February 01, 2008

Terrible UI o’ the day

Ah, Vegas: It’s like the whole town just coughs into your mouth.  Everything about this place makes me feel dirty, strung-out, and used.

I mention it because just now I was impressed to find a Coke machine that featured a credit card swipe-strip for payment.  Kind of convenient, I thought–though of course it means that the prices have been jacked out of the range of the small bills you’re likely to be carrying.

Speaking of price… It’s displayed only intermittently, when the words “Coca-Cola” aren’t crawling by.  (I’m sure that text is very helpful to the people confused about the nature of this giant red machine that sells only Coca-Cola.)  Terrible info presentation, but whatever, I’m thirsty.

Swipe, pause… card authorized, press soda button.  Wait several seconds… nothing.  Did it hear me?  I press again.  Wait… [rumble] Coke arrives.  And then another.  And then a third.  Suddenly I’ve paid nearly eight bucks for 60oz. of sugar water–about 10x more than I actually wanted.

Genius!  I’m serious, actually: by tossing out the most basic interface principle of providing prompt user feedback, these guys just tripled their income.  How many times a day must this happen, and who’s going to spend time sweating these guys for $5?  The house wins again.

PS–I know that in posting this little bit of whining I’m really unleashing the power of the blog, so to speak.  Maybe the anti-consumer UI beatings that happen in Vegas should, in fact, stay in Vegas.

Posted by John Nack at 4:54 PM on February 01, 2008

Comments

  • Alex — 5:36 PM on February 01, 2008

    I have never been to Vegas for many years and every time some deal happens there I ask my wife- I think I will go this year, what do you think? and she says “you won’t like it- it’s a rip off.” and now John you have decidedly affirmed the fact that my wife is always right, and I haven’t missed anything in Vegas. It is time that the convention bookers of the world found new places for conventions.

  • Ken — 5:56 PM on February 01, 2008

    Love your honesty, Have not been to Vegas since early 1990’s, I thank God for that.
    However, seduction does have a price.
    Most kindly
    Ken

  • A. Dias — 11:51 PM on February 01, 2008

    I feel your pain. The same huge UI latency is also present in Chevron gas pumps – receipts are often not printed, after refusing to pay for a car wash with the NO key pressed twice because the UI is unresponsive.

  • Raman Pfaff — 9:15 AM on February 02, 2008

    I stopped at a rest area the other day and went to buy a Diet Coke (for a mere $1.50). After putting in my $2 and getting my Coke I noticed the tiny little print at the bottom of the machine that said, “This machine does not provide any change.”
    UI is out. CI is in. Corporate interface. How do you increase revenue by just making a few tweaks here and there.
    I wonder what that job pays :)

  • Scott Valentine — 3:06 PM on February 02, 2008

    I actually enjoy Vegas quite a bit, but it’s because I like to watch people. The UI problems you mention are not limited to machines, either… many casinos and restaurants are less than forthright about actual costs and limitations.
    But one of my favorite encounters was in New York for a then-Macromedia conference. When you signed into the hotel, they asked if you planned to use the phone at a $15/day connection charge, plus standard land rates. “Standard rates” meant *their* standard rate of $5/min. This was not disclosed on the front of the contract, nor on the phone itself.
    And the in-room fridge had a very tiny tamper detector that you wouldn’t see until after you’d opened it… inside the fridge is a sign telling you that they charge another $15/day for personal use of the fridge, on top of whatever it costs for the snacks and drinks.

  • Mordy Golding — 6:01 PM on February 02, 2008

    I’M NOT THE ONLY IDIOT! What a relief! I too had a run in with on of these machines. It was in Chicago this past October (2 weeks after MAX).
    I too was enthralled about the credit card, since it’s rare I have enough singles (remember, I wasn’t in Vegas…).
    In any case, I ended up buying 2 bottles — but only because after I pressed the button for the second time, I bent down to observe if the red light was on for my selection, which would have indicated there was none left. As I was about to press the button a third time, I heard my first Diet Coke making its was out of the machine.
    However, this is a CLEAR case of a real life marketing case. The marketing folks claim their customers want to be able to use credit cards. The engineering teams says “we have some awesome ideas for how to do that — we can design an entire new soda machine…” when of course the marketing folks say that the budget requires that they simply retool the existing machines. So the engineers do what they have to do, and leave it up to the UI design team to finish up the details. I’m sure they weren’t happy when they found out they had one LED display to work with… but such are corporate decisions. Don’t blame the UI folks here John — blame the bean counters who were too cheap to retool the machines.
    [Hmm--I'm less than convinced. There seems to be a tendency these days to say that individuals (engineers, soldiers, "average Americans," whatever) are fairly blameless & that evil powers that be (bean-counters/marketers, politicians, etc.) are to blame. I don't like giving that kind of pass, at least in product development. Around here, at least, everyone plays a role in the shape things take, for better or worse.
    In this case it seems the engineers could have made simple changes (e.g. recognizing that a second click issued before the first drink has shown up almost definitely doesn't mean "I want to buy two (or three, or four) drinks") that would have addressed the problem. I do wonder whether some jerk knows about and likes that behavior, as it allows him or her to point at these installations and say, "See, when we put in a credit card swipe, our sales go up!" So yeah, maybe you've got a point. I'm just sensitive to the whole fairy tale that "Noble engineering wanted to do the right thing, and those damn marketers got in there and screwed it all up." --J.]
    Can you imagine those things in airports? Man — you can’t even bring it on the plane!!!
    [No doubt, which is why I had to leave sodas 2 & 3 in the room, hoping that at least the housekeeping folks would find them unopened and not just throw them away, as I'd have had to do at the airport. --J.]

  • Scott Valentine — 8:36 PM on February 02, 2008

    If you want to blame the intermediaries, look to the whole rebate industry. There’s an industry that exists only to serve itself; there is no good reason to offer a rebate if you are a reputable company.
    The companies who handle rebates for other companies brag about how few applications get completed properly, they purposely build in poor handling and confusing requirements, and also have delays which are only meant to make customers forget they submitted anything in the first place.
    So, while I don’t think it’s always “marketing”, I do think there is a healthy dose of “what can we get away with and feign innocence” in point-of-sale marketing.

  • Wayne Palmer — 5:23 PM on February 03, 2008

    So now I know who to blame for the Coke machine being empty on Friday nite….:)
    [Rm. 2321 of the Hilton may still contain the secret cola cache... --J.]

  • jarred — 12:23 AM on February 07, 2008

    Man.. i was at PMA in vegas this last weekend.. and same thing happened at the coke machine in the convention center. I only got suckered twice though.. but it still pissed me off to no end.

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