Why I Don’t Like Touchscreens

I had quite a sobering experience the other day at the supermarket.

Our supermarket has a neat feature at the deli counter. It’s a kiosk with a touchscreen that allows you to “pre-order” your deli order, then go about your business in the store. You come back later, and your order is ready. Very nice.

The kiosk works by presenting you with options, while lecturing you in a voice that reminds you of that particularly pedantic English teacher you had, back in 6th grade. The voice explains your options  S L O W L Y  and clearly. This means that you are at each screen for several seconds. It usually takes a couple of minutes to make an order.

Well, I made my order, went around and got the rest of my stuff, then came back to pick it up. It wasn’t yet ready, so I had to wait.

As I was waiting, I watched the people using the kiosk, because that’s what I do. I watch people use technology.

There was this one gentleman, and I’m sure that he was a gentleman, that completely altered my outlook on touchscreen technology forever. here’s why:

He seemed very nice. In his late forties or so. Well-dressed in a casual sort of way. Probably drove up in a Lexus or Mercedes (This isn’t a low-rent neighborhood. I’m the hoi polloi). He was making a deli order. Now, here’s the frightening part:

As he was waiting for each page to complete, he was absently picking his nose. With the same finger he was using to touch the screen.


To make matters worse, just before touching the screen, he would absently lick his finger, exactly as readers do before turning a page.


I don’t know about you, but I’m not using that kiosk again. Maybe I need to wear latex gloves whenever I go shopping.

User Experiences

Sleuth in Need of a Clue

In Borders Books, they have these neat “Title Sleuth” workstations. You are supposed to use these for looking up your books. The UI for the workstations isn’t particularly good, but what always gets my goat is this:

Sleuth in Need of a Clue

Note the teensy-weensy little left-click button. There is no right-click, which is OK. This is a “kiosk” system, so they want users to follow a custom navigation that the kiosk controls. Here’s the problem: The kiosk doesn’t know whether or not it’s a computer.

What do I mean by that? Well, the program that controls the display is a custom Microsoft Windows NT-based system. This is fairly typical of POS (Point Of Sale, not the…other…acronym) systems. The UI (User Interface) for the system is fairly standard Windows NT. The screen is pretty high-resolution, so it’s fairly large. It’s not a touchscreen, and even if it was, I wouldn’t use it. In any case, standard Windows UI is no good for touchscreen. The controls are far too small. You need to customize them for touchscreen applications.

Obviously, the designers want you to use the keyboard for everything. It does work. The problem, though, is that there are a couple of dozen fields on the screen at any one time. When you get search results, you have long list of clickable links. You really need to move the cursor to places and click. I think it is safe to assume that the kiosk was designed with cursor movement in mind. If that is the case, why is the damn mouse button so small?

Inset ButtonI’m not particularly fond of trackballs as pointing devices, but I can accept them. However, that teensy-weensy little Smartie-candy mouse button is awful. In most stores that I have visited, the button is not particularly functional, and you have to click on it fairly decisively in order to trigger it. That is a real face plant right there. You need to “wake up” just a bit in order to select a field. The concave design of the button aggravates this condition, as it is so deep that you may think the button has been pressed enough to work, when it has not been pressed far enough.


Face Plants:

The button is absolutely necessary for operation of the kiosk, yet has been made so small that it is non-intuitive, and hard to use.

The concave design of the button is too deep. The button is recessed into the counter top, so you need to press into the counter top, but the concavity in the top of the button makes this difficult. Basically, it is hard to click on things.

Suggested Solutions:

Make the mouse button larger.

Make the mouse button rise above the counter top slightly, and reduce the concavity.

I’m pretty sure the designers deliberately deprecated the mouse button because it was always accidentally being pressed. This would take some testing to get an acceptable shape.

Redesign the UI to eliminate the need for a mouse, and remove the pointing device.

Okay, I don’t like touchscreens, but that would be better than this.