direct impact on a cleaner, greener environment when installed in smart buildings. Until now clean technology was offered piecemeal and led with point solutions that require significant systems integration to orchestrate and deploy. There didn't exist a 'top down' approach that can manage and monitor the way a Smart Building actually breathes - immediately flagging overheating in a closet or over cooling in unoccupied ho...
Scott Guthrie's keynote presentation "Journey to the intelligent cloud" is a must view video. This is from AzureCon 2015, September 29, 2015 I have reproduced some screen shots in case you are unable to view this long video for one reason or another. One of the highlights is 3 datacenters coming on line in India.
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
The enterprise is being consumerized, and the consumer is being enterprised. Moore's Law does not matter anymore, the future belongs to business virtualization powered by invisible service architecture, powered by hyperscale and hyperconvergence, and facilitated by vertical streaming and horizontal scaling and consolidation. Both buyers and sellers want instant results, and from paperwork to paperless to mindless is the ultimate goal for any seamless transaction. The sweetest sweet spot in innovation is automation. The most painful pain point for any business is the mismatch between supplies a...
The broad selection of hardware, the rapid evolution of operating systems and the time-to-market for mobile apps has been so rapid that new challenges for developers and engineers arise every day. Security, testing, hosting, and other metrics have to be considered through the process. In his session at Big Data Expo, Walter Maguire, Chief Field Technologist, HP Big Data Group, at Hewlett-Packard, will discuss the challenges faced by developers and a composite Big Data applications builder, focusing on how to help solve the problems that developers are continuously battling.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
Mobile messaging has been a popular communication channel for more than 20 years. Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen invented the idea for SMS (Short Message Service) in 1984, making his vision a reality on December 3, 1992 by sending the first message ("Happy Christmas") from a PC to a cell phone. Since then, the technology has evolved immensely, from both a technology standpoint, and in our everyday uses for it. Originally used for person-to-person (P2P) communication, i.e., Sally sends a text message to Betty – mobile messaging now offers tremendous value to businesses for customer and empl...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the cloud and the best price/performance value available. ProfitBricks was named one of the coolest Clo...
“The Internet of Things transforms the way organizations leverage machine data and gain insights from it,” noted Splunk’s CTO Snehal Antani, as Splunk announced accelerated momentum in Industrial Data and the IoT. The trend is driven by Splunk’s continued investment in its products and partner ecosystem as well as the creativity of customers and the flexibility to deploy Splunk IoT solutions as software, cloud services or in a hybrid environment. Customers are using Splunk® solutions to collect and correlate data from control systems, sensors, mobile devices and IT systems for a variety of Ind...
Organizations already struggle with the simple collection of data resulting from the proliferation of IoT, lacking the right infrastructure to manage it. They can't only rely on the cloud to collect and utilize this data because many applications still require dedicated infrastructure for security, redundancy, performance, etc. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Emil Sayegh, CEO of Codero Hosting, will discuss how in order to resolve the inherent issues, companies need to combine dedicated and cloud solutions through hybrid hosting – a sustainable solution for the data required to manage I...
You have your devices and your data, but what about the rest of your Internet of Things story? Two popular classes of technologies that nicely handle the Big Data analytics for Internet of Things are Apache Hadoop and NoSQL. Hadoop is designed for parallelizing analytical work across many servers and is ideal for the massive data volumes you create with IoT devices. NoSQL databases such as Apache HBase are ideal for storing and retrieving IoT data as “time series data.”
Clearly the way forward is to move to cloud be it bare metal, VMs or containers. One aspect of the current public clouds that is slowing this cloud migration is cloud lock-in. Every cloud vendor is trying to make it very difficult to move out once a customer has chosen their cloud. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Naveen Nimmu, CEO of Clouber, Inc., will advocate that making the inter-cloud migration as simple as changing airlines would help the entire industry to quickly adopt the cloud without worrying about any lock-in fears. In fact by having standard APIs for IaaS would help PaaS expl...
Apps and devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. Learn how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again) whenever an Internet connection is available. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud Data Services, will demonstrate techniques for replicating cloud databases with devices in order to build offline-first mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) apps that can provide a better, faster user experience, both offline and online. The focus of this talk will be on IBM Cloudant, Apa...
As enterprises capture more and more data of all types – structured, semi-structured, and unstructured – data discovery requirements for business intelligence (BI), Big Data, and predictive analytics initiatives grow more complex. A company’s ability to become data-driven and compete on analytics depends on the speed with which it can provision their analytics applications with all relevant information. The task of finding data has traditionally resided with IT, but now organizations increasingly turn towards data source discovery tools to find the right data, in context, for business users, d...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a software development company, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software development company with representative offices in Atlanta (US), Sheffield (UK) and Würzburg (Germany); and development centers in Ukraine. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business managers to a full-scale mobile software company with over 150 developers, designers, quality assurance engineers, project manage...
Learn how IoT, cloud, social networks and last but not least, humans, can be integrated into a seamless integration of cooperative organisms both cybernetic and biological. This has been enabled by recent advances in IoT device capabilities, messaging frameworks, presence and collaboration services, where devices can share information and make independent and human assisted decisions based upon social status from other entities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Heydt, founder of Seamless Thingies, will discuss and demonstrate how devices and humans can be integrated from a simple clust...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Raxak has been named “Media & Session Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Raxak Protect automates security compliance across private and public clouds. Using the SaaS tool or managed service, developers can deploy cloud apps quickly, cost-effectively, and without error.
Who are you? How do you introduce yourself? Do you use a name, or do you greet a friend by the last four digits of his social security number? Assuming you don’t, why are we content to associate our identity with 10 random digits assigned by our phone company? Identity is an issue that affects everyone, but as individuals we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ben Klang, Founder & President of Mojo Lingo, will discuss the impact of technology on identity. Should we federate, or not? How should identity be secured? Who owns the identity? How is identity ...