Tuesday, September 16, 2003

What Were They Thinking?
    — Pick a Card, Any Card

I used a Bank of America ATM machine today and was struck by how bad the user interface was.

First Question: What is the most common thing you do at the ATM?  That’s right: you get money.  You make a withdrawal.  So after you insert your card and enter your PIN, you are presented with a list of 8 or 10 different activities you can do, and where is the “Withdraw Cash” item?  In the upper left, as the first item in the list, so it’s very easy to find?  Hell no!  Bank of America sticks it in the middle of the right hand column, the hardest place for you to find it!

Second Question: What do you want to do after you get your money?  That’s right: you want to leave.  You want to grab the money and go to the bar, go meet your date, go do Christmas shopping.  What you don’t want to do is answer more questions.  No, I don’t want another transaction, just give me the damn card back!

So Bank of America designed their ATMs to make it hard for you to find the action you want, frustrating to conclude your action, and prone to leaving your card in the machine and your account wide open.  (After all, they gave you the money, so you may take it and leave, not realizing that you haven’t got your card back yet.)  Sure, use their ATM enough times and you will learn where everything is, but hey, rearrange the furniture at random enough times and you’ll learn not to walk around with the lights off, too.

Compare to the Wells Fargo ATMs.  They put the withdrawal item in the upper left, the first item that you read.  And when you make the withdrawal, they first pop your card out, forcing you to take it (and hopefully put it in your wallet) before they give you your money.  The downside to this is that it forces you into a particular workflow — always do any cash withdrawal last — but this isn’t an especially painful one (since you’ll typically be checking balances and transferring money and making deposits before taking money out anyway), and for the most common use of the system, it is very efficient.

Updated on July 9, 2004
Remixed into Weblog
Updated on September 9, 2010
Some ATMs have improved over the years.  Most of the Chase ATMs don’t hold onto your card at all; you insert it and then remove it, so it never leaves your hand.  They don’t limit you to doing a cash withdrawal only at the end of the process, but require a new entry of the PIN to go and do another action; while this can be annoying at times, the trade off is worth it, since you can do other activities after, or you can just leave without leaving your account open for the next person in line to loot.

However, the Withdrawal button is buried in the right-hand column of actions.  (I think; must verify.)

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