A Visual Interface Redesign of a Poor Hardware User Experience

An exercise in redesigning a kiosk; working under hardware constraints with only a visual toolkit.


Many times designers attempting to conceptually redesign an interface system do so under the most ideal of circumstances: the perfect monitor resolution, re-positioned hardware controls, perfect lighting and angles, type settings that won’t fit translations, and ideal construction materials are a few things that come to mind. This is rarely feasible when approaching a real world redesign where the designer often must “make do”, working around heavy pre-existing constraints.

That was the idea behind this visual redesign exercise of a certain drive-through car wash that I frequent: taking areal world example of something where both the visuals and user experience were less than ideal and turning them into a somewhat coherent system by only altering the surrounding visuals; not the hardware placement, materials used, signage warping, or inevitable grime build-up. Let’s take a look at the offender.

The original signage.

Boring subject matter? Perhaps. Excellent design exercise? You know it! Let’s jump in by locating the elements that need fixing and how we might be able to approach solutions.

The signage with all visuals stripped out.

Starting with the most glaring of offenders and the primary piece we can’t touch, the hardware placement. A (1) variety of payment methods are accepted, fine, but they are scattered about the top half of the panel in arbitrary locations. Only two out of the four (2) wash categories are actually buttons, a third has a (3) hard plastic plug covering a removed button, and one never even existed. We have the (4) shoddy LED screen, with fast paced marquee text displaying your payment status. Finally, (5) a very large sign with an all-caps message letting the user know that there’s a good chance the machine will break your vehicle.

We’ll need a way to visually group all of the payment methods together. Having them scattered about is going to make it difficult, but if we can separate them out from the rest of the objects with a frame or color block, it may work (see image). Next, aside from reading the directions, choosing your wash type is your primary action. We’ll need to make sure they are easy to find and functionally understandable. We’ll also do our best to make that bulbous blue plug blend in better. Lastly, we’ll call attach a title and frame to the LED screen so the user will know why they should be paying attention to it when the time comes.

Next we’ll approach the visual design, something we do have control over, and see what we can do to improve them. All of the (1) text is fairly small — not great for when I’m peering at the sign from potentially over two feet away. My eye is drawn all over there place with no clear start or finish. The last thing drivers want, especially when there is a line, is a wandering anxious feeling because they don’t know what to do next. There are also very (2) randomly placed credit card stickers. The (3) instructions are long, many of which are unnecessary and in ALL CAPS. No less then (4) four arrows garnering for my attention. One arrow is even telling me that only one wash includes a blow dry, when in fact they both do. Also, while we’re here, we also see (5) realistic looking money clip art, as well a credit card action icon in an illustrative style — breaking a bit of a cohesion if any had existed.


So gathering all of the information together, let’s see what we can do to clean things up a bit.

The Redesigned Signage

The first thing I did was decide where the users eye should be drawn to first. From my experience, most all car washes function slightly different from one another, so I wanted to make sure the first thing the user sees are the instructions. Using a larger font size, simpler language, and shorter sentences makes sure (hopes?) the user will read through and fully understand them. Using the instructions’ white background box as a guide directs the users eye towards the side of the panel with the wash selection buttons, naturally prodding them to the next step in the process.

A large green color splash, as mentioned above, wrangles all the payment methods together, making them a bit easier to visually parse out from the rest of the panel. I chose blue for the bottom half because it worked well with the green but also slightly hid the blue hardware plug on the bottom right (plus blue == water.)

Credit card information was all quarantined to the actual credit card slot area, and all the extra room for activities in the center can be used as a visual resting point, giving a bit of breath to the entire piece. One thing I will admit I did like in the original is using the two empty wash categories as a “Thank You” placement, so I keep that. Lastly, I toned down the bottom white signage type style.


There you have it. For only a few dollars of printing cost, this signage and associated brand can be revitalized, made much simpler to use and thus keep it’s customers happier and moving through the line quicker. Granted the hardware designer of this machine should be drawn and quartered, but such is the life of a designer.

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