Rethinking Device Interaction in Pandemic Times

Rethink Device Interaction

Since the introduction of the iPhone, an increasing number of devices have
adopted touchscreens as a means of interacting with them.
Touchscreens have become so pervasive, that our instinct is to touch a screen whether it is designed to be touched or not.

We use them at virtually all payment terminals, gas pumps, restaurants, information kiosks, and increasingly in elevators and building controls.

Whether we are interacting with touchscreens or screens surrounded by pushbuttons, they all require physical contact. When these devices are personal, that’s one thing. But when they are public interfaces, that’s another thing, especially in a pandemic context.

So as product designers and engineers, what’s our response?

Short term it is to minimize contact, disinfect surfaces frequently, and wash hands often. Long term it’s to start designing for a contactless world. Let’s take a look at a few possibilities.

Take the touch out of touch screens

Consider the use case of a gasoline pump. Today, after swiping a credit card I’m often walked through several on-screen questions… Rewards member? No. Car wash? No. Receipt? Yes. Then I can start the pump.

These choices could be replaced as defaults, with exceptions requiring interaction. No hardware changes required, just a firmware update.
Replace touch with a gesture. Gesture-based control is often used in
augmented and virtual reality applications and has started to trickle into mobile and embedded devices. While perhaps not as intuitive or precise as touch, we will adjust.

Use voice control

Unless control is immersed in high ambient noise, this seems like a straight forward choice for prompted or menu-driven user interfaces. Perhaps this is also a good application to implement TinyML, where you are running an inference model on a limited number of voice commands.

Augment the local device UI with a personal UI

Most of us carry around phones with fantastic user interface capabilities.
Let’s extend the interaction onto these devices without having to download and install native apps for every brand and type of device.

As we adapt to social distancing and remote working, take this opportunity to rethink device interaction. How should our design language and choices
change to eliminate product contact without compromising interaction?

Let’s do our part and make the world both safer and more connected.

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