Guest Post from Christopher Maione: Touch Panel Design – Keep it Clean & Simple

The development of touch screen designs started in the early 1990s when touch screen control panels began to gain traction in the AV market.   During my consultant career, I designed and engineered thousands of AV systems.  In many instances, corporate clients would insist on a consistent “look” across all their offices worldwide.  The market demanded that we organize, mechanize and streamline our touch panel GUIs in efforts to “standardize” (and hopefully simplify) AV systems control.

When looking at the touch screen interface the focus should be on a clean “look” with a nice graphical design that is intuitive, simple, and “user friendly”.

Aside from an appealing design/layout – it’s all important to key the number of button presses to achieve an operation to a minimum.  This is referred to as the Click Path.  There should be a maximum Click Path of three, meaning that an AV function can be controlled with no more than three button pushes on a touch screen.

Touch panel design, (also called GUI) has become a runaway train.    AV equipment has become more complicated; more control of equipment is available; and software based equipment has added menus for even more control.  Most programmers believe it’s necessary to include all this functionality in their touch panel designs and so the GUIs have become a cluttered mess.

Back in 2005, InfoComm released a white paper on what they called “Dashboard Design” which tried to lay down rules and guidelines for good GUI.

Touch panels are now everywhere in AV systems design.  I’ve reviewed and operated hundreds of different GUIs and they are, in my humble opinion – a complicated mess.  The control system programmer geeks still believe that just because they CAN control a particular function (or 1,000 functions) that they should add a unique button on the touch panel to do so.  More is not necessarily better.  Simpler is better.

Let me tell you about the “user interface of my coffee grinder/coffee maker.  It has the option to use pre-ground coffee (instead of beans) and if you want to make coffee using pre-ground beans – you need to turn “On”  the “GRIND OFF” button.  When selected, the indicator light turns “On” indicating the “GRIND OFF” is “ON”.  How ridiculous.

End users across all markets want a simple to use system – and that starts with a simple to use, intuitive touch panel.  It’s amazing we still don’t have a “Standard” GUI.  It’s even more amazing that very few AV Consultants include any real detail on what the GUI should look like and how it should operate. (Aside from of course my good friend and colleague Scott Walker of Waveguide, which set up an entire new and separate business model called “Brainwave” that focuses on marrying the hardware of AV with the software and programming of AV systems.)

There are three critical aspects to every AV systems design.  What we HEAR, what we SEE, how we CONTROL the system.  Don’t ever skimp on the quality of any of these.

If you are an AV Consultant, AV System Integrator, or End-User client and you are embarking on a new AV project – give some serious thought to retaining a competent Control System Programming firm.  Check their references; check their credentials and certifications; look for client reviews and recommendations; and take a look at representative touch panel layouts.  If you are developing a template for multiple room deployment – a good programming firm should be able to send you a touch panel loaded for review – or can develop an online web based emulator.

Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is president of Christopher Maione Associates, a firm specializing in all aspects of AV business, technologies, emerging trends and marketing strategy.  An industry guru and resource, he strongly supports the strengthening of the AV industry by continually setting benchmarks for improving the quality of the products and services AV manufacturers and professionals deliver.  With his global experience in AV / IT and architecture, he is an often sought after speaker for industry events and a frequent contributor to various industry trade publications.  Christopher serves as an InfoComm Adjunct Faculty, Approved CTS RU Provider and sits on several AV standards committees.