Who Designed That User Interface

One of the problems with knowing something about programming, computers and user interface design is that when you run into a poor design in the real world it really makes you wonder. I get this every time I use an ATM. Some of the commands require you to press buttons on the side of the screen and some on the keypad. Not all of these make sense. For example, given there is an enter key on the key pad why do they often have you push a button on the side of the screen? Why not use that enter button?

And data entry. The instructions say that the amount must be in a multiple of $20. Fine so why does the user interface even allow you to enter data in the ones column and the cents columns? Shouldn’t what ever first number you press show up in the tens digit column? I haven’t tried to enter invalid data though. The way things are I am just too afraid of the possible consequences. I haven’t been burned by these poor interfaces so maybe there are enough fail safes and data checking to prevent most errors. But still a poor interface should be a concern for everyone who uses a system.

I’ve been thinking I’d like to mock up my idea of how an ATM interface should work. I think it would make an interesting classroom project. But I want to also think about other common ways people interact with computers. Point of sale machines possibly? I remember an interesting soda (pop for some of you, Coke for you in Atlanta, tonic for New Englanders) dispensing machine interface project. That might be interesting. And pizza orders are common.

But real existing interfaces that are redesigned and imagined by students seem to me to be the best idea. What sort of examples should I be looking at?

5 Responses to “Who Designed That User Interface”

  1. Matt says:

    I never could understand the “cents” thing on ATMs, either. If I want $40, I have to key in “4000.” The extra two zeroes don’t make any sense, and always make me worry that I’m actually going to withdraw 100 times what I intend. As you state, it doesn’t make any sense to be able to put them in, anyway.

    I’ve found that you often can press the “Enter” button, even though you’re supposed to “Press this button –>” (Which, by the way, ends up pointing in between two buttons more often than is reasonable.)

    It’s worth noting that most ATMs are made by the people whose voting machines were so notoriously bad that they recently sold off the whole division to wash their hands of it. They weren’t the only ones whose machines chronically miscounted (how does “vote++” go wrong?), or whose machines had unreasonably many security defects… But they were the ones whose name also appeared on ATMs. I have a persistent paranoia that an ATM will dispense the wrong amount of money to me.

    Oh, and here’s one — the machine should give me my money, my card, and my receipt at the same time, or at least within a couple seconds. On some machines, it’s literally 30 seconds or more between getting your money and having your card given back or your receipt printing. It’d be a simple feature — don’t spit anything out until everything is ready. (And really, what is happening between the money being dispensed and the receipt printing?) This is probably the reason so many people lose their ATM cards, or why there is ALWAYS a stack of receipts on top of the ATM: the people are long gone by the time the things come out.

  2. Matt says:

    Also, I don’t know a single New Englander who says “tonic,” unless they’re referencing the nasty carbonated water with a horrible taste, which is, truly, tonic. “Soda” is correct, just like the sandwiches are clearly “subs,” not grinders or hoagies or submarine sandwiches.

  3. Kyle says:

    When I was in the Masters profram for HF at Bentley, we did redesign projects on some cool stuff:

    -Vending Machines
    -Self-service checkout systems
    -MP3 players

    One of my professors recommends sticking with a theme (in our case, it was clothing) and having your students brainstorm ideas around it. We ended up concocting a “packing genie” (I think the paper is in my academic works on the blog) that recommended what and how to pack clothes for a trip given a particular itinerary.

  4. Kyle says:

    Also, touche on the ATM comments. Has Diebold ever looked at how someone tries to make a deposit or a withdrawal on one of those things?

  5. JXL82 says:

    Which I must say, is not always the case after fighting. ,

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