44

Have you ever had trouble lining the arrows up with the correct button on ATM consoles and other similar interfaces? Height of user can affect perceived alignment, as well as poor installation or maintenance.

So why not just add some blank arrows (or some other tic or blank object) to help quickly see how many buttons down I need to go?

      +---------------------------------+
      |                                 |   
      |   How much money do you want?   |
      |                                 |   
      |                                 |   
      |                                 |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      |                         $5 ---> |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      |          1 million dollars ---> |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      |                                 |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      +---------------------------------+

versus

      +---------------------------------+
      |                                 |   
      |   How much money do you want?   |
      |                                 |   
      |                                 |   
      | <                             > |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      | <                       $5 ---> |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      | <        1 million dollars ---> |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      | <                             > |   
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
|  |  |                                 |  |  |
+--+  |                                 |  +--+
      +---------------------------------+

I've been cursing ATM programmers for decades over this guess-the-button game when it seems easily avoidable to me. Perhaps someone has some test data that shows this would be bad for some reason.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Graham Herrli, Matt Obee, Charles Wesley, Evil Closet Monkey, K.. Sep 23 '14 at 18:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 5
    Banks still relying heavily on COBOL-backed IBM mainframes demonstrates where their priorities are. – Brendon Sep 22 '14 at 22:11
  • 5
    Found this great photo illustrating the point. Two more tic marks on the screen would make it so much easier to figure out which button to hit. boingboing.net/2010/11/12/atm-user-interface-f.html – juanitogan Sep 22 '14 at 23:11
  • 3
    @juanitogan This is the image I often refer to when describing how parallax error affects touch-screen interfaces. – Kit Grose Sep 23 '14 at 2:34
  • 1
    I have seen this being done (although not with arrows but empty "button labels"). Also the alignment issue is on old ATMs mostly due to different height of people, thus different view angles. I have less problems with this than my wife. – PlasmaHH Sep 23 '14 at 8:35
  • 2
    One of the ATM in IAD lets you to type numbers corresponding to the options from the number pad. The options on the screen were not numbered and I tried several times counting left-right, top-bottom, vice versa and got my options wrong all the time. – Balaji Natarajan Sep 24 '14 at 16:15
10

ATM software is generally written by the bank, whereas ATM hardware comes from a very limited set of manufacturers like NCR.

As ATM hardware improves, the same software is deployed on many different device form factors often at once; some are old-school (like the ones you refer to in the question) with the buttons running down each side of the screen, and modern ones are touch screens.

That's why most ATM software looks like it's designed for touch even though most ATMs seem to be the old ones.

And that leads us to the question you asked: your little blank notches wouldn't correspond to anything on a touch screen.

The solution, then, of course, is to stop designing the software once for both device form factors. The reason that doesn't happen is mostly that ATM software needs expensive validation to confirm it's financially secure.

And sadly I doubt many users change banking providers on the strength of their ATM UX.

  • 4
    OTOH, I think ATM UX is a potentially HUGE basis for a choice of bank -- especially the new(ish) feature some banks have where you get a scan of your checks (and possibly even instant access to the funds) when you deposit them, rather than having to trust that they make it to the right place. – R.. Sep 23 '14 at 1:50
  • 9
    who'd ever change bank based on their ATM screens? 90% of the ATMs I use are NOT from my own bank, and that's the case for a lot of people. I use the nearest ATM when I need cash, don't go looking for one from my own bank which may be in the next town over (or the next country over...). And as most banks use the same ATM models anyway it hardly matters. – jwenting Sep 23 '14 at 6:31
  • 2
    @jwenting - I love my bank because of its modern user interface; it keeps me loyal and is consistent across its ATMs (which are everywhere here), mobile app and website (and in Australia a lot of people will use their banks ATMs to avoid $2 fees). – misterManSam Sep 23 '14 at 7:37
  • 1
    Interesting insight but I'm not convinced the touchscreen argument answers the question. This question goes way back to the 1960s when I doubt touchscreens were relevant in the UI design. Even if they were, disabled options (blank or grayed) on touchscreens are not confounding. My phone uses grayed objects and, as far as I know, people don't spend all day punching at them out of frustration. -- Okay, maybe the banks had no choice but the firmware engineers were hopefully creative enough to consider these things. So why did they pass on it? The usefulness of blank arrows is not that elusive. – juanitogan Sep 23 '14 at 13:58
  • 1
    @KitGrose You are still too modern. Yes, LCDs are reliable on alignment. The old CRTs had zoom and alignment issues. Further, a UI designed for one bezel may not align well with bezels on new machines with the same software. I agree with simplicity and reducing objects but I'm also surprised at how many engineers (designers) cannot see the value of disabled/placeholder objects even though great designs use them (such objects hint there is more to consider). Still, I wonder if past ATM engineers found even a simple > or hollow ► to be too distracting somehow--or if someone failed to try it. – juanitogan Sep 24 '14 at 15:36
4

Buttons down the edge are old technology and I suspect they'll all be replaced by touch screens before too long and this problem will go away.

  • My bank already has, quite a while ago, in fact. – KRyan Sep 23 '14 at 1:00
  • 4
    ATM machines are expensive as hell. Until they break down you won't see touch screen stuff for a while, especially in 3rd world countries – Raestloz Sep 23 '14 at 6:22
  • 3
    why would a bank replace a perfectly fine ATM just to get a fancy touch screen that requires more maintenance and breaks more often when they have hundreds or thousands of ATMs already that are robust, safe, and function just fine? The replacement cost (and installation cost) would be horrendous for very little gain. – jwenting Sep 23 '14 at 6:32
  • 3
    Even if this is true (and I'm not convinced it is), this is in no way whatsoever an answer to the question. At best it should be a comment. – Chris Hayes Sep 23 '14 at 6:33
  • 3
    I think it is an answer. For anyone contemplating building a user interface with a screen surrounded by buttons: don't! Use a touch screen instead. – Colin 't Hart Sep 23 '14 at 7:35

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