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Chip card readers in the US started to roll out around a year ago. Since then, I've noticed from personal experience and the report of multiple cashiers that the displayed "DO NOT REMOVE CARD" messages on ~90% of them are largely ineffective, as many people still have difficulty with these readers and remove the card before the right time.

I have only been to one store with a terminal that displayed a positively-framed message instead of "DO NOT REMOVE CARD". This consistent negative phrasing seems almost, well, idiotic to me, because "DO NOT REMOVE CARD" has the positive words "REMOVE CARD" embedded within it. And as you know, people don't read, or don't read completely, and they probably have trouble processing the negative phrasing correctly.

I'm reminded of the advice given parents on how to help their kids be successful, by using positive commands such as "put your feet on the floor" instead of "don't put your feet on the table". It works for kids, and it should work for adults!

In addition, the terminal displays a couple of different messages during the waiting period, flashing in different locations, and going back to "DO NOT REMOVE CARD" a few times. An answer to a related question on the flashing itself suggests that the jumping around is specifically intended to help solve the early removal problem, but I think it actually worsens it, as each new presentation of an obviously different message triggers the person to think a new event has occurred, thus it must be the time to remove the card, and not recognizing the deceptive cognitive task of repeatedly & correctly reading a negatively phrased command, they do the wrong thing.

Imagine if traffic lights, while red, moved around to different red lights in different places, and you had to be sure that when it moved it had also changed to a green light. People would be constantly making false starts. Instead, it is the very stability of the red light staying steady that helps us to know it isn't time to go yet, and the green light is accompanied by not just a color change but movement to a light showing in a different place. (I bet that lights that simply changed color without moving to a physically separate location would be less effective.)

I think the terminals would be far more successful if instead they used as few words as possible, didn't flash or jump around at all, and phrased things positively:

  1. INSERT CARD
  2. WAIT
  3. REMOVE CARD

I suppose I could tolerate #2 being something like "READING CARD, WAIT", but I honestly don't see how this is any improvement over the single word. It's my opinion that with these simplified and steady messages, just like a traffic light, the general public will much more reliably perform the seemingly very simple task of not taking out the card until the right time, because they are only presented with one cognitive task of any weight: understanding that it is time to wait, and then the moment the display changes again, they know the process is done without even reading the message.

Even as a long time software developer who is passionate about good UX, and as someone who has been noticing this issue and focusing on it for the past year or so each and every time I've used a chip reader, I can get it wrong. The other day while on the phone I checked out at a self-checkout terminal and accidentally removed my card during a freshly-flashed "DO NOT REMOVE CARD" message, because my eyes hit on the "REMOVE CARD" portion and my mind was on the phone call. I promise you that had it said "WAIT" without changing to another message I would have correctly waited, even with my mind occupied elsewhere.

Do you think I'm barking up the right tree? Is there any research available that would support or negate my ideas on this?

Is there any way we can actually get this information over to the credit card terminal firmware makers so they can fix these ridiculous, awful UX devices?

  • We've had chip and pin machines in the UK for what is probably a decade. People learn how to use them after a while and the problem goes away. We've mostly now moved to wireless cards and readers, so really all you really need on the display is the wireless logo which then changes to the word "Approved". – PhillipW Apr 24 '17 at 13:03
  • @PhillipW Anyone can get used to bad UX given enough time, but that's not the point. Bad UX like this is ridiculous. It's totally unnecessary to make things harder for people. – ErikE Apr 24 '17 at 14:55
  • I think we tend to disregard frequency of usage and learning: learning to drive a car is difficult to start with, but after a while it becomes automatic. It's things you do rarely which need to be more 'self obvious'. However there are features of software design which no amount of learning finds a way around, and if you have to deal with the software regularly these are the real frustrations. If you did a survey in the UK now I expect the design of chip readers would hardly register as its established technology. There's a few issues about wireless readers but these are rapidly improving. – PhillipW Apr 24 '17 at 19:51
  • @PhillipW I understand what you're saying, but those relative frequencies are still no excuse for making crappy software UX, or crappy car UX for that matter. Catering to the experienced person makes sense often, but catering to the beginner in a way that doesn't impede the expert is still of benefit. – ErikE Apr 24 '17 at 20:02
  • Its possible that UK machines just don't have these issues - I'll watch them more carefully when I next do a transaction. – PhillipW Apr 24 '17 at 20:41
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Consideration must be given to the distracting purchase environment, the hard-to-find card entry slot, and the length of time the card must remain in the machine, the last two factors being very different from the user experience of the previous swipe method. I think "Insert" ("Stop") and "Remove" states could be made more visible by adding bright supporting lighting in a ring surrounding the card entry slot. The machine's "Insert" state would have a bright green light. With the chip card inserted, the same light ring changes to Red and the word "Stop" displays. When the machine has finished, a pleasant chime should signal the customer, as the word "Remove" displays and the ring light changes back to Green. Only if the card is not immediately removed should the chime have a negative tone. Note 1 The words "Insert" and "Remove" are of Latin origin, while the word "Stop" is Middle English. My estimation is the color of the light and audio prompts will help the majority of users. Note 2 The precision of the movement needed to insert the card makes it far more difficult than swipe for many users, in my view risking a challenge from the AARP, Veteran's or ADA.

  • Stop does not seem good to me as in addition to "do nothing" it can also mean "actively terminate a process", which could cause people to remove the card. I like the colored light feedback and thought of something similar but forgot to mention it. I agree on the pleasant chime. The choice of angry buzz/klaxon for many terminals sounds like an error! – ErikE Feb 23 '17 at 10:46

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