Interactive Touchscreens: The Basics

People use touchscreens every day – smartphones, tablets, some laptops, sometimes even the screens for their desktop computers. We see touchscreen directories, use touchscreens to get money out of ATMs – just about everywhere and in all kinds of circumstances. And the younger generation is growing up with them – the proportion of children who use a touchscreen in their very first year of life is fast approaching 50%, and global shipments for touchscreen displays more than doubled between 2012 and 2016. That’s why you’re investing in interactive touchscreens for your organization – they’re an efficient way to present lots of information using an interface that people want and even expect.

But touchscreens are much more than just displays, and require thinking a little bit differently.

How Big?

First, consider your display size. Small screens are great for point-of-sale ads or collecting quick feedback, but not great for directories, menu boards or other extensive lists. If you want to really grab people’s attention, large displays for things like wayfinding and donor boards make sense. Think about what you want your audience to be able to do, and how much screen space they’ll need to do it comfortably.


Next, think about placement. You don’t want glare on your screen at any time, so make sure it’s somewhere that doesn’t get washed out when the sun shines. Also, a wall-mounted touchscreen is not as inviting or easy to use as a kiosk. Even angling a medium- or large-sized display at a 30-degree angle invites people to interact with it. However, you don’t want to make it totally flat and horizontal either – then people see it as a table, and they will certainly leave items on it (like drinks).

A high traffic area is ideal for location – the more people who use your interactive touchscreen, the better. But think about what you want people to use it for. Lobbies are great for directories and wayfinding, back offices are better for room signs and meeting space scheduling, and menu boards can be at locations that serve refreshments, but also in break rooms and waiting areas, so people can see what’s on offer and maybe even place their order right there at the screen, saving themselves time.

If you have multiple touchscreens in the same physical space, make sure there’s plenty of room for people to comfortably use the screens without standing on top on one another. Orientation is also something to think about – most people use a display in landscape orientation, but maybe a portrait arrangement works better for your purposes.


You want your layout to be the perfect balance between simple and thorough. Not having enough options on the screen to accomplish what someone wants is frustrating, while too much stuff on the screen is distracting and can be confusing.

Having several different content zones might be a good idea – one large one for the touchscreen’s main purpose, and then menus and buttons for navigation, and even hot spots for kiosking. You might also include attractors and small value-adds like current time and weather, and even a small window that displays messages from your digital signage playlists.

Using templates or a database to feed the screen content ensures that, no matter who inputs info, the look is always the same and fits your design scheme. And consistency is also important – if there are navigation arrows, make sure they’re always in the same place in the layout. People learn a new interface quickly and will not appreciate the “rules” suddenly being changed. And always allow a person to go back a step or two, or return to the main page.


Try to keep text info short – three or four words. Make sure your fonts are large enough to read easily, and your information is concise and succinct. And keep the same font throughout – don’t confuse the eye with ten different fonts at once. Experiment with both serif and sans serif fonts to see which works best in your environment for your purposes. And make sure to leave some negative space around text – don’t have writing go all the way to edge of the screen.

A simple color scheme will help draw the eye and integrate your touchscreen into your décor. It can also reinforce your brand by using your standardized color palette. Try to avoid really bright colors or massive contrast that could tire the eye. Use fairly standard and easily recognizable icons whenever you can, but don’t go too overboard with these. It’s a waste of valuable screen real estate to have a bunch of cute icons that have no inherent meaning, and then a content block with a legend the user has to keep referring to.

Use images and graphics – the less actual text to sift through, the better the user experience. If you are using original photography, use high quality and well-lit images. Make sure all graphics and images are at the same resolution as the rest of the things on the display, so it all seems like one seamless whole.

Video can also be useful, but use it sparingly. And don’t have videos longer than 15 seconds – longer than that makes the user start to think they could get what they need faster. And always leave an opt out for videos, or include a player bar where people can scroll through the video and back up to get info they didn’t catch the first time.

Include your logo to encourage some brand loyalty. People will enjoy using your incredible touchscreen and automatically associate your organization with that experience. This is good for you and costs you nothing.


Remember, however, that they’ll also associate your brand with an unpleasant experience. So make sure to get it right. Brainstorm ideas with everyone who has buy-in on the project, rough out the idea, and put it on the touchscreens. Then have people come up and try to get specific information using real-world scenarios, and see how easy the information flow is, how intuitive the layout is, and so on. Then refine and adjust as need be.

Thinking ahead a bit and getting people in your organization excited about it can make deploying good interactive touchscreens easy, fun and profitable. They look great, and more and more places are using them to improve the visitor experience. Soon, facilities without touchscreens will feel out of date and old fashioned.

Get more advice on using touchscreens for engagement in our free white paper.