Best Practices for Developing Kiosk Style Interactive Touch Applications for Museum Spaces

Kevin Kane North Carolina Museum of Art


Kevin Kane, Software Developer at the NC Museum of Art, will discuss all aspects of kiosk style touch interactives from conception to exhibition opening and ongoing maintenance. Discussion will start with interpretation ideas, then move to architectural, accessibility, and content planning, software design considerations and production flow control, information technology requirements such as networking, operating system and BIOS configurations, and ongoing tech maintenance. Special types of kiosks like split-screen interactive touch tables, and immersive multi-display setups will also be covered.

This session is intended to be an overview of all requirements for interpretation technology development and maintenance. Ideal audience members are museum educators, interpretation professionals, curators, exhibit designers and technicians, and technology professionals who want to create touch applications for use within museum spaces.


An interactive kiosk is a publicly-accessible computer terminal which prevents computational activity outside of the scope of a specified software. In many public spaces kiosks are equipped for commerce or entertainment. In museums we can use interactive kiosks to deepen the context for our collection objects or special exhibition content. Interactive software allows us to layer supplemental detailed information behind a menu system that may be too dense for the average visitor, or simply present extra, high-resolution photographic and video media in a contained platform. However, introducing an interactive kiosk to museum exhibit space poses new challenges and risks in the areas of physical and technological accessibility, exhibit content availability in the event of a tech problem, and cybersecurity – we don’t want malicious actors to break out of kiosk software and become able to change displayed content.

This paper will walk through general best practices to be aware of when planning to create and implement an interactive kiosk for open use on exhibit floorspace. The intended audience includes both technology and non-technology professionals working in the museum field. These practices are largely agnostic to the content plan for your interactive kiosk software. Fundamental considerations for planning of content management will be touched on, but ultimately your kiosk’s content will be determined by your institution’s mission, the unique concerns of your collection, or learning goals associated with a present exhibit. Instead, the following topics are covered at general, all-purpose level: spatial considerations of casework and hardware including accessibility, software design, operating system and BIOS level considerations including cybersecurity and automation, and special cases for kiosks like split-screen and multi-display applications.

[caption id="attachment_13118" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Museum visitors interact with a small touch kiosk an model of an ancient peruvian ceramic artifact Figure 1. Museum visitors interact with a small touchscreen kiosk[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13119" align="alignnone" width="1024"]A touch kiosk that controls a large video projection just behind it is pictured in an empty art museum gallery Figure 2. A kiosk that controls a large video projection just behind it[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13120" align="alignnone" width="1024"]A pair of small touchscreen kiosks displaying video content are pictured in an empty art museum gallery Figure 3. A pair of small touchscreen kiosks displaying video content[/caption]

Core components and spatial considerations for exhibit design

The core hardware components of an interactive kiosk are a PC and a video display, which is generally a touch display. 

Note: I will cover recommendations on specific tech devices during my presentation on this topic at the MuseWeb 2023 conference, including a discussion on the possibility of using iPads as a kiosk platform. But I am leaving these recommendations out of this writing should they be perceived as endorsements, or become dated after publication. Feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to discuss technology selection for kiosk use.

These parts are secured within fitting casework, connected together appropriately, with access to a power source for each, and possible additional access to a network connection depending on your content. It will be your job to collaborate with your exhibit designers and preparators to agree on an appropriate, accessible solution for the furniture design.

[caption id="attachment_13121" align="alignnone" width="300"]A pair of small touchscreen kiosks displaying video content are pictured in an empty art museum gallery Figure 4. Your job is to fit a PC and touch screen inside a secure enclosure that is accessible inside and out.[/caption]


I will briefly mention that we also need to consider security here in that the interior of the enclosure should be locked or otherwise off-limits to the general public as well as staff not responsible for the kiosk. You don’t want any unauthorized individual gaining access to the kiosk and becoming able to tamper with its content. Consult with your IT department on this topic to get an understanding of security measures they are comfortable with. You may consider simple locks or security screws, for example.

Exact dimensions of the surrounding space and electronics for a kiosk’s housing are of obvious importance, but the design should be considered from an accessibility standpoint at all steps of the process. We need to consider accessibility needs of installation and technology technicians, in addition to museum visitors, as well as the kiosk’s position and scale in relation to exhibition artifacts.

From an exhibit technician’s perspective, the components of the kiosk should ideally be ergonomically accessible once unlocked. Any buttons and ports on the electronic devices, principally the power buttons and to-be-occupied ports required for operation, on both the PC and display, should be visible and available to be manipulated in an interior space that allows maximal articulation of the fingers and wrist. 

Displays will need to be mounted in place, since they are exposed for visitors’ use. It is up to you if you want to mount PCs and power transformers as well. This may not be necessary because the enclosure is usually either directly mounted to surrounding architecture, or heavy enough that it would be too cumbersome to be disturbed, rattled, or knocked over.

Ventilation is critical. You do not want your electronics overheating. Discreetly incorporating open slats or grating in the design is enough to allow heat exchange with the surrounding environment, but you must make sure to account for where intake and exhaust fans are installed on your electronic devices. Consult with your AV or IT staff on this topic if you aren’t sure. Most electronic device manuals include guidance for mounting that accounts for ideal airflow.

Architectural considerations for visitor accessibility are likely to be known by your design staff. Reach height, reach depth, and obstruction of path width, each specified within the 2010 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Standards for Accessible Design, are of key concern when designing kiosks. Considering height for different individuals will be important, as is reach depth if you are installing an angled or horizontal display. You may consider two different heights if you have the space for two kiosk instances featuring identical content, or a compromise of height and screen angle if only one – but remember to be aware of how much you are extending reach when tilting touch displays. You will also want to be sure there is sufficient physical clearance around the kiosk for visitors with assistive mobility devices. I am linking to the 2010 ADA standards here ( and summarizing the important sections for kiosk case design in the table below.

Section Requirement
308.2.1 Forward Reach – Unobstructed – Max. height 48”, min. height 15”
308.2.2 Forward Reach – Obstructed – Max. height 48” with max. reach depth 20”, or max. height 44” with max. depth of 25”
308.3.1 Side Reach – Unobstructed – Max. height 48”, min. height 15”, obstructions are permitted max. depth 10”
308.3.2 Side Reach – Obstructed High Reach – Max. height 48” for max. reach depth of 10” and max. obstruction height 34”, or max. height 46” for a max. reach depth of 24” and max. obstruction height 34”
309.3 Operable parts should be within the reach ranges above
309.4 Operable parts shall be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist
403.5.1 Clear width of walking surfaces shall be min. width 36” (there is an exception for passages of max. length 24” to be min. width 32”)
403.5.2 Clear Width at Turn –  Min. width 42” approaching the turn, 48” at the turn, and 42” leaving the turn, or min. width 36” approaching the turn, 60” at the turn, and 36” leaving the turn

Table 1: Relevant sections of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Lastly and importantly, your kiosk design should minimize visual obstruction of exhibition artifacts. The kiosk should be as slim and low profile as possible, out of the line of sight of collection items. Staff across your museum will likely agree that technology should not distract from visitor engagement with exhibited objects. Here are two images of kiosks we have installed at the North Carolina Museum of Art in the past few years. One is significantly lower-profile, and competes for visual space with our collection objects as little as possible. Credit goes to exhibit designers Mary Wolff and Cesar Zapata for arriving on this excellent design at NCMA (North Carolina Museum of Art).

[caption id="attachment_13122" align="alignnone" width="1024"]A large interactive kiosk furniture placed in front of a marble sculpture of the greek god Bacchus Figure 5. A large kiosk poses greater challenge for obstructing views of artifacts and other exhibition material[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13123" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Two small touch kiosks stand in front of a wall hung with paintings in salon-style. The kiosks do not obstruct the view of the artwork. Figure 6. A slim, lower profile kiosk design competes for less space with collection exhibit material[/caption]

Software design

You may work with, or be, a software development contractor for creating interactive kiosk content. This section covers essential software behaviors for kiosks that you may consider including in your request for proposal, contract, or other software design plan.

Interactive kiosks will not be actively used at all times, and thus should be able to detect when museum visitors (“users” of the kiosk in information technology parlance) are not actively engaging with the software. The software will need to incorporate a two-tiered timeout scheme for this purpose. The first layer of the timeout scheme runs in the background when interaction has ended. If no further interaction occurs before this timer runs out, a UI modal should appear with a visible countdown informing the user that the application will reset itself if they do not interact with it again before a countdown finishes – this is the second layer of the timeout scheme. For time limits at NCMA, we have been successful using 90 seconds for the background idle timer (first tier), and 15 seconds for the UI countdown timer (second tier). An example of a UI modal countdown is shown below.

[caption id="attachment_13124" align="alignnone" width="1920"]A screenshot of an inactivity message asking if the user of a touch kiosk is still present Figure 7. A timeout countdown modal displayed when inactivity has been detected[/caption]


When the countdown ends the kiosk needs content for an idle state. Some of my colleagues call this an “attract” state, because it is used to show a content preview that should attract visitors to interact with the touch display. A silent looping video with brief introductory text and words to the effect of “touch to begin” is usually sufficient. Developers may be able to show automated operation of the interactive, which is enticing if your kiosk is a game experience (think of arcade games). Interacting with the screen at any position during this state should bring users to a home menu state or launch an introductory video. Here are stills of the attract states for a couple of our kiosks at NCMA.

[caption id="attachment_13125" align="alignnone" width="1920"]A closeup of a painting is shown as the idle state for a kiosk application that delivers information on a historical thematic grouping of art objects titled Kunstkamer Figure 8. The idle state for a kiosk application that delivers information on a historical thematic grouping of art objects titled Kunstkamer.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13126" align="alignnone" width="1280"]A 3D representation of an ancient marble sculpture with colored pigment acts as the idle state for a kiosk application Figure 9. The idle state for a kiosk application that explores how one ancient artifact in the NCMA collection may have originally featured colored pigment.[/caption]


The application must run at full screen, and must not be able to be unfocused or exited by users. Fulfilling this requirement fundamentally makes the software a kiosk application.

Another small but nice feature is to provide an easy way for you or your technicians to quit the application during maintenance work or testing. For desktop systems you can have the “Esc” key programmed to quit the application. This little addition goes a long way in making troubleshooting for IT and gallery techs much easier.

Importantly, you will also need to consider content management. Will you want to edit the content (text, images, videos) of your kiosk interactive over time? Content management features, which come at a higher development and maintenance cost, and often require internet connectivity, are not important in the case that you are planning this kiosk for a fixed exhibition period that will not need editing after the content is finalized. Consider the following high budget and low budget options for content management to get you started. In short, you may consider a networked, hosted CMS solution for larger scale projects that require lots of on-demand content editing. You may consider direct editing of structured data like JSON for simple, smaller scale situations, that warrant less content editing over time, or simply working out an agreement with your developer for planned content updates.

A fully-fledged content management feature usually means paying for hosting of content services on a remote internet platform. This would be a higher cost (typically requiring monthly payments) and higher maintenance option that utilizes similar information architecture to that used in managing contemporary websites. Think WordPress, but there are several more contemporary options (Directus, Strapi, Grav, Sanity, Contentful, and the list goes on…). You will have to consult with a developer to negotiate what works for both of you. In addition to paying for development services, a content management platform means paying for hosting services, which allows you to log in from anywhere and edit, update, publish, or remove content. This also requires your kiosk interactive to have connection to the hosting platform, which is preferably hardwired, but may be supported wirelessly. It should be mentioned that this type of content management is generally appropriate for web-like content (images, text, video), and much less likely to be appropriate for use with game engines like Unity and Unreal.

[caption id="attachment_13127" align="alignnone" width="1913"]A screenshot of the user interface of the WordPress CMS Figure 10. WordPress CMS used to deliver content to a campus-wide touch application with multiple stations at the NCMA[/caption]

A screenshot of the user interface of Payload CMS

Figure 11. Payload CMS, a more contemporary CMS option that I have been pilot testing recentlyA CMS as such may also be hosted locally within your institution’s LAN environment. This setup has the tradeoff of content editors not being able to log in from anywhere but from within the organizational network (but to which editors may have a VPN connection for remote access). It is less costly in terms of hosting and third-party support, but would require an IT department to devote efforts to. I would describe this as a substantial, but not huge, ask of your IT department.

At NCMA, we created a system for managing a digital platform for collection items in our galleries. This platform currently has 15 physical kiosk instances, all connected to the same CMS, and as such was worth the larger effort required for maintaining a hosted content management platform.

[caption id="attachment_13129" align="alignnone" width="2560"]A long horizontal touch kiosk showing information about a series of paintings presumably on the wall behind it Figure 12. Collection labeling kiosk at the NCMA, managed remotely by a CMS platform[/caption]

If you think you would like some control to edit your interactive kiosk’s content after it is completed, but do not think a networked system is within your scope of feasibility, and consider yourself to be somewhat tech savvy, you may ask developers to provide you a location for editing content as raw structured data. This solution is probably only appropriate for individuals with a DIY mentality that aren’t scared of breaking things and have the support of technologically-knowledgeable colleagues. Developers should be able to create a simple system that pulls all editable content from one location, likely structured as JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). Beware that if you break the JSON notation in this case, your application would not work until the data structure is fixed. So, there is a small learning curve for non-tech folks with this solution, but the barrier to entry is still fairly low. I regularly use a similar architecture like this for simple one-off kiosk applications so that making on-the-fly updates is easier for me and my colleagues.

[caption id="attachment_13130" align="alignnone" width="1920"]A screenshot of a text editor with English content data written in JSON format Figure 13. A file with application content editable in JSON format[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_13131" align="alignnone" width="1920"]A screenshot of a text editor with Spanish content data written in JSON format Figure 14. This shows the similar JSON content as above but underneath a separate key in the data structure for the same text in Spanish[/caption]

If you will not build in a system for editing content, but want to keep the possibility open, talk with your developer about how you could handle asking for content updates on an as-needed basis after the delivery of the initial product.

You will also want to consider accessibility in terms of the software design. Any individual knowledgeable about web accessibility, and most user interface developers, will be able to help give input in this area. Basic considerations will include UI content visibility, color contrast, and options for enlarging text. Perhaps you will want to include multilingual content, or the option of building-in and triggering a screen reader. Implementing built-in screen readers is a direction that we are hoping to head at my institution, but still have a way to go in terms of testing and implementation.

Operating System and BIOS level configuration

The practices in this section are required to be completed by an information technology professional. I am covering these items for a general audience to provide a basic understanding of the IT work required to set a new kiosk up. You may read over this list and pass it on to your IT staff for their opinion or commitment.

Before I go on, my best advice for everyone involved is to always make time for unanticipated showstoppers when you are producing a technological feature of any kind. You will want to have your tech staff perform the setup of your kiosk and run it in “production state” at least one week in advance of exhibit opening. You need this to make sure that power-cycling and OS-level config is working properly, in addition to your kiosk content software. No one wants to be under the stress of dealing with an unknown last minute tech problem on opening day.

Onto the list of IT guidelines:

Remove old data from the production PC at your discretion. Best practice is to have a new PC to use with your kiosk setup, but the importance of frugality in nonprofit organizations means institutional devices often get repurposed. Make sure no important organizational data is left on the device as it will ultimately be operated by the public and therefore is exposed to higher risk than other PCs.

Two user accounts will be needed on the PC. One with local administration privileges for configuring and maintaining the PC, and one unprivileged user for running the exhibition media daily in production. Remember this is a PC that will be open for public use. If in any event the kiosk software and security configurations are broken, you don’t want visitors having access to an account with elevated privileges.

Determine a suitable network configuration. This means disabling network interfaces or choosing an acceptable network for local or internet connection with need be. Even if your kiosk software does not require an internet connection, IT staff may prefer the option to be able to manage it remotely over a network.

Automate power cycling. IT and exhibitions staff will have to determine an uptime period that fits the regular open hours of your institution, and captures any special events that occur outside of regular hours. You may choose to run the kiosk 24/7 with a regular schedule reboot. I do not recommend running any machine without a reboot schedule else they will inevitably freeze up and require attention (especially on Windows). I like to run scheduled reboots at 5am daily to ensure this doesn’t happen, but I’m sure you could get away with a weekly or monthly reboot instead. However, my preference is to schedule power on at 8am, and power off at 11pm daily. This preserves 9 hours of runtime overnight (hopefully extending the device lifespan), and captures all unordinary visitation hours and special events at my institution.

On a related node, configure the BIOS setting that will be named something like Restore on AC after Power Loss. This will allow the PC to reboot itself after its power source is cut. Circuit breakers tend to be flipped regularly enough in our exhibition spaces that this is a useful setting. If you don’t configure this, someone will have to manually restart the kiosk each time power is lost.

Automate unprivileged user passwordless login on startup, and run the kiosk application on login. There are different tricks for this and Microsoft seems to regularly make minor changes in the exact procedure for allowing automated login on Windows so I will skip the details here. For running the kiosk software on login, I prefer to place a shortcut to the kiosk software executable in the public startup folder.

Disable all notifications. On Windows this is accomplished in Settings → Notifications & Actions. You don’t want these interrupting the experience of kiosk content or allowing users to break out of the kiosk software if they are interacted with.

Configure the device to never turn the screen off, never go into a sleep state, and to shut all the way down when shutdown is triggered. Screensaver modes and sleep state interrupts kiosk application. And by default Windows includes a setting called “fast startup” that does not allow the PC to fully shut down, which often prevents automated power on. IT staff will likely be familiar with these details.

Lastly and importantly, on Windows a registry key controlling an OS menu revealed on edge swiping touch screens in tablet mode will need to be disabled. Without this, visitors would be able to break out of the kiosk app by executing a swipe gesture on the edge of the display. This setting may also be able to be controlled by group policy. Here is Microsoft’s current documentation about the edge swipe policy (

Special cases for kiosks

Before closing, I want to mention split-screen and multi-display applications as special design scenarios for kiosks that you may consider for larger projects when budget and exhibition space permits.

It may be appropriate to develop an application for split-screen usage on a touch table, a large horizontal touch display. You may consider this in exhibits where you have the floor space to accommodate a large horizontal display, and expect such a high volume of visitation traffic at times with high popularity of your kiosk content. This way, multiple people can stand on different edges of the touch-table and interact with separate instances of its content. It is also appropriate to develop head-to-head style game experiences for this type of furnishing, if you would like to introduce a competitive element in your interpretation content. You may consider splitting smaller displays into two instances where visitors can be positioned at either widthwise edge of the display, or splitting larger displays into four instances where two visitors can be positioned at each corner, facing the lengthwise edge. 

Note that cutting a 16:9 display into two instances does change the target content aspect ratio, whereas cutting a display into four quarters maintains the aspect ratio. Also, when installing touch tables, keep in mind that you may introduce problems with reach or visibility of content that is positioned far away from the bottom edge relative to the visitor.

[caption id="attachment_13132" align="alignnone" width="1920"]A screenshot of a split screen application where two instances of the identical interactive content run opposite each other Figure 15. An example of a split-screen user interface[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_13133" align="alignnone" width="2560"]A large touchscreen display is installed horizontally, like a table, in an art museum gallery Figure 16. An example of a horizontal kiosk touch table that runs the above application[/caption]

In a multi-display application, one touch panel can be programmed to control content on other displays, which may be screens of comparable size, or large-scale projections. A simple-use case for this is using a central touch display to select videos for large projection playback. These may be “immersive” or room-scale projections, or simply video content that deserves a generous amount of visibility in your exhibit. 

Multi-display setups do pose a slightly larger hurdle in automating since there are more devices involved. If your staff does not have prior knowledge in this area you’ll have to make sure that your AV, IT, or exhibitions technologists are up to the challenge and have appropriate time to test out different equipment configurations. If any projectors are involved, you will probably want them powered off overnight, and fully automating a synchronized power cycle for all devices can pose some unique challenges.

[caption id="attachment_13134" align="alignnone" width="1920"]A touch kiosk that controls a large video projection just behind it is pictured in an empty art museum gallery Figure 17. A multi-display kiosk application. Operation of the touch display controls the content projected on the wall.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_13135" align="alignnone" width="1030"]A schematic diagram for a multi-display setup in which a PC, touchscreen, and secondary display are connected together Figure 18. Example schematic for a multi-display setup[/caption]

Future directions

The fundamentals discussed in this writing should get you off on the right foot for introducing interactivity to your exhibition space in terms of considering spatial and software design as well as tech maintenance. 

This current publication did not discuss at length software content planning, options for software accessibility, and options for tracking visitor usage analytics. In the future these areas ought to be explored further, for example with a basic how-to on interactive storyboarding for those that do not have a professional background in user interaction, and a more thorough overview of the landscape of integrated technology options for accessibility as well as usage analytics, with a simple cost-benefit analysis in each area. 

Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to collaborate on any of these topics, discuss practices for interactive kiosk production, or technological integration in museum spaces in general.


(2010) U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Last updated September 15, 2010. Available

(2021) Microsoft. Screen Swipe Policy. Last updated October 4, 2021. Available

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