User experience as the casualty of redesign

It’s common for the rewrite of a piece of software or the redesign of a device to have unintended side-effects. It’s all the little things that the original team learned through trial-and-error, and that were probably never documented well that get lost. It may be an intricate bug that was fixed and now reappears, or it may be some corner case that is no longer covered.



But sometimes what gets lost is something as central as the user experience. Maybe the new design team simply forgot to test the device with actual users, and they forgot to quizz the old team for what they knew.



Case in point, the credit card terminals at most stores were recently replaced with a new device to accommodate new chip cards, because they’re supposedly more secure. So the gain was security, but what was lost was the user experience.



It used to be that you could swipe your card, enter your pin, at which point the amount would be ready for your confirmation, so you hit “Confirm”, put the card back in your pocket, and you were done. It was all one smooth movement, a natural flow.



Now, a number of pauses have been inserted at arbitrary points, which breaks the flow. First you insert your card, then wait. Then you get to enter your pin, then wait. Then the amount shows up, and you can hit Confirm, and you wait. Then it says it’s ready, and you get to take your card back. If you take it too soon, the process is interrupted, and you have to start from scratch. If you take it too late, the machine starts an annoyed and impatient beeping.



It’s gone from a flow with no pauses, to a process interrupted by three pauses of varying lengths.



From a technical perspective it would seem like it should be possible for the device to start accepting my pin code and simply buffer it somewhere until it’s ready to process it, thus eliminating the first pause. And it should be possible to have the amount ready immediately as well. That would eliminate another pause.



The only inherent difference between the old and the new system is that the chip requires that you leave the card in the machine rather than keeping it in your hand. That means one pause is required, the final pause. But the rest are superfluous.



Three possible explanations come to mind.



The first is that there’s some technical reason that I’m not aware of that makes those first two pauses unavoidable or the cost of doing so prohibitive. Perhaps there are many card types that don’t require a pin, and determining whether the card is of such a type takes at least 2-3 seconds?



The second is the conspiracy theory. Perhaps the banks have a financial interest in having fewer but larger transactions because they’re costly. By degrading the user experience people are encouraged to swipe their card less often.



But maybe the team simply has a disregard for the user experience, and the banks have a monopoly, so nobody can do anything about it.



Does anyone know?

2 comments

I have noticed the same thing. And I find it hard to believe that the data read from the chip cannot be buffered as well, so you could remove the card from the chip reader whenever you wanted to.
By Jakob S on Tue, Sep 25, 07 at 06:41 · Reply
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I am pretty certain the chip has to take part in some kind of challenge/response exchange after you press confirm. That's the whole point in moving from magnetic strip to chip, as I understand it.
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