Sunday, February 17, 2008

Technology-Supported Shopping and Entertainment User Experience at Ballantyne Village: "A" for concept, "D" for touch-screen usability

There is a relatively new shopping and entertainment center, Ballantyne Village, in Charlotte, N.C. that was developed in partnership with Cisco Systems Connected Real Estate and Intelligent Buildings. The goal of this project was to use innovative technologies to plan, implement, maintain, and update a customer and tenant-focused environment. This concept is sure to catch on.

Free WiFi service is available to visitors in and around the center, even at the fountain. The video security system is networked. In the movie theater's bathrooms, an e-mail is automatically sent to the manager's computer when the paper towel dispensers are low on paper. There are several interactive large touch-screen displays located around center. The displays can be easily updated to provide visitors with information about the various stores, sales, and types of activities available at Ballantyne Village.

I first learned about this center last year, when I was taking Human-Computer Interaction and Ubiquitous Computing. Since part of my work focused on large interactive touch-screen displays, I was interested to see if the screens at the Ballantyne Village center would hold up to usability standards. I had previously watched a promotional video about the center, and was hoping that the displays would prove to be "useful, usable, and used".

The promotional video will show you why I was excited about Ballantyne Village.

Purpose of my visit:

Since I was new to Ballantyne Village center, my primary goal was to quickly learn more about the shops, all located outdoors, and target my shopping around sales. Since it was a gray, cold, and rainy February day, I didn't want to spend my time exploring the center by foot. I also wanted to take a quick peek at the layout of the center to learn about other services, such as restaurants, coffee shops, and services, in order to plan ahead for future visits.


To get the full picture of my experience, first view the unedited video-clips.

Note: The narrative is what came out of my mouth as I interacted with the screens, and the perspective is first-person. This is NOT a polished voice-over.

First experience: Fade to red

Second Experience: Chasing the Red Ball

Third experience: Difficulty with navigation

The large interactive touch screen displays I found at Ballantyne Village didn't live up to potential, nor did they help me achieve my goals as a first-time visitor who happened to have some time and money for an after-work shopping session.

They displays were attractive, but they weren't very useful. They were difficult to use, and during the time I spent exploring the displays, I was the only person who interacted with the screens or noticed the other forms of digital signage in the area.

As I approached the first screen, I noticed that in order to activate the display, I had to chase a red ball around the screen. The migrating red ball attracted me to the screen, but it wasn't always functional. On the first display, as soon as I managed to touch the ball, the screen faded to red, and did not reactivate. I chased a ball on another screen, but it did not activate at all.

I was able activate another screen which allowed me to navigate and find more information. Unfortunately, the content wasn't well-organized or as interactive as I'd expected.

The display performed as if it wanted to be both a video infomercial AND an interactive website at the same time. Web-like navigation conventions, such as a back arrow and navigation bars did not always activate when touched. This might have been related to a screen calibration problem.

There were many on-screen items that were puzzling. There was a rotating map of a large view of the Ballantyne Village area that didn't seem to provide information when touched. There was another image of the main building, with small billboards displayed that looked like they were navigation tools, but did nothing when clicked. Some menu items activated when clicked, but the sub-menus that displayed did not link to anything. I never found out about the sales!

I gave up:

I wonder if the same people behind the touch-screen application at Ballantyne Village were also responsible for the user-unfriendly interactive touch-screen map I experienced at the Cleveland Clinic:

User Unfriendly Information Kiosk Map

I'm still looking for user-friendly, useful examples of large touch-screen applications in public spaces, so if you know of any, please leave a comment and a link!

In my opinion, more work needs to be done to ensure that touch-screen interaction in public spaces is truly user-friendly. For more about interaction and usability, read my post, Reflections on Interaction: Update.


Antoine said...

I'll defintely have to go and play with this. For as fun as this looks, I wonder if people even realzie that its touch sensitive. Beyond the early marketing, we mostly know mall displays to be passive (look and point at).

Would be nice if there was some integration with mobile devices via an opt in Bluetooth connection too.

Lynn V. Marentette said...

You are right. The displays at Carolina Place don't have any interaction, but they look nice!

As you know,I've been researching this for a while.
Take a look at W3's UbiWeb information. You probably know about that site.

I'm in the process of gathering resources for optimizing web pages for interactive large screen displays and interactive whiteboards that also are optimized for hand-held devices.

I know that Microsoft Research did some research on this. "Toward Universal Mobile Interaction for Shared Displays" discussed this research back in 2004- I'll email you some links to recent references.

Here are some references to some older studies: Ohara, K., Perry,M., Churchill, E., and Russell, D. (Eds.)(2003). Public and situated displays: Social and interactional aspects of shared display technologies.

Kluwer.Greenberg, S., Boyle, M. and LaBerge, J. (1999). PDAs and shared public displays: Making personal information public, and public information personal.Personal Technologies,3(1):55-64.