Sparks from a sparkler

Click, Wait…What?

I was recently flabbergasted by an ATM.

I tried to get my money, but had a terrible time and finally gave up. I really should check my balance to be sure I didn’t accidentally leave $300 in the dispenser. This particular ATM had both a broken speaker and what must have been a TI-99/4 computer inside (check out if you’re younger than 40). All of the user interaction for this particular ATM was on the screen and only on the screen. There were no physical buttons of any kind. With the ATM having no working speaker, I received no audible feedback that it ever received my input. To make matters worse, not only was there no visual response to my finger banging desperately on the screen, but the ATM took a solid second to actually do what I pointed out. I would hit a number, wait for something to happen, and then hit it again. I never was able to input my PIN correctly. Eventually, I just quit trying and walked away.

I had a bad user experience.

Most ATMs provide a very simple click-a-button-and-beep level of feedback, and most of the time that’s enough when you’re trying to get your money. But sometimes, especially when the interfaces are virtual, we need a little more.

Google has recently published a working document titled Material Design. Since they’ve been burning up the versions with one Android release after another, and most Android devices offer a dearth of physical interactions, it seems that Google has learned a little wants to talk about it. While this document is definitely in its early stages, it is well worth a read. A little too much of Material Design is dedicated specifically to how Google applied the concepts to Android, but the rest of the document is right on the money.

Devices (and websites) should be ready to inform the user, not just throw down a bunch of color and fancy animations. The concepts in this document reflect the idea that an interface that is not physical must provide feedback to a user that helps the user feel like it is physical.

Consider a remote control. You can feel the buttons, they don’t move, often they are color-coded, and sometimes they are textured or shaped in a way that implies their function. Touch-screen devices can’t do that. Sure, the buttons can be shaped or colored and in a good design they won’t move. But you can’t feel them. Material Design goes to great lengths to explain how you can design user interfaces that encourage the visitor to experience Zen-like mental connections that leave them feeling like they really did feel the interface.

Feeling like you really felt the interface will leave you with, well, a good feeling. And that’s a good thing. I really wish that ATM had left me with a good feeling – or at least my money. Maybe the next one I use will have been designed by someone who read and really understood Material Design. I can only hope.

Take a look at Material Design and feel the digital world change before your very eyes. Or at least beneath your finger.