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The Dumbest User Interface of 2016

It is my great honor and pleasure to announce the winner of the Worst User Interface Award 2016: it goes to the new chip-enabled credit card terminals introduced in the U.S. this year. My congratulations, as it is very well deserved.

It is not often that a new user interface is so obviously annoying and user-hostile as these new terminals. It is even more remarkable that such a poorly thought out design could be released for such widespread use. And in 2016, no less (well, actually 2015 or even earlier, but the machines weren't accepting chip cards until some time this year in most places).

The award committee specifically wishes to point out the sounds used in these terminals. The annoying alarm they emit when the user does not immediately remove the card when the terminal is finished with it harken back to the punishing noises Windows 3.0 would make when it received a keypress or other input it had no use for. Blaming and punishing the user are time-honored traditions, though they have been mostly absent from UI design since around the year 2000. It is therefore refreshing to see them make a comeback in such a well-rounded package.

Another strong argument was the random and unnecessary flickering of the screen that easily leads to user error by signaling a change. However, no such change has occurred, and removing the card leads to punishment through the aforementioned annoying sound and the time spent to go through the entire process again. This user interface thus demands its user’s total and undivided attention, as it should in a situation where there is clearly nothing else going on (talking to the cashier, gathering your purchases, finding your car keys, keeping your children from running away, etc.).

The package wouldn’t be complete without the entire process being much slower than the old card swipe. What took a second or two before now seems to take millennia. Most of this time is spent waiting for the machine, without any indication of progress (apart from the flickering, lest we forget), which makes it seem even longer and more annoying. In an age when we are used to machines responding instantly, the awardee reminds us that complex operations are happening that require time and care.

The achievement is even more remarkable considering that many countries in Europe, as well as the U.S.-neighboring country of Canada, have had working chip card terminals for many years that are easy to use and do not get in the way. Ever the exception, the U.S. credit card industry decided not to follow other countries’ leads, but forge its own destiny instead. Bravo!

A comparatively minor factor in the overall decision, but still worth mentioning, are the months of confusion where it was never clear whether customers were supposed to swipe or insert the card. Many merchants taped over the card slot on their new terminals, for a piece of aesthetically questionable decoration.

The annoying sounds, the flickering, and the sheer amount of time it takes to complete what should be a simple transaction make these terminals stand out. They have managed to turn something that should be enjoyable or at least neutral – handing over money – into an actively annoying experience.

It may be astounding that credit card processors would drive their customers to other forms of payment, such as cash, checks, or the delightful and fast Apple Pay. But perhaps this speaks to their healthy understanding of – and sportsmanlike attitude towards – competition.

The award is lovingly handmade from thousands of discarded “Please Swipe!” and “Not Working” tapes and can be picked up at EagerEyes Headquarters during business hours.

Teaser image by JeepersMedia

Posted by Robert Kosara on December 26, 2016. Filed under user interfaces.