When planning a project, there is some basic questions we should always ask first, when it comes to using technology. This should very early in planning. Of course depending on the project, the questions might vary a bit. But in general it is the same approach. Here’s one possible list:
- What would an alternative solution look like?
- What are the drawbacks?
- What are the benefits?
This seems very basic. We will have to split this up later in the process, but I can assure you that even those fundamental questions usually are not answered in the process of planning. More than half of my customers can not answer the first question “why?” with any more substantial than “because it is done that way nowadays”, which is – frankly – one of the most silly thing to say. Even more customers did never think about the alternative solutions while literally nobody ever thought of comparing the 2 solutions by listing benefits and drawbacks.
Let’s look at an example in more detail:
A science center (museum) wants to modernise an exhibition, let’s say about motors. At the moment there is a motor, some text boards and some buttons, that are connected to small lights in/on the motor to indicate the parts. The idea is to keep the motor and install a touch screen. The lights in the motor we will not need any more as we can put a 3D model of the motor on the touch screen instead. The text boards will also not be needed any more. Like this it is more modern, you can put more information, people will not think it is old-fashioned and the content can much more easily be changed, even centrally via Network. So we really evaluated it, let’s do it! This is – unfortunately – the moment I am usually called to ask me what monitor to choose and which CMS maybe. Instead of answering those questions we will go back and check the project with the list above:
Why use technology? The answer will be: because it is more modern. Admitted. More modern. But if we are honest, a touchscreen is not very modern, nore impressive. They are everywhere. Everybody even has a touch screen in his pocket. So we will not impress the visitors by using a touch screen. So is this kind of “modern” also “better”? In my eyes, the question remains: “Why?” We’ll come back to this while looking at the next questions.
2.What could an alternative solution look like?
For the moment we even leave the actual old-fashioned situation to compare it with the new one. This is not what I recommend. I do this just to stress how little the new version is evaluated and how unsatisfying it really is. Later I will outline a solution I would think to be a good one.
3.drawbacks / 4.benefits
Those questions cover very different aspects. Let’s look at them one by one
Presentation of content / Flexibility
In terms of flexibility the touch screen version has huge advantage. Content can be changed easily. No immediate drawback. In our example this is not a major point as the motor will work the same way in 3 years also. But for other projects this may be an vital point. Note that this is not connected to the touch screen itself but the underlying database solution (we just assume to be there). To evaluate a project it is very important to sort this out. We will keep this in mind for the preferred solution we’ll outline later.
For Presentation of content the touchscreen version also has huge benefits. It can easily present a lot of content in a clearly arranged fashion. It can offer multiple depths of complexity for different people and interests. And if its done well, this will all be intuitively found by the visitor. The visitor. Singular. As here also is a drawback: the touch screen achieves all this by spreading information in time – not in space. Which is a solution aiming at a single user, which leads us to the next point.
A second person seeing the content on a touch screen will already bring the need that two people adjust their clicking/reading speed. Which will eventually lead to additional people turning around and leaving. While it is no problem for 10 visitors to get information from simple text boards simultaneously, each one in his own speed!
This kind comparison is very important but rarely done. Even if it feels unfamiliar: We have a medium, we have content. It does not matter if the medium is electronic or wood. It does not matter if the content is formed by paint or light. We can talk about the psychological impact (felt value) at another point, but for now it’s pure comparison. As seen above a text board has huge advantages over a touch screen in terms of usability in some settings. If we do not see this, we will favor a solution with bad drawbacks.
In our example we have an exhibit: the motor. In the old setting the attention was drawn towards the exhibit by the lights. In the touch screen version the focus is drawn to the screen and held there. The motor becomes an unnecessary by-product. I might be biased but I see the role of technology rather to support, to enliven – not to draw away attention or even replace something.
Which solution will feel more valuable and special?
ow I just outline something very quickly: We keep the buttons, the motor, the basic explanation on boards. When we press a button, not a small light is lit, but the area of the motor is spotlighted.