The Apple craze encourages a uniform design in harsh everyday life“

Michael Reuter © Reuter

Interview with Michael Reuter, Managing Director of Polygon in Obertshausen, Germany

Retail could make great use of the look of digital information terminals as a unique feature, believes Polygon Managing Director Michael Reuter. However, he sells standard models that are being modified in different ways more frequently than completely new developments. Many materials are possible, but due to its longevity steel is especially sought after. Reuter mourns the fact that retailers today often copy the Apple design.

Brushed steel, display column slightly curved, touchscreen – done. Does retail want the uniform look?

Most customers actually would rather prefer a custom solution. Since a custom solution however by its very nature always still needs to be newly developed, time and cost expenditures are incurred beforehand. This results in many customers putting up with choosing a ”ready-made” solution. We at Polygon have a strong design and development division on site and are thus able to develop very efficient suitable concepts and solutions. Product graphics changes of standard enclosures via surfaces, colors and graphics can be done with minimum effort. Customer-specific dimensional changes are a bit more intricate. Complete new developments generate the most cost, but also offer the best opportunities for a distinct appearance. And they can be more cost-effective than the off-the-shelf solution thanks to the precisely tuned design for the special application. Have I mentioned yet that we have already conducted more than 100 customized developments and therefore are the market leader?

Since 1993 more than 7,000 terminals were produced at Polygon. What projects were particular milestones?

In 1993 we designed our first interactive terminal “Exposer“. This individual piece was showcased at a trade fair. Afterward we received very many inquiries. Thus the area of kiosk terminal systems came into being in our design and development company.

In 1998 we actualized 80 customized outdoor information terminals for the Lisbon World Exposition in Portugal. Apart from an unusual design, new technical challenges had to also be overcome. For the first time ever we successfully used air-conditioning units.

In 1999 Höft & Wessel commissioned us to develop the new check-in terminal for Lufthansa. This was our first mass-produced customer-specific terminal.

In 2000 we realized information terminals for the opening of the VW Autostadt that actively moved automatically and in part were used outside – a project where we also handled the maintenance for the first time.

In 2005 we started the “Servicepunkt" (“point of service”) project for the dm pharmacies. To this day we have over 2,000 systems in use at dm. Since the beginning of this year, little by little the second generation is being rolled out.

In 2008 for the first time ever we used 82-inch TFT monitors for an interactive digital signage column. It all started with 10.5 inches.


© Polygon

If blond or blue - its all the same. The standard terminals offer custom solutions. © Polygon

How has the design changed over almost 20 years?

At first we worked with CRT displays, that where almost as deep as a refrigerator – with a 13-inch diagonal screen size. The computers were in no way inferior and so it was primarily about visually reducing the volume. Today the challenge is more in designing terminals with large screen sizes in a way to where they are not perceived as powerful barriers.

What are the current design trends in terminals?

If you ask people in charge of retail, for three years predominantly the current Apple design is mentioned as the biggest role model. This goes so far as even using iPads in parts with additional adapters as small information terminals. Apart from the technical issues that arise when you use consumer goods as public systems, it creates a uniformity that counteracts the desire for individuality.

Apple has an outstanding design strategy, which for several years is characterized by strongly reduced forms and classy surfaces. By doing so, among other things, it follows the Ulm School of Design and the designs by the Braun Company from the seventies. The more competitors are copying this design, the less it is suited as a unique feature, and it overall creates a certain loss.


XPoser ©P olygon

VW car city © Polygon

Lufthansa Check-In Terminal © Polygon

Apple’s business rivals in the mobile phone marketplace at least in part are now once again coming off the pure "me too" strategies to return to independent designs. We are also working on creating harmonious alternative design concepts with our customers. I for one hope that in the future kiosk terminals with their cuboid shape will once again have some competition from crystalline, amorphous, additive, floral or otherwise independent designs, and that there are no longer iPod clones in all kinds of sizes staring us in the face everywhere.

Which materials do you prefer for your terminals? What is the advantage of this choice?

In development and production we are not tied to specific materials and use plastics as well as different metals and engineered wood products. This depends on factors like quantity, operation site, design etc. Each product is different and we develop the best solution based on the respective structure of demand. The vast majority of our terminals are made of steel. Aside from the high production precision, the multifaceted processing capabilities and mechanical durability also speak in favor of this basic material. Some of our products have been in use for more than ten years and over the years have been outfitted twice on site with new hardware. Using steel, we can outstandingly implement this philosophy of sustainability in the structural design of the enclosure.

If you had one free wish: What location/which store would you like to outfit with terminals? Why? What type of terminals would you design?

Above all, we are interested in applications where aside from the media-related interaction the exposure to real physical things also takes place. This applies especially to self-checkout systems. Recently we were able to get interesting projects into the pilot phase. In Germany the subject is still in its infancy, which makes it all the more interesting for us. We are excited about the new requirements and challenges and look forward to the definitely still exciting further development of technologies.

How high is the rate of vandalism in the interior and outdoor area?

According to the numbers that are available to us, damages are extremely minor, which definitely is also due to the outstanding quality of our products. Apart from that we have no indications of users or pedestrians willfully damaging terminals in any measurable frequency.

The EuroCIS was several months ago. What was your trade fair highlight?

We introduced the successor to our top-selling terminal “CheckPOInt“. The design was very well received, incidentally a simple, but not purely cuboid shape. Among the various technical features, particularly our in-house production of a paper feed unit with optional paper shredding attracted a lot of interest. It can be used wherever data protection is crucial. Print-outs that were not removed by the user are made illegible based on strict safety standards.

Which palpable deals were you able to make because of the trade fair?

Above all, we don’t see trade fair presentations as direct sales events, but rather as a chance to introduce our customers and partners to new developments. We were surprised by the large interest in so-called HR solutions, meaning terminals where those employees that don’t have any access to a company PC are able to coordinate their vacation planning and payroll statements. In this instance our paper unit is just the right thing.

Interview: René Schellbach,


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