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Mac Musings

Automatic Frustration Machines, Part 2

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- 1998.09.23 - Tip Jar

Last week I wrote about ATMs from a human interface perspective. I suggested graphics and color and a modicum of intelligent programming could go a long ways in making ATMs more friendly and less frustrating.

The emails poured in. Several writers commented on the excellent Citibank ATM machines, which used color and touch screens. That goes a step beyond what I'd considered, but touch screens are even easier to grasp (once you get used to the idea of touching the screen) than buttons beside the screen.

A writer from Switzerland noted that ATMs there are intelligent: they know your language of choice and display a watch while you wait. I don't know if this is a tribute to the Swiss penchant for timepieces or a tip of the hat to the Macintosh, but I like the idea.

The only really negative human interface feedback was about an ATM that gave two language options, neither one English, but defaulted to English if you made no choice. Better to make it an option than leave the Anglophone wondering whether he or she can use it!

More frustration

I had a frustrating encounter with the ATM network this morning. I went to my branch on the way to work, but the ATM was out of order. It suggested calling 1-800-4CIRRUS to find the nearest ATM. As though I have a phone in my car! (Yes, I know cell phones are quite popular. But my car is a sanctuary from work.)

Instead, I drove to another branch. Same message. And another. Same message. In total, I stopped by five branches on the way to work. Each ATM said the same thing, "I'm temporarily down. Call 1-800-4CIRRUS."

Instead, I ended up at 7-Eleven, where I gladly paid a 50¢ transaction fee to use their ATM. And pick up my morning Big Gulp.

But why couldn't the bank's ATMs tell me that the network was down, not just this individual machine? I would have known my options much sooner and avoided the frustration of seeing ATM after ATM display the same message.

A little more courtesy could go a long way.

That said, I found something to like about the ATM at 7-Eleven: it doesn't eat your card. Instead, you swipe your card, then put it away. That's got to save at least 30 seconds after your transaction, time that most ATMs use deciding that, yes, they really will give you your card back.

Some frustration today, but one more triumph of user friendly design.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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