Friday, August 01, 2008

Self-service kiosk software development

That was posted as a comment in response to the New York Times's David Pogue's rant about Delta's self check-in kiosks:

You come up, you swipe your credit card. That alone ought to tell the kiosk who you are, and it should therefore know what flight you’re checking in for.

But no, it plays dumb. It asks you to key in your destination. So you type in “SAN” for San Francisco. And it asks you: San Francisco, San Diego, or San Juan? Oh, I don’t know–how about THE ONE YOU HAVE A RESERVATION ON!?

(Yes, yes, I know–you might have more than one reservation on Delta. But come on. Let’s say you have flights today at 3 pm, tomorrow at 5 pm, and next Friday at 8 pm. As you swipe your credit card, today, at 1:30 pm, does it really think you’re checking in for anything but the first one?)

But O.K. You tap San Francisco. And now–I kid you not–it wants to know what time of day the flight departs!

Are you kidding me? It doesn’t know the airline’s own flight time? Come on–it already knows what flight I’m on, so what’s the point of this exercise? For God’s sake, just check me in!

Whenever I encounter badly designed software like this, I stand there, slack-jawed, mind boggling, and wonder what on earth the designers were *thinking.* Not, obviously, about elegance, intelligence and simplicity. (My emphasis added)

I'm sure we've all found ourselves in this situation. Clients come in, asking to benefit from our years of experience in the industry. Using that accumulated knowledge, we proceed to work on a design that incorporates the necessary functionality, provides a suitable level of accessibility, and meets the client's business objectives. But because it isn't precisely what the client had in mind, it's not what they ultimately want or feel satisfied with. Their "gut instinct", or whatever you might prefer to call it, gets the better of their reasoning minds. Whether it's a startup in a garage or a Fortune 500 company makes no difference, this phenomenon exists everywhere. In the end, it comes down to sticking to your guns and perhaps losing the account (or your job), or else giving in and winning the contract. You can guess which the Delta kiosk's designers did.

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Bernhard said...


I have been in so many similar situations like this. I think designers of self-service software have to do much more usability testing and also design for "self-service failure".

I have written about it here:


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