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. They’re surprised if it doesn’t react. Touchscreens are a natural part of our everyday lives. From smartphones and tablets to ticket machines and self-service check-outs, touchscreens are everywhere.
Despite the fact that they’re everywhere, many product and industrial designers still opt for generic touchscreens in their designs. They fear high tooling costs and lack of flexibility when it comes to prototyping. Designers create a product and choose a generic, rectangular touch panel. When actually, there can sometimes be distinct advantages to selecting a solution that has been tailored to the application, in both appearance and performance.
Yet, there is a very real challenge of finding a touchscreen manufacturer that can help deliver such innovation in user interface design.
You need a partner that can produce prototypes fast without high upfront engineering costs or high minimum order quantities. One that can work with you to understand the unique requirements of your project. One that can propose a customized touch interface, which is not only designed to enhance the user experience but also operate faultlessly in the chosen application.
Consider the environment
When your product is made for outdoor, unsupervised use, certain elements of touchscreen design become challenging. Bad weather and vandalism calls for thicker glass, which creates responsivity issues when using conventional capacitive touch panels. The product must be designed with the touchscreen integrated as a core element of the system from the outset. “Bolting on” an unsuitable touchscreen increases the risk that it won’t properly operate in your self-service device when exposed to rainwater, surface contamination, etc. You need to also consider the need 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-COVID world, any surface that will be touched by multiple users will be an issue. So how do you 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. The screen must also be able to register input from gloved hands and be resistant to harsh disinfectants and scrubbing.
What’s the 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 many inputs from several users simultaneously? Again, this should be considered from the project outset. Retroactively installing a multi-touch 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.
Don’t forget about 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. So, 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. 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 minimum order quantities and inflexible designs, projected capacitive touch technology, and capability have now moved on in recent years. Touchscreen prototypes can be provided 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.
The 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.
There’s no need for designers to limit themselves to simple or unsuitable touch panels. They can give free rein to their ideas and concepts and begin exploring the limitless possibilities of the latest touchscreen technologies.