When to Update, When to Overhaul
Sometimes, ancient touch panels just need a little love. Does the basic layout of your touch panel work for your end users? You might just need a graphical update. Your integrator should be able to give you more modern looking buttons and icons, but leave things in the same general layout. Your panels will look better, but your end users will have the comfort of knowing that the mute button is still located where it’s always been. Even some basic color changes can make a panel seem fresher. This has the added benefit of saving you on pricy programming hours.
But, sometimes a touch panel needs a dignified retirement. Do your end users have to push six different icons just to get the shades to come down? Do you often hear cries of anger and frustration coming from your conference rooms? It’s probably time for a change. Leverage this opportunity to work with your integrator on a new design that’s both easy to navigate and visually pleasing.
Founded in 1947, Verrex empowers a global business community to collaborate and communicate without limitations by delivering superior video and AV systems and solutions. The company’s focus is on adoption, increasing pervasiveness of audio visual technologies and their ROI within an organization.
Addressing every aspect of clients’ workplace strategies, Verrex offers design-build solutions and managed services for integrated environments, as well as desktop and mobile conferencing applications. ROI on every AV and video conferencing system Verrex integrates can be fully realized with the added advantages of Verrex total managed conferencing including cloud-based, resource scheduling, VNOC, and audio & web conferencing; onsite staffing; maintenance; and professional services including user adoption programs.
Verrex differentiates itself by inspiring its employee’s passion for excellence and continuously improving its proprietary Quality Management System, guiding all aspects of Project Management, Engineering, Procurement, Control Systems Programming, In-house Fabrication, Quality Assurance, Installation, Systems Commissioning, Training and Managed Services.
With offices serving key corporate hubs including New York, Boston, Houston, Dallas and Hong Kong, Verrex has positioned its presence, expertise and alliances to deliver innovative solutions worldwide.
In this article, I will outline some tips that should make that process as pleasant as possible.
Know Your Audience
The prettiest touch panel in the world will be useless if your users can’t figure out how to use it. Your new panel should have a clean, intuitive layout. Colors and panel feedback should be consistent. Most importantly, you should customize the wording so that your users can easily understand it. If you label the button used to start an audio call as “Audio Conference,” will your users know what that means? It might be better to simply call it “Phone Call.”
Find out who your core constituencies are and go talk to them. If this is an overhaul of an existing design, ask them about your current systems. What works well for them? What do they hate? If they could wave a magic wand over the touch panel, what would they change? If this will be a brand-new design, find out how they plan to use the new space. What functions will they consistently need? As an example, we had a client that hosted a long-standing weekly sales call. We gave them a button with the (cleverly named) label “Sales Call.” With one push of a button, they could get their room ready. The purpose of a touch panel is to make a room easier to use. If it takes more than a few button pushes to start up the system, the touch panel isn’t doing its job.
Talk Early, Talk Often
As a control systems programmer, nothing makes me more nervous than a brand-new client and a rush order. I want to take the time to get to know a client, find out how they use their rooms, and come up with a touch panel that they will truly love. The sooner you start talking about touch panels, the easier it will be for your integrator to truly personalize their touch panels for you.
The process that we use goes something like this:
- First, I find out if this client has an existing design, and if we are trying to match it. I will ask for screenshots and, if they’re available, un-compiled touch panel files. I will also ask for a high-resolution logo, and any branding information that the client might have. Many marketing departments have documentation about logos, fonts, and approved colors.
- I create a rough draft version of the touch panel and submit screenshots to the client for approval. For a very basic system, if I hit a homerun, the client will approve my design in writing, and the process ends there. Most clients need some further customization.
- Once we’re all ready to talk, I will ask a project manager to setup a conference call. This gives us all a chance to talk about the design and to get on the same page. This is your chance to make the panel do exactly what you want it to. Be as specific as possible. If a client hates the way that I worded one button, I want to know in the design phase where I only have to change it once.
- After we’ve talked, I will do a second round of screen shots. For a particularly complicated system, I might load the touch panel onto a demo processor and let the customer log into it for a better idea of how it will work. We might go back and forth a couple of times, but this is usually when my panels are approved.
Simplicity versus Functionality
The current design ethos is for a simple, stream-lined look. Most clients want their touch panels to look a little bit like an iPhone or iPad app. I often hear the phrase, “my six-year-old can work an iPad, and she should be able to work this touch panel.” Simple panels are visually pleasing and, if done right, can make for an easier user experience.
For a pleasant experience with a simple touch panel, you can’t just delete buttons at (seemingly) random. A panel has to be both simple and functional. Nobody wants to call IT to open up the tech pages for every meeting. This is where knowing your audience comes in handy. What do they really need to do for their meetings? Find out what the core meeting functions will be, and make sure that they are easily accessible. A “simple” panel becomes decidedly less so when you need to navigate through 5 sub-menus just to dim the lights.
The ways in which we conduct meetings and communicate with each other are constantly changing… but bad touch panels are seemingly forever. With a little bit of advance planning, your touch panels can grow with you. Some possibilities for tech-configurable panel options are:
- The password to get into the tech pages
- The room name and phone number that appear on the touch panel
- The channel logos that appear on your CATV presets
- The names and numbers of your speed dials
There are also some things that, if your programmer is thinking smart, will get updated automatically. We always pull the IP address of a video conferencing CODEC directly from the unit itself. We will also use the CODEC’s address book for directory dialing. If any of this information changes, the panels will be updated automatically.
Be Wary of the Wow Factor
One last word of caution: the touch panel features that seem the coolest today just might be the same features that drive you crazy tomorrow. Any features that you add to your panel should enhance your users’ experience, not detract from them. This is where it’s so important to be able to trust your integrator. If I think that a touch panel feature is going to bug the folks who use it, I am likely going to let you know. If the only reason you can think of for adding something is “it would look cool,” you might not think it’s so fantastic a couple of years from now. The classics are timeless for a reason. The good news is that pixels can always be re-arranged. You bought a touch panel, not a stone tablet. If your touch panels are driving your crazy, it just might be time for another refresh.