Why I hate touchscreens
Question: What do ovens and cars have in common?
Answer: They used to have buttons and were easy to operate. Now they have touch screens.
For decades, simple things were designed to be simple: The oven had a button and you turned it on and it heated. Now it has an interface, menus, scroll lists, etc. Don't get me wrong, touchscreens are not necessarily bad. Their usefulness depends on the context of use. Those of you who remember "mobile internet" (the quote marks are necessary) on feature phones know what I am talking about. A phone with a touch screen is a good thing. This does not mean that a touch screen is a good thing for everything.
It is hard to resist building the latest tech into products, but it should only be done if it improves the user experience. Some reasons to think twice before deciding if a touch screen is the right tech for your interface:
- You cannot feel a touchscreen. In a car, you can locate and operate a heating dial without taking your eyes off the street. Several manufacturers have replaced these hard buttons and dials with touch screens – thereby losing a comfort and safety feature.
- Touchscreens require precise hand-eye coordination to make your desired selection. In the case of the oven, try lowering the temperature on a touch screen with oven gloves. Also, making a rough input (e.g. increased heating) is often more important than getting an exact output (21° Celsius vs. 21.5°).
- Touchscreens get dirty (especially on an oven). Cleaning them may execute unwanted actions, but if you don't clean them, in some cases they no longer work properly.
- Environmental effects (such as reflecting sunlight or cold) limit a touch screen’s functionality, either because you cannot read it, or it no longer reacts to input. No kidding: we’ve tested touch screen equipped cars in which it was not possible to turn on the heating when it was cold! In contrast, a hard button does not care about these conditions.
- Physical buttons or sliders react immediately. Touchscreens depend on device processing power to display the correct button at the right time (which can occasionally result in pressing the screen multiple time to elicit a response, which often leads to an unwanted outcome).
- The lack of haptic feedback of many touchscreens (excluding latest phones) is often replaced by auditory feedback. Oh, how much we love beeping devices!
- Touchscreens lead to feature creep. The processor ability combined with a touch screen tempts developers to overload devices with options, just because it’s possible. This increases interface complexity which usually negatively impacts user experience.
And, no, I do not really hate touchscreens. They are great where they make sense. But unfortunately, “sense” may not influence the product design decision. For my part, I’m glad that airplane cockpits still rely on hard buttons!
Also, check out our video of three of our UX experts failing to operate our new oven in the office:
Our UX experts are trying to work with a stove...