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Building your own kiosk

Previously I bought a computer and built a red oak case for my kiosk.

Mistakenly, I thought those steps were important. I was wrong.

Software is what makes a kiosk. Everything else is just window dressing. Software that lets the customer make the choices, and makes it easy for you to fill her wishes, is what really matters. After a lot of agonizing I chose software from Silverwire.

One reason for choosing the Silverwire system is that I already was using the Silverwire on line ordering software, so I knew the people there. And the look and feel of the customer interface is similar.

Another reason is that I'm cheap. Over the course of five years, buying the software from Silverwire was much less expensive than any other system. Built a spread sheet, do the math. You'll see exactly what I mean.

There are two components to the software. The Image Manager, in effect, is your digital lab manager. You need one image manager for the store, and that can process the images from any number of kiosks plus your online orders.

Each kiosk needs the Photo Assistant software. Silverwire keeps you honest by providing a dongle - that's a hardware key - for each kiosk and for the image manager. You want to keep those dongles secure, mounted in a USB port where vandals can't steal them. Just as you'd provide security for anything else worth a thousand dollars.

If your kiosk is connected to the internet, the techies from Silverwire can set you up by running a Microsoft Net Meeting on your computer. That's where they take over your computer and do all the setup work for you.

Let's look at the screens:

This is the first screen your customer sees. You can choose the languages from which customer can select. As soon as they click on their preferred language, they move to the next screen.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

Once they've chosen a language, they're asked to load photos from either a memory card or a CD. We're going to insert an xD card and click on the button.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

If there are multiple folders on the card, the system will load one set of images at a time. The customer can then select other folders to enter.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

At this point the customer chooses whether to burn a CD only, or to go on to the order center. I think this could be less confusing at this point; if they select CD we have to go back to the beginning later to order the prints. The kiosk software reminds the customer to take her memory card.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

By default the customer sees a thumbnail of each image, and by default 1 each of your preferred print size is ordered. At this point it's easy to choose which photos will not be printed or to change quantities.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.


When "view single image" is selected the customer has more choices.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.


You can activate all the customer options you want to - cropping, rotating, red eye reduction. Notice the "quality warning" bar right under the image.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

When we crop, the image warns us that quality is going to suffer.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

Here's where we harvest some data. If you use a touch-screen monitor, the customer can do this with his fingers. Otherwise, I keep the keyboard handy for this session only.

Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.



What happens to all that information that's been gathered?

First, the system prints an invoice and order form with the customer name and address (if that's what you collect). During setup you chose the printer for the invoices. In my case, it's a networked Xerox Phaser 8200 on which we print just about everything. Some people use a small receipt printer.

We print two copies - give one to the customer and one goes to the lab operator. The files are then ready to be printed.

Silverwire gives you a choice. You can let the image processor actually drive the minilab. That apparently works well with either Noritsu or Agfa labs. I prefer to leave a technician in the loop. In our lab, we've mapped a hot folder on the computer with the image processor software as a drive. That's where all the orders are sent.

Each order creates its own folder, which is named with an order number (generated in sequence) and the customer name. Within the folder are subfolders for each image size and paper surface, so the lab operator knows exactly what to print. Click on an image to see an 800x600 pixel image.

If you choose to build your own digital order station (or stations) you've got a lot of options.

I don't think touch-screen monitors are necessary. That's too reminiscent of the big stores, and today's customers are computer savvy. We walk them through the process the first time, and by the second time they're pretty much ready to try it on their own (although we're always right there!)

The next ones we build will not have a built-in card reader. That's a vulnerable area. We'll use cheap 8-in-1 card readers - USB 2.0, of course - so that if one gets broken or somebody sticks a card in sideways we can replace it on the spot. And we'll use CD burners in an external case, hiding the CPU under the counter. I'll post more pictures.

Meantime we're getting more digital print orders than ever before, and getting them back to the customer quickly. No more complaints about the wrong photo being printed, no more complaints that we didn't return the customer's data card.

Disclosure: Silverwire is an advertiser on the Photo/Image News Network. I don't think that has swayed my opinion, but it's possible.

Next segment - new ideas for the photo cafe

Go to the beginning of this series

Part 2 of 3