How not to design an ATM

I’ve written before about problems with the UI on ATMs, such as repeatedly asking what language you want and having you enter cents for withdrawals when no ATM I know of dispenses pennies.

I ran across another problem the other day: an ATM that doesn’t know when to count. I asked for $200. The machine connected to the network, subtracted $201.85 from my account and then started spitting out money. Whirr. Click. Uh oh.

Seeing as I wasn’t in Vegas and there is no such thing as a $200 bill, I began to worry. There was an ominous message that said simply “Cash dispensing error”. The machine only had $20 in it.

The machine should keep track of how much it has in it so that as soon as you enter $200, it checks and says, “Sorry, I’ve only got $20. Do you want that?” This should happen before taking the money out of your bank account.

Here’s a case where bad UI made the ATM company money: I ended up paying $1.85 to withdraw $20, a whopping 9.25%. If I’d known that there was only $20 in the thing, I would have used a different ATM. Now if only I’d reprogrammed that ATM to think I took out $5.

Badly designed ATM


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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