Kiosks vs Kiosks Usability

By | February 3, 2016

A very nice article on usability and design by Digital Wellbeing Labs. This is earlier review of earlier iterations of the “cool unit” that was just deployed at JFK.


Why do some kiosks appeal, whilst others are frankly just repulsive? I have this weird relationship with kiosks in public places. As a classically trained interaction designer I am compulsively attracted and start poking them to see how they react to my avances. Some kiosk types such as ticket dispensers and ATMs are utilitarian and are aimed to speed up purely functional transactions. Other types aim to guide the public to their destinations or attract passerby’s to engage with one or another dynamic brand.
It’s incredible what kind of mess there is out there. Sometimes to the point of being hilariously tragic. Many kiosk variations are present in public spaces. After more than two decades of various types of displays one would expect that engaging and usable versions are commonplace. Take for example the ticket kiosks for the Heathrow express and how many iterations and changes of language it took to achieve a reasonably usable system … and it’s still not quite there. Quite often it is not about the overall idea of placing a kiosk in a particular environment, but it comes down to small details in the implementation and the successive management of the set-up that determines acceptance and success.

It’s about time we create a Michelin-Star type rating for public services with a special section dedicated to kiosks and websites.

Mind you these systems are rather expensive to implement. In the professional press and in marketing blurbs most of these systems are praised as the ultimate in customer service and brand representation. But, if you look underneath the hood it is consistently a ragbag of off-the-shelf components, clumsily assembled and arranged according to limited space into a custom made shell. So why is it, that quite often the implementation of the interaction is left to someone who has been playing around in Powerpoint, or these days, an intern in his second term using Flash? I am regularly baffled by the logic of navigating the menu on most kiosks. It seems that few ever applied serious user testing. And with user testing I don’t mean just being able to perform a given task, but actually taking into account the whole environment, the role it fulfills in the complete user experience, in which the kiosk is placed. I will get back to this with various examples in future posts. I will also discuss in another post how things go seriously wrong when the UI on kiosks is laid out in such a way, that value added services are pushed to the top and the actual purpose of the kiosk is hardly to discover.

An excellent recent example of the good and the bad are the information kiosks placed at the new international train terminal of the Eurostar at St Pancras in London and the kiosks found spread around the new Westfield Shopping Mall in White City, West London.

Both fulfill similar functions; find a store or service around you, locate the toilets, highlight any events and push some advertisements etc. Both are located in very dense, high footfall environments.

I’ve spent some time observing the use by the public of these kiosks and one thing is immediately evident. Whilst the kiosks in St Pancras attract the occasional passerby, the kiosks at Westfield are in constant use.

So here is my thinking, purely empirical and subjective:

  • Placement of the kiosks


St Pancras – Nowhere near any main entrances and always just out of the way of high footfall areas like escalators. One actually has to almost search for them even when they are highly visible standing throughout the environment. On the other hand, there is little incentive to use them as most of the few shops and services are located along a linear path from the various entrances to the platforms and you will eventually bump into what you may or may not be looking for.


Westfield – The kiosks are exactly where you expect them, at dominant locations in the center of entrance areas and on major crossways. One reason for the popularity of the way finding kiosks may be that design specifications of the rest of the environment did not allow to easily find shops whilst scanning the alleys. There are no signs protruding into the corridors, so one needs to stand almost in front of the stores before being able to identify them.

  • Physical design


St Pancras – The kiosk totems reflect an early nineties design sensibility. Large vertical units trying to fullfil multiple way-finding and information tasks. There are two screens mounted above each other. On top, a general information streaming display, with time, weather and departure info, arranged in portrait format. Below, a touch screen in landscape format, suggesting some kind of relationship between the two screens where there is none. On multiple visits I noticed that some of the displays were out of order. In case you are not aware where you are, the designers ensured to splash the St Pancras name/logo in a prominent position on the totem, instead of using this space for meaningful labels to identify, for example, different meeting location throughout the station.


Westfield – This is seriously clever design. The light, almost fragile modern look. The two sides of the kiosk at different angles and slightly different heights to accomodate different user requirements. The table-like setting allows the users to maintain awareness of the environment without having their views blocked. The angle of the displays actually invites to linger and try different options. I am not sure about glare and reflections on the screen but it didn’t seem to bother users too much. I believe the units have been supplied by the BF group but I can’t figure out who designed the units or who actually provided the user interface other than that the original signage for the mall was designed by the Portland Group. The materials used in the Kiosks seems to be the Corian-like LG Hi-Macs which is used all-over the mall. Unfortunately we’ve spotted on some repeat visits some tension chipping around the displays on a few kiosks.

  • User interface design


St Pancras – Why do designers always try to re-invent the world just when about everyone has got used to one or another interface navigation standard? The main navigation menu button is situated at the bottom right, at about hip-hight, nicely out of sight for most users. More annoyingly each time you press the menu on the touch display a short animation shows a set of button choices stumbling to arrange themselves into a list. If I am in a hurry to reach my train and I have to wait again and again for a 3 second transition to pass by whilst I am navigating the menu, I will soon abandon the kiosk. And what does this animation say about the St Pancras terminal brand? Apart from the placement of the Menu button did the designers actually consider it to be good practice to hide the most common menu options from view, so that the users have no clue what options are available at a glance at any time during interaction with the kiosks. I fully support simple looking interfaces but in this case, out of sight is out of mind .It seems that the content and some of the navigation is provided by completely different agencies not working to the same style spec.


Westfield – Even if the touch displays seem not to be as responsive as they used to be shortly after opening, you generally get what you are looking for. Not that it will be any easier to find the actual physical location afterwards. The interface to send a way-finding message to your mobile is probably one of the best implementations I’ve seen so far. Sure one can disagree with the level of menu options in the menu bar at the top that includes of al things “jobs”, or the wording of the bread crumbs underneath the menu, but overall this is a very decent job. I still don’t know who designed the UI but whilst browsing I came across terabyte from New Zealand who did an at least great looking UI for Westfield kiosks in NZ.

There can much more be said on a heuristic level of these two similar, but yet again very different kiosk experiences, but this sums up some of the key issues with current kiosks or info-pods, or whatever you want to name these in public spaces.

links :

Tagged as: kiosk, shopping mall, st pancras international, usability, westfield


  1. Wired Orbit

    The touchscreen UI’s for the Westfield Development were designed and built by Instant Business Ltd (


  2. mind avatar

    Here’s a few more things to consider in the Kiosk Theory 😉

    Theme: maintain a flirting relationship in the human-kiosk-interaction (HKI)

    1. Kiosks placement directed near gathering/rest points – such as snack spaces, not just near main entrance or centre of floor/mall.
    2. Kiosk-to-Kiosk spatial relationship that exuberates artistic impresssions – create a Kiosk genre…
    3. Include e.g. Google search-like, mappable-like feature in it, and allow mashup features on Kiosks (including real-time feeds on news, weather, etc…)
    4. Have colourful meaningful facade amongst Kiosk community (yep, that’s right a Kiosk is a community member of space-time and lifestyle). Try color changing Kiosk triggered by ambient temp, pressure, or sound.
    5. On point 5: A zebra wavy black-white Kiosk in a Zoo, may be more meaningful, than a milky white zonky Kiosk.
    6. I agree that Kiosk doesnt have to be represented as boxy or rectangular protrusion.
    7. Be a trigger (if not a representation)of human emotions – a flower shaped Kiosk, a “Thomas the tank engine” Kiosk in PINK, … a tourist attraction at par to the Eiffel Tower, et al. A blackberry or an iPod (contemporary icons) looking Kiosk, could possible get the associated manufacturer involved in sponsoring Kiosks.
    8. Acknowledge that Kiosk has feelings too – let the entity be the centre of overflowing attraction, for goodness sake.
    9. On point 8: In addition, Kiosk can be slightly off the ground, and red-carpeted, named and knighted… Sir Kiosk of Westfield.
    10. BTW, don’t try making love with Kiosk… flirting with the entity should be enuf 🙁

    The mind wonders…

  3. Mike Cole

    Excellent article, I agree that for public facing interactive displays, it is so important to make the solution a welcoming experience and then once engaged, deliver what the customer needs in the shortest time possible.
    Satisfying this requirement really comes down to the following areas:

    • Reliable touch technology that does not restrict the kiosk design, even better, pick one that can enhance the design and is completely resistant to the unrelenting demands of public areas
    • Fast response when selecting content
    • Keeping the content simple relevant to the point and up to date!
    • Easy and intuitive navigation, for example large navigation buttons in your face and close to the centre of the display, you can lose your customer in an instant if navigation is just too hard!
    • Please please no tiny A to Z directories
    • Never have the terms “KISS” and “less is more” been more relevant than when large interactive displays are deployed for public facing applications like kiosks, through retail windows, bus shelters, wayfinders etc

    We have all experienced very bad examples which can very quickly disappoint an impatient customer, however it is also good to see that some very fine examples appearing that engage and do the job they were designed to do.
    Thanks for reading


Author: Staff Writer

Craig Keefner is the editor and author for Kiosk Association and kiosk industry. With over 30 years in the industry and experience in large and small kiosk solutions, Craig is widely considered to be an expert in the field. Major kiosk projects for him include Verizon Bill Pay kiosk and hundreds of others.