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October 22nd, 2001

How to Fix ATMs

Yesterday, I tried to deposit money into an ATM. The first ATM I visited included an envelope spitter-outer, which meant that I would have a limited amount of time to get everything in order. So I drove over to my bank, which had a drive-through ATM. That machine was broken. This branch also had a walk-up ATM which was… also broken.

Frustrated, I drove to another bank, with a working drive-up ATM. All right! Until… it came time to read the screen. Yesterday was a bright and sunny day, and the sunlight entirely washed out the screen of the ATM, making it near unusable. Holding one’s hand out over an ATM screen certainly isn’t convenient. But I managed to navigate the menus, and prepared everything for my deposit. The ATM told me to insert an envelope but, surprise!, there were no envelopes. This particular machine also featured an envelope spitter-outer, which was non-functional. After a few moments, I got my card back.

Finally, at another bank: an ATM with a stack of envelopes that was working. All it took was about 30 minutes.

Is it nuts? Yes. Does it happen all the time? Absolutely. ATMs are often broken, and when they’re working properly, they’re designed with some of the worst interfaces this side of Seattle. Here’s how I think we can fix ATMs.

1. Make the screens legible. This is tough, but possible. I shouldn’t have to navigate through a menu system blindfolded. Large letters, and easy contract (black on white is still best).

2. Consistent interfaces all around. Banks want to stand out and be different, even though the products are the same at the core. And likewise, we’ve got a few major interfaces to choose from for computers. But ATMs are more perfunctory than computers, and we shouldn’t have to learn to adapt to a new system every time. There is some consistency intrabank; there needs to be that consistency interbank.

3. More iconography. This is hand-in-hand with the consistent interface, but working with more in the way of icons will help the language issue. Most ATMs in my area let you choose between English and Spanish.

4. Make non-functioning machines visible. I shouldn’t have to drive up to an ATM, or walk up to one, to know it’s not working. At least some sort of status light (red = broken?) would be handy.

5. Let me get change! All too often, I need a roll of quarters for laundry (renting, fun) or the parking meters. I have to do this at the bank. Let me do this at the ATM! I’ve seen machines that let one get stamps or phone minutes. Change seems like a natural. As an added bonus, let it spit out the dollar coin at people – that coin is all but gone due to lack of usage.

Any other suggestions? -pm

Posted in Consumer Commentary

FROM: Robert
DATE: Sunday October 21, 2001 -- 10:33:02PM
I like the change idea. There have been so many times out on the street when I've wanted to get a roll of quarters in my fist to increase the impact of punching some jackass in the face.

FROM: Katherine
DATE: Sunday October 21, 2001 -- 10:59:36PM
Make it so that the options on the screen line up with the buttons on the machine if you are taller than, say, 3 feet. I guess it's more about angles than actual height (is it?), but I always have to scrunch down so that I can line the right option up with the right button.

FROM: Johnny Storm
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 6:10:31AM
Deposit your money in person, to a real live actual human teller. Case closed.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 9:36:38AM
Johnny, if banks are prepared to employ round-the-clock tellers (along with round-the-clock security guards), that'd be fine. But I doubt it'll happen.

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 10:04:37AM
Paul -- You are the Jakob Neilson of ATMs...

FROM: Robert
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 10:19:57AM
Ryan--That was the geekiest reference I've ever read.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 11:15:39AM
I was channeling Jakob. (There's a band name for ya!)

FROM: Hoochy
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 11:42:25AM
I think ATMS should give me free money every day please. Just kidding, you're right, the interface on these things is awful and no sign of improvement. It reminds me of crappy video arcades where they have say the body of a centipede game and the guts of pacman and the whole thing is messed up and annoying.

FROM: Steve
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 12:15:53PM
Make the envelopes self-stick so I don't have to lick them.

FROM: kafkaesque
DATE: Monday October 22, 2001 -- 1:14:02PM
I have always had a secret plan to visit as many ATMS as possible, inserting empty deposit envelopes and selecting the "Cash back" option, withdrawing 300 bucks a pop. I wonder how far I'd get...hmm. I think it would all end in tears, my multi-state crime spree cut short by a tragic train accident, like in the classic film, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 3:43:42 pm

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