Criminal design

At the end of my recent holiday stay at Gran Canaria, my fiancee and I came across a machine that was designed so poorly, it bordered on the criminal. The machine in question was a small money-changer, placed right next to vending machines (both of which are operated by the company AMFM). The combination of vending machine plus money-changer is a very nice combo for tourists (and pretty much anyone, really) especially in the environment we found it: the airport on Gran Canaria, after going through security. Imagine being in the "secured zone", with a ten euro note and no small change, needing a bottle of water - a money-changing machine suddenly becomes your best friend (sorry Fido).

How does one turn this scenario from great to awful? One way, of course, is by having an "out of order" sign on the money-changing machine. However, while this would make you somewhat bitter, it's what can happen - not enough to make you really angry. No, what's needed for that is that the machine steals your money.

If you look at the picture on the right, you'll see a machine that does exactly that. It's designed in a way that makes it steal money every now and then. It's not that it consistently short-changes you - that would be too much and would probably get them in the spotlight of authorities. No, what the machine does is completely lack proper feedback mechanisms. It seems that the only bit of feedback incorporated into the machine is "I've run out of money to hand out to the customer". In other words, the machine will hand out as much money as it can, up till the amount you put into it.

How does this amount to stealing? In case you hand it €10 and it only has €4, that's what you get: €4. And a nice blinking message to tell you that it owes you €6. Which you're not going to get. In other words, the machine is telling you "Sucks to be you, doesn't it?".

This in itself is of course so poor design that people should be spanked. The fact that this machine is located in the secured area of an airport just aggravates things: nobody that I talked to would take any responsibility for the machine not working. Instead, the pointed me to the airport authority ... the office of which was located outside the secured area. In other words, you need to go through security twice, to be able to contact them about the problem. And your plane leaves when, exactly?


What should have been done? What would a proper situation look like? First off, a machine like this should never be allowed to accept money if it cannot hand out the proper change. That amounts to a proper feedback mechanism: when change is inserted into the machine, it should count it, and then it should check available funds against its store, before accepting any notes. Secondly, there should be no refusing of responsibility in airports. As is, people are being treated as second-rate citizens in airports. This is just not the way one should do business: treat your customers properly, listen to them.