Free Your Mind: Advances in the Industrial and Product Design of User Interfaces

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We live in a world that expects every display to be interactive. When a child approaches a screen in a shopping mall, they instinctively touch it, and are surprised if it doesn’t react. Touchscreens are now a natural part of our everyday lives – from smartphones and tablet computers to ticket machines and self-service checkouts.

Despite their ubiquity, many product and industrial designers still opt for generic touchscreens in their designs – fearing high tooling costs and lack of flexibility when it comes to prototyping. They design a product and choose a generic, rectangular touch panel when there can be distinct advantages to sometimes selecting a solution that has been precisely tailored to the application, both in terms of appearance, and performance.

However, there exists the very real challenge of finding a touchscreen manufacturer that can help deliver such innovation in user interface design. You need a partner that can quickly produce prototypes without high upfront engineering costs or prohibitively high MOQs. One that can work closely with you to understand the unique requirements of your project and then propose a customised touch interface, which is not only designed to enhance the user experience but also operate faultlessly in the chosen application.

With that in mind, Ian Crosby from touchscreen manufacturer Zytronic, shares his thoughts on the leading considerations a product designer should have when planning a device that has a touch interface.

Environment

When your product is made for outdoor, unsupervised use, certain elements of touchscreen design become challenging. The threat of bad weather and vandalism necessitate thicker glass, which can be an issue for responsivity when using conventional capacitive touch panels. The overall product must be designed with the touchscreen integrated as a core element of the system from the outset –‘bolting on’ an unsuitable touchscreen as an afterthought increases the risk that it won’t properly operate in your self-service device when exposed to rainwater, surface contamination, etc.

You must also consider the use your product is being designed to fulfill and how that affects the touch panel. For industrial or medical uses, for example, the touchscreen must be capable of working reliably with gloved hands.

Hygiene and cleaning

In a post-pandemic world, any surface that will be touched by multiple users may be an issue – how do we ensure people continue to interact with a touchscreen safely? If a touch panel is planned as part of your project,you should try to ensure that the screen is designed to be fully flat to the product with no recesses or raised areas, which could lead to dirt, dust and potentially harmful microbes being trapped and also make the screen harder to clean. A product designed with the right touchscreen from the outset will instead be able to be wiped down easily. As in the above point, the screen must also be able to register input from gloved hands and be resistant to harsh disinfectants and scrubbing.

Intended purpose

Will your product be used by a single end-user or, like an interactive whiteboard for business use, will it need to respond to multiple inputs from several users simultaneously? Again, this should be considered holistically from the project outset, as retroactively installing a multitouch overlay might not work with some types of displays. The touch sensor and underlying panel should be considered together and at the design phase and then form, fit and function tested in an integrated, working prototype model.

Accessibility

A new challenge for designers of self-service systems is matching the expectation of touch technology with the real challenge of providing fair accessibility for any potential user. Therefore, if a product is being designed to include a touchscreen, due consideration should be made to ensure that the technology can be used by all, including disabled and visually impaired users. These additions or custom elements must be planned and tested at the design and prototyping stage rather than retrospectively,and for that reason, the correct touch solution must be selected early in the product design cycle.

Fortunately, none of these challenges are insurmountable if the appropriate touchscreen technology is chosen. Where once, a product designer was hampered by the difficulty of prototyping touchscreens thanks to high MOQ’s and inflexible designs, projected capacitive touch technology and capability have now moved on tremendously in recent years. Zytronic, for example, can provide bespoke designed touchscreen prototypes to product designers within a matter of days or weeks, and at no, or minimal tooling cost – giving them the flexibility and freedom they need to create unique solutions, and quickly test and demonstrate to potential stakeholders and clients.

Taking this even further, the right touchscreen partner should also be prepared to consult with your design team at the initiation of the project – helping them understand the challenges and potential solutions bearing in mind the application and environment.

A designer may begin with an idea and then create a 3D rendering – but only by testing a real, physical prototype can the idea be verified and presented to a client. To all product designers: there is now no need to limit yourself to simple or unsuitable touch panels – you can give free reign to your ideas and concepts and begin exploring the limitless possibilities of the latest projected capacitive touchscreen technologies. To learn more, contact Zytronic today with your name, position and project challenges.