Inside the Kiosk: Enclosures

| by Matt Cunningham
Inside the Kiosk: Enclosures
First impressions count with kiosks as they do with people. Make the right one, and a deployer can count on the kiosk becoming a valuable asset to his business. Choose the wrong enclosure, however and that vital first impression could be a bad one for customers and service staff alike.
 
Fundamentals first
KIOSK Information Systems Marketing Manager Cheryl Madeson says clients at her company first complete a questionnaire of more than 70 questions. It's designed to distill the client's true needs from the wants and misconceptions that could hinder the design process.
 
"It's just making sure we've asked all the right questions," she said.
 
KIOSK senior sales engineer Eric Nebola adds that there are three main factors he considers when developing a custom enclosure:
  • What is the application, and what does the customer expect the kiosk to do?
  • Where will the kiosk be located? "I think this is generally the biggest part of making sure it's a successful deployment," he said.
  • Will staff or maintenance personnel be able to service the kiosk quickly and easily?
These are not always the first things on a client's mind, he explains. A client may fixate on a certain component, for example, or have specific branding features in mind that won't work in a real-life deployment.
 
"I would say it's about 50-50," he said. "Some [clients] have educated themselves. Others come in thinking they can get a $3,000 kiosk and put it outside and it'll work – they don't understand."
He and Madeson agree that KIOSK's questionnaire goes a long way to overcoming these misunderstandings.
 
Frank Olea of Olea Kiosks says his company has clients consider five mission-critical aspects of the kiosk when making design decisions:
  • Software: Is the desired hardware compatible with the desired software?
  • Manufacturer: will the manufacturer of choice be able to produce the end design?
  • Service provider: Is the kiosk designed to be easily serviced?
  • The client: Does the kiosk enclosure meet branding standards and needs?
  • The end user: Does the end user accept the kiosk, and will he use it?
These categories may not initially seem to have much to do with design. But Olea suggests to clients that they survey every member of their company deployment teams to gain a broad-scope picture of the five categories' needs. This, Olea explains, paints a clear picture of what the various parties depending on the kiosk – users, deployers and servicers – need the kiosk to do. And that can play a major role in shaping the kiosk's enclosure.
 
All in the balance
 
Once a self-service project's fundamentals – its intended use and audience, its location and service needs, and the basic component selection – are laid out, it's time for the enclosure designers to go to the drawing board.
 
But they're not just sent off with a blank slate and a request for a pretty box. Enclosure designers must balance a number of often-contradictory requirements. What emotion does the deployer's marketing team want customers to experience when using the kiosk? Will the deployer place the kiosks in a corner, on a wall or in another location that could hinder servicing? How much can the deployer pay for the kiosk project and still realize a reasonable ROI? Enclosure designers must balance the triangle of cost, usability and branding in a way that serves all three.
 
And then there are ADA requirements. Both Nebola and Olea say these government-mandated specifications, which assure that customers with disabilities can use the kiosk as easily as those without disabilities, are considered from the start of every design. Still, they can present challenges.
 
Olea mentions that a recent trend toward larger LCD displays, often portrait-mounted on the kiosk, sometimes creates a height/accessibility issue.
 
"ADA sideways approach regulations state that any user device must be no higher than 54 inches off the ground, so you can find yourself with a monitor that has up to half of its screen area above that height," he said. "The flip side of that is if you place the monitor too low you can end up with other peripherals, like printers, outputting paper too close to the ground below the monitor."
 
Thankfully for the designers, technology is ripe with solutions. Kiosk materials range from simple metal, wood or plastic to high-tech (and high-dollar) composites. Smaller, more compact components mean that the enclosure's shape doesn't have to be dictated by heavy internal parts, and can conform to the deployer's overall branding vision. And a deployer who enters the enclosure design process with clear input from its IT, marketing, advertising and security teams may find the balancing act is not as difficult as it may first appear.
 
Future trends
 
Madeson, Nebola and Olea all say kiosk enclosure styles are in constant flux. New materials come to market. ADA requirements change from time to time. And consumer tastes can change a design staple into yesterday's news in no time flat.
 
But beyond these ongoing fluctuations, they say there are some trends that seem to be shaping the look of today's – and tomorrow's – kiosk enclosures.
 
One is the use of solar power and low-power-draw components to make kiosks more environmentally friendly. Nebola explains that, while it's relatively simple to replace internal components with more efficient models, incorporating a solar array into an outdoor kiosk presents design challenges: how big does the array need to be? Will it throw off the kiosk's overall aesthetic? If it looks good on the kiosk, will it still be positioned so that it can capture enough sunlight to do its job? Will it get in the way of users? The balancing act of these factors is as constant and contradictory as the one mentioned earlier, but Nebola says clients are willing to deal with it in order to have "green" kiosks.
 
Another trend is more dictated by economics than the environment or other external factors, says Madeson. Given the recent economic slowdown's effect on retail business, many potential deployers held off on rolling out major deployments. Now, she says, they are both pursuing pilot projects with more caution and, once the pilots prove successful, are looking for ways to ramp up deployment in a cost-effective manner.
 
Happily, the use of CAD design programs and a backlog of past designs means most kiosk enclosure providers have a wide range of stock designs to choose from. And if a client finds a design that's almost right, Madeson says it's often easier – and more cost-effective – to adapt the design instead of starting from scratch.
 
"There's a little bit custom and full-blown custom," she said, adding that more and more deployers are choosing the former option.
 
Effective kiosks deployed five years from now will likely be drastically different from the current crop of deployments. Who knows what technological marvels will need to be incorporated into their designs? Who can guess what consumer style trends will do to enclosure shapes, sizes, materials and colors? It's hard – if not impossible – to predict the future. But a good fundamental needs assessment and clear communication among deployer team members will always be a critical part of kiosk enclosure design. Designers know this, and their methods of leading clients through the complex balance of creating a good enclosure will only get better with time.

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