My focus is on making software, coaching Agile/Scrum teams, and being a husband and father--definitely not on blogging--so please do not expect very frequent posts here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vending Machine Lottery – UX in the wild

Compared to the vending machine in my last post, this machine is a relative paradise.
I really like this design. Presented to me are 45 choices of what to buy, and I see the actual product that I will be buying.  Each one is labeled with a very clear number, which is placed in a location which makes it absolutely clear which choice it refers to. 
I also imagine this machine is rather efficient, as each of the 45 choices can have a quantity of up to 10 to 11 items behind them, for a total capacity of nearly 500 bottles.  
This design has the added benefit of needing no labels or product specific programming.  The bottles advertise themselves; if the vendor wants to change the offering, all they need do is put the new items on the machine and be done with it.

Still, I have two small quibbles from a UX perspective. First, why do I need to enter a three-digit number when there are only 45 choices?  Each row has choices 01 through 09, and the rows are numbered 1xx through 5xx. The middle digit is always zero, so why not drop it? Presumably there are larger machines that offer more than ten choices per row--but not this one.  Even if only 1% of users mistype their choice, wouldn't it pay to make it just a bit simpler? I'm reminded of the famous quote by Antoine de Saint Exupéry: “It seems that perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.”

More significantly, if each bottle isn't aligned right, the user may not be able to tell what the choice is.  For common choices like Coca-Cola, users won't have any trouble, but take the case of Honest Tea:
What flavor teas can I get? One of them is clearly peach, but is it a black or a green tea? Is it diet, low sugar, full sugar, or unsweetened? There is no way to tell. One bottle had the nutrition facts visible, which told me that it was a low sugar tea-but I didn't know what flavor that one was.  I wanted the peach, but I couldn't see how much sugar was in that one.   
Presumably, the onus is on the vendor to ensure the bottles are stocked with their fronts facing the user, but this adds time to every machine load.  Is this little concern worth all the other benefits of this design? Either way, the key concept here is don’t make your users guess, even if you think it is a reasonably easy guess.
I bought it, feeling like I was playing the iced tea lottery.
IMG_20141012_133206Ah, it's a low sugar peach white tea.  I would have preferred black, but still very good.

And it’s the only lottery I ever won.

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