Friday, March 19, 2004

Old problems still out there: Why do ATMs give you the card back first?

When cash machines first appeared, they suffered from one major usability problem: they gave people the money before giving the card back, which meant that lots of people walked away without their card. In cognitive terms this is known as task closure - when you get the money, you've completed your task, and you forget about the card because retrieving it was never one of your original aims. So now ATMs won't give you the money until you've taken the card out first. This is a classic example of a real-world problem that caused some real consternation, but was easily fixed with a design tweak.

So I was quite surprised this week when I bought a train ticket from a machine in Italy, and found that this problem is still around. Instead of making me take my card back first, the machine displayed a message in bright red letters telling me to take my card before taking my tickets. But there was no forcing function, the message disappeared even though I didn't take my card. luckily I was paying attention, but I wonder how many cards get left in these machines.

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