How to Outdo 40 Years of Product Design

One day, we’ll probably phase out cash altogether (which I’m terrified of, and pretty much firmly against). Until then, pretty much the only way we receive cash is through the use of one particularly depressing little machine (if Douglas Adams’ robot Marvin were real, he’d definitely be one). I’m talking, of course, about the lowly ATM, expected to push 2 million installed units (globally) sometime this year.

You’re probably thinking what I’m thinking. Only 2 million? In over forty years? There are over 4.5 BILLION cell phones out there, and they’ve really only become popular within the last 15 years.

The debate over self-service machines the other day got me thinking again of the ATM. It’s another example of a common system that many people experience but very few enjoy.

It’s fair to say that ATMs have a lot of strikes against them. What they make up for in convenience they’ll usually happily charge an exorbitant fee for (fortunately not for much longer, at least in the US). They’re also irritating from a usage standpoint: the loud beeps, the inaccurate touchscreen, the sheer ugliness of the devices themselves (there’s also my nerdy-but-can’t-help-it hatred of those fonts).

Ever used a “deli” ATM, the kind that uses dialup? You’ll tear your hair out waiting to find if it’s even going to work.

This kind of frustration led BBVA (a large bank I had previously never heard of) and IDEO (who I’m certain we’ll hear lots more from) to head back to the drawing board and construct this futuristic ATM experience.

The first and most visible change is mindblowingly simple: rotate the ATMs 90 degrees so people can’t look over your shoulder. Just think: it only took forty years!

The new ATM is built around a super-large (19-inch) touchscreen, which makes sense for a lot of reasons. For one thing, new features and even new kinds of transactions can be added in at a later date. You might be able to do stock trades or browse the bank’s website in addition to withdrawing cash– though this could end up being a hassle if one person takes up a lone ATM for fifteen minutes! Language-specific keyboards are also one of those “really cool but difficult to implement” moves that a touchscreen makes easy. It would be a truly global device.

The other design victory here is in the machine’s simplicity. The entire screen blanks out except for a large set of arrows that indicate what to do: insert card, take your cash, choose a language. Impossible to mistake, even without language. I’ve always been a fan of simplifying as many things as possible down to INPUT and OUTPUT. For the vast majority of human-machine interaction, input/output is literally the only thing happening. Why add complexity? IDEO seems to get it. There are two slots: one for your card, and one for everything else. Receipts, cash–everything comes out at the same place. Even nicer: the bills are ejected with their edges pushed slightly out of the machine, so there’s no chance of missing one. Traditional (“non-rotated”) ATMs can’t really do this, because everyone would see how much money you withdrew. This is a fantastic idea, and another bizarrely simple but nonetheless brand-new innovation. I guess people really just haven’t cared much about improving the ATM.

The new machines have been in testing in Spain since last year, and should be rolled out in several other countries soon. I really have to applaud IDEO’s efforts with this project. They did a spectacular job listening to feedback and creating an experience that is user-driven, not machine-oriented, from the ground up. This is the process all good design must go through: customers in 2010 have come to demand nothing less.

What do you think of IDEO’s implementation? What would you improve? What other things would you like to see rethought in this way? Let me know in the comments!!



  1. annuaire /

    Some url are not working anymore.

  2. Leverage /

    This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing those knowledge. I will absolutely check it out.

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