Designing the Self-Order User Experience

“Gorgeous in, gorgeous out.” It’s the positive version of the old computer slogan “Garbage in, garbage out” applied to designing a great user experience with self-order technology.

We’ve been in the self-order business since 2005 and have created literally hundreds of custom kiosk designs. Today, many companies are offering a “me too” version of self-order that fails to deliver a great guest experience. We’ve learned a few things along the way, some of them the hard way, and I’d like to share our best design advice.

NEXTEP’s VP of UX Chuck Wheeler believes a successful kiosk design provides “an intuitive and repeatable user experience.” He continues: “Controls and behaviors should be predictable so guests can easily navigate the order process. Combine that with visual elements that add interest and information for an exceptional ordering experience. We strive to understand the client’s style and operation so we can use our design expertise to create a branded ordering experience that fits their concept. We’re the kiosk experts, they’re the brand experts, and we need to work together.”

Our UX team applies the same high-level design principles to every single project:

1. Simplicity

The best designs are indivisible from their purpose. They don’t distract with extra details or trip users up with unfamiliar behaviors. For self-order to be a positive guest experience, it must be intuitive. Good design propels functionality forward. Simplicity means guests make one kind of decision per screen, for example. “Chicken or Beef?” and “Rice, Baba Ganoush, or Hummus?” should never be on the same screen: a busier screen leads to longer combined decision times. Simplicity means guests order quickly and easily.

2. Consistency

Related things should go together. Similar things should resemble one another, and dissimilar things should not. Design systems need to be consistent and logical so that a user can jump in and understand how to navigate it without any training. Aesthetic consistency is also critical: we design each self-order UX to reflect our customer’s brand. We want your voice to come through on every screen, so that your guests can float from your website to your store to your kiosks and interact with the same brand they know and love in each case.

3. Tolerance

Good design should anticipate that users make mistakes and change their minds. Our self-order flows make it easy to undo and redo, change quantities and remove items. Errors are easy to come back from and adjustments are easy to make.


The GIWA Self-Order Design

The design for Giwa Fresh Korean Kitchen is a great example of how it all comes together. 

Our creative team worked closely with GIWA owner, Yong Chi, his marketing team, and a local photographer.  While we had a pretty good plan early on, one particular photo ended up being the inspiration for the main ordering screen.  After some discussion, the client agreed to reshoot a few photos to complete the set and our creative team went from there.  The client’s team did a great job of presenting Yong’s vision and providing the assets, while our team brought the design to life.  At the end of day, GIWA’s customers will love the kiosk ordering experience we created together once they open this summer.



The three design principles above form the framework for each and every one of our self-order designs. How each design ends up looking, of course, depends on your voice and your content. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned when it comes to getting the best results:

Great content

Like a famous pizza company proclaims “Better Ingredients – Better Pizza”; the better content you can provide, the more varied and sophisticated design options we can offer. Great food photos bring your kiosk design to life. Your guests are more engaged with great looking photos and will spend more money on options along the way. A complete set of photos, including modifiers, will help create the professional look that is so effective.

It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer

Smart phones these days take create snapshots, with lots of megapixels and bright colors. A professional photographer though can create a collection of photos that are lit properly to show of the details of your food. They shoot the photos in a way that is consistent from item to item and repeatable if you later find you add some new menu items. Most recently we’ve seen a trend towards shooting in natural light with long exposures to provide extreme detail. We love that look, but a good professional can also produce amazing shots using studio lighting as well. Hiring a good food photographer is usually money well spent.

It’s a team thing

When we create a custom design for our clients, we ask for lots of input. We are experts in the mechanics of ordering food but you are the expert in your brand. The information you provide about style, colors and overall vision guide our design efforts. Is your branding sleek and modern or rustic? Style guides are a great help if you have one, but really we just want to understand your vision for the customer experience. The design style often impacts how the photos should be shot, so having a good plan is crucial.

Know your limits 

Be realistic about your budget and the assets you have to work with. We can match our design to the content you can provide to create a great customer experience. Some styles require a very specific photo style, while others are more flexible. If you can’t schedule a custom photo shoot, then let’s create a design to show off the assets you do have available. A simple, well executed design is always better than an elaborate idea poorly executed.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

As mentioned earlier, we understand the mechanics of taking orders effectively and quickly. We want your style and branding to shine through, but they can’t get in the way of your customers ordering successfully. This is one area where our experience is most important. Clients who drive the branding and let us design the ordering process see the most success.


Ready to take your guest experience to the next level?

Talk to us about how to craft an unforgettable self-order experience for your guests.