Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Intelligent Design and Innovation in the Self-Service World

One of the most exciting things about kiosks, aside from their versatility, is the design potential. Kiosks can be almost anything, from a simple screen on a desk to a chambered nautilus. Even the simple formats (the "library catalogue" version) beg for user-friendly construction. Beauty isn't a bad feature either. Check out this IDSA award-winning example from University of Illinois Urbana Champlain student Toshihiro Fujimura, whose design is one of the few I've seen that actually has a functionality to its arched body (the kiosk is "bendable" such that it's easily reachable by someone shorter than average or in a wheelchair). Someone should tell Toshihiro to name it "praying mantis" because that's ultimately what it resembles.

We're not quite at the mobile monster stage, as predicted by Futuresonic, but the kiosk in their promo intrigues and suggests possibilities. A 45-second video featuring a rolling kiosk has become the launchpad for 2010's FutureEverything.

Even ordinary applications can be extraordinarily deployed. Ecast recently took home the award for its high-definition digital signage display that delivers digital music, games, video, user-generated content, targeted advertising and social applications and offers myriad opportunities for promotion at the point of purchase. A "revamped jukebox" for bars, offers many features, including s a 40-inch, full HD flat-panel touchscreen. The display can support any manner of content and is divided into three sections to offer various types of views. Interestingly, the device's shape looks similar to a giant Apple iPhone, attracting users to explore its content even more.

Speaking of Apple, of course, the thing that has all design folks atwitter is the revelation that Apple has had a kiosk patent out since 2007 and appears ready to launch iTunes kiosk availability in malls, airports, and other sites. If these new kiosks are anything like Apple's other products, expect sleek design, straightforward functionality, and easy of use.

But until we get that kiosk locally, perhaps it's important for kiosk design to participate in the re-conceptualization of retail spaces like malls. New York Times design blogger Allison Arieff recently returned from the 2009 International Council on Shopping Centers Convention in Las Vegas and promptly blogged a rich presentation of the various successful innovations on the whole mall idea. Because of their versatility, kiosks should have a prominent place in new community designs and retail centers (be they traditional malls or new urban amphitheaters of localized consumption). Arieff's blog should be a great starting place for those re-conceptualizing future use value for kiosks beyond the hospital and fast food line.

Finally, in Auberdeen Scotland, an experiment with free wifi has worked well, including the public web kiosks. The spots look like an outcropping of urban beach umbrellas, have only been damaged a few times since they were first put up, and provides invaluable free wifi to all. I love these because they evoke beach umbrellas ready to take off into space.