News & Views

Designing for Multi-Touch Screens

by Contagious Contributor

3M Touchsystems's marketing manager Paolo Pedrazzoli looks at how multi-touch screens can enhance retail and other environments with visual, interactive and multi-user engagement

Touch technology is hardly new: most of us are very familiar with the concept of using our fingers to interact with content on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or a POS system in a shop. But some of Europe’s biggest brands are now turning their attention to the next evolution in this technology: multi-touch which makes it easier to not only access information, but also for multiple users to interact with each other and with brands and in a highly visual and engaging way.

With this technology, companies and their agencies can create an immersive ‘physical’ experience to relay all kinds of engaging content at the same time. For example, different ‘windows’ can be simultaneously opened to show in-store offers, stock availability, loyalty card information, home delivery booking, product guides, a store map, links to the web, video demonstrations, seasonal promotions and competitions.

According to research firm BCC, this is a market predicted to be worth $7.3 billion by 2018. And it’s not just retailers who are using multi-touch: other early adopters include: museums and galleries, exhibitions, hospitality and other entertainment venues, demonstration units in corporate offices, video games and casinos.

Keeping the kids happy

Multi-touch screens also make it possible to address different audiences with different content, but on the same device at the same time. For instance, in a retail store, parents can carry on with their online product browsing, while their children tap around on the ‘magic’ screen to their hearts’ content, perhaps entering competitions or playing games that relate to some of the in-store brands.

While multi-touch systems can arguably allow sales staff to focus on other priorities, they can also use the units as a means to assist the sales process, perhaps as a means to explain something in more detail, to draw the customer’s attention to new offers or product ranges and help close a sale there and then. This is proving particularly popular in the automotive world, where several of Europe’s premium car brands have installed multi-touch systems in their showrooms.

So what does this ‘multi-touch’ world look like? With diameters anywhere between 15 and 55 inches, with up to 80 simultaneous touch points, these display screens are typically embedded into either wall-mounted or table-top designs (for instance, one estate agent in London has a 46 inch screen set into a ‘coffee table’ type design that acts as a focal point in its Westminster office).

As well as improving in-store customer engagement and sales, multi-touch systems can be used to collect customer data, via integration with CRM systems and to analyse user behaviour and sales patterns. Multi-touch systems can also be integrated with bar code scanners, QR codes and even mobile apps.

It’s all in the design

Many people will have had an unsatisfactory touch technology experience at some point (I’m sure many readers can identify with memories of stabbing a finger on a screen that just doesn’t respond quickly enough). So what makes for a good multi-touch experience?

Display location – wall-mounted displays may be best where space is limited, while a table-top design can be very impressive, as well as better for drawing people around it to interact.

Lighting conditions and robustness – look for touch technology that is easily viewable even in bright light, which can be a problem in stores, showrooms and other venues where there are lots of windows. This is why Projective Capacitive (PCAP) technology is proving increasingly popular, because it is unaffected by lighting conditions and also provides a consistently accurate and quick touch experience. Also consider whether the system is able to withstand high levels of user traffic.

Integration and smart software design – does the system need to integrate with back-end software processes, other devices or applications? The software itself needs to be very intuitive and easy for anyone to use, without requiring any training or explanation. Across the world, there are consultancies and systems integrators emerging who specialise in natural user interfaces and the multi-user, interactive on-screen experience.

Most brands and their agencies are still at the experimental stage of working out how to use multi-touch screens, but this technology is definitely an exciting addition to their armoury of tools for audience engagement, in a compelling, multi-user, interactive and powerfully visual way.

Paolo Pedrazzoli is marketing operations manager for 3M Touch Systems EMEA