4 Keys to a Successful Interface Design

Make sure your touchpanel interface exhibits these critical characteristics.

4 Keys to a Successful Interface Design
Aaron Craig · July 24, 2009

One of the most important — though frequently overlooked — aspects of modern touchpanel interface design is the user.

In the world of high-end systems integration, touchpanel control devices are the standard. One of the biggest advantages they offer is customization. You can design the interface anyway you want.

Unfortunately, with this freedom comes the ability to make the interface nearly impossible to understand … or use. So, each design and layout requires some serious thought.

Touchpanel interface design is a very broad topic. So, focusing on the key requirements of a good design is a good place to start.

Interfaces should be intuitive, efficient, consistent and tailored to their primary users. Indeed, while there is technically no right or wrong way to design a touchpanel interface, you will find that nearly every aspect of an effective and easy-to-use touchpanel directly contributes to one or more of those four objectives.

Keep them in mind as the interface is constructed, and they will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the final product.

Intuitive Operation

The word “intuitive” is widely used in the field of systems integration in reference to user interfaces. It is more or less agreed upon that any “good” interface is also “intuitive” to operate. While this is true for the most part, it is important to differentiate between what is intuitive and what is simply familiar.

There are numerous interface design elements that are considered intuitive solely because they are so common. Everyone knows how to use them because everyone is familiar with them. Some of these standards, such as the telephone style layout for a numeric keypad, are very widely accepted and should generally be incorporated.

Some controls, however, are worth experimenting with (transport buttons, for example) in order to develop new and better configurations.

Quite often, that which is familiar can get in the way of that which might come naturally.

Objects should be easily distinguishable from other types of objects on the page. A text field or digital readout, for example, should have a different appearance than an object with which the user interacts, such as a button or slider.

The Apple iPod provides a good example. The iPod’s scroll wheel is a wonderfully efficient way to scan through a large list of information. It could be considered quite intuitive to slide a finger forward or backward, at varying speeds, in order to control displayed information.

Even so, many users didn’t realize how to operate the iPod at first because they had never encountered this kind of touch-sensitive control. Nevertheless, Apple showed people a new way of interacting with a device and, in turn, redefined the “intuitive” standard.

While most systems integrators don’t have the influence over the masses that a company like Apple can have, they can still decide which standards and norms they are going to accept and which ones they will do their own way.


In the realm of touchpanel interface design, efficiency usually refers to the number of button presses required to complete a specific task. As a general rule, no action should take more than two presses to perform.

For example, if the user wants to watch television, it might take one press to select between “audio” and “video” menus and a second press to select “WATCH TV.” Moreover, once the user is watching TV, he should always be just one or two presses away from selecting a different source or turning the system off.

Though violations can sometimes occur (especially when switching between control of A/V sources and environmental controls), the two-presses rule is, generally, pretty easy to follow.

Let’s say the user is watching a DVD, and he wants to adjust the lighting. This operation should be as simple as one press to jump to a lighting control page and a second press to return to the DVD controls after adjusting the lighting.

  About the Author

Aaron Craig is principal of NTDesigns, which has served the Crestron integrator and independent programmer community since 2005. NTDesigns provides a host of services such as graphics for standalone, handheld remote controls and company logos. Visit or follow @NTDesigner on Twitter for more graphics tips and tricks. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email at [email protected]

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