During the weekend I went to the mall and ran across a large variety of vending machines. Due to a basic consistent format of a) choose product, b) input money and c) receive product, the vending machines were fairly easy to use. The vending machines were also scattered about and placed in locations appropriate for their intended demographic. Depending on its demographic the experience with a vending machine differed. The amount of thought put into a vending machine’s design also affected its usability and how enjoyable and simple it was to use. Below are three common vending machines that I used:
1) the Gumball Machine
How to Use:
- Notice cluster of gumball machines at knee-level
- Notice that all of the machines say “25 cents”
- Scan cluster to find desired-product-dispensing gumball machine
- Crouch down in front of chosen gumball machine
- Stick quarter into quarter-shaped slot
- Turn dial until it tuns no more and there is a click
- Cup hand below the metal flap!
- Now open the flap: the desired product dispenses into the palm of your hand
The gumball-machine cluster is located near the mall’s main entrance. Upon walking in children would squeal and waddle over to the machines to use up their parents’ hard-earned quarters.
The gumball-machine cluster was clearly designed with children in mind: all gumball machines are positioned at heights comfortable for use and operation by children (or dwarf-people). The clear, round fish-bowl-like display and the array of colorful choices are also appealing. In comparison to other vending machines the gumball machine is also relatively straight-forward and easy to use. The design’s high affordance makes its operation intuitive: a quarter-shaped slot and the dial underneath induce users to place in the quarter and turn the dial, the way a toddler will learn to stick square shapes into the square-shaped holes or how to twist and turn the knobs of some fisher-price toy.
Because the dispenser is metal and its surface flat, the product tends to fall out when one opens the flap. First-time users may have to learn by trial and error to place their hand below the slot to catch their product after making their purchase. The fact that numerous children who vary in cleanliness use the machine and the non-packaged nature of the dispensed product make the dispenser’s cleanliness questionable.
I noticed foremost that the gumball machines were located very close to the entrance, in plain view of anyone who sauntered in. They were arranged in a pleasing two-level cluster up to my knees. I circled the cluster to find a machine that dispensed a desirable gumball-type, then crouched down with a quarter. It was clear that all the gumballs offered were 25-cents a piece. I placed the quarter into the quarter-shaped slot intuitively, then turned the bottom dial, which cranked the quarter into the machine. I could hear the mechanism within turn and then click, and then the sound of something solid drop onto metal. I then opened the bottom flap to then have my 25 cents slide out onto the floor. Next to me a horde of kids had gathered, eying the machines and fingering quarters greedily. I noticed that all of them cupped their hands below the dispenser before they opened the flap; the machine is fairly simple to use, making it ideal for children. Because children doubtlessly use many similar quarter-accepting round-object-dispensing machines they learn quickly to compensate for the flat, poorly-designed dispenser.
2) Hygiene Product Dispenser
How to Use:
- Walk over to machine mounted on the wall next to the bathroom sinks
- Scan the scant choices for some hygiene-related product
- Choose a desired product and note price; prepare to pay the price in quarters
- Stick the quarters all at once into the coin-shaped slot
- Turn the dial until the mechanism clicks and the desired product drops into one of two slots at the bottom
- Take product; possibly wash hands
The vending machine is located in the bathroom and is relatively flat and close to the wall, to take up little space. It is located near the sinks, which are near the bathroom’s entrance, allowing easy access to it to those who are entering or leaving.
A few of the products the machine offers would be a necessity for those in its target demographic (women using the restroom). The products available for purchase are not displayed prominently, allowing the more discreet purchase of private hygiene products. Instructions are also given on how to operate the machine.
Despite the given instructions, it is not immediately clear that the purchaser must deposit all quarters into the slot at one time. The machine is also made of inexpensive aluminum and somewhat banged up, which could cause a user to suspect the machine is broken when attempting to make a purchase incorrectly. Its cheap and somewhat shoddy appearance complemented by its location in a restroom give it a somewhat unpleasant, untidy quality when the image it should be pursuing is one of cleanliness. Also questionable is the nature of four of the products offered: a lip balm, ibuprofen, candy and a mini chewable brush. Due to its untidy image, the thought of choosing a product to stick in one’s mouth seems unsanitary and undesirable. Its plain boxy shape and cheap metal casing makes it seem cheap and unreliable. Despite the relative simplicity of its operation, it was the least pleasant and most confusing of all the vending machines used.
Upon walking into the restroom, I noticed how the machine was located conveniently near the entrance. Nevertheless I was put-off by its cheap and banged-up appearance. It was basically an aluminum sheet carved into a box with holes for coin-accepting dials and two dispensing slots at the bottom. Upon closer inspection I saw with amusement that apart from the product to the far left most of the products were chewed or consumed. The one to the far right was sour candy! I struggled to imagine why someone would want to buy candy from a restroom’s hygiene product dispenser. I saw that all products were 75cents to$1 in quarters. I then chose to buy the chewable toothbrush and placed one quarter into the quarter-shaped slot. To my dismay, the dial did not turn even a quarter of the way. Because the dial for the toothbrush was particularly banged up, I supposed that the dial was broken and grumbled. I then proceeded to try purchasing the lip balm instead. When this did not work, I began wondering if the whole machine was broken. I then paused and then proceeded to read the instructions that I had originally ignored, and then noticed how wide the slots were. This time I stacked the quarters together as instructed and placed them into the slot. I then turned the dial and heard the mechanism creaking and turning inside. The sound of a light object hitting metal alerted me to check the bottom slots, where I then retrieved my chewable toothbrush.
3) the Coke Machine
How to Use:
- Scan the visible array of available Coke products for a desired good: note its labeled price and id
- Input payment via bill-acceptor, coin-acceptor or card-acceptor as appropriate.
- Input the id of the desired product with the touchpad
- The machine should start up once the two characters of the product’s id has been entered with a whirring of motors as feedback!
- Look over to the left and stare in amazement as a mini conveyor belt takes your drink and moves it into…
- the drink-shaped receptacle. Take product from the receptacle.
- Any change is deposited with a clatter at another small receptacle to the side.
Near a set of benches to the side of the mall. Those who want a small break from intense shopping can stop by for a drink and rest.
The location allows the machine to attract the interest of people who are tired, thirsty or want a break. The machine is more likely to attract customers here, where people are resting, over a busier area, where people will be more focused on reaching their target store. The design of the machine is also pleasing and inviting, and there is a playful quality as well. The drink-shaped dispenser makes it clear where the customer retrieves their purchase and the clear display makes the customer feel more in-control of the purchase he/she makes. The clear display also allows the customer to view their product move to the bottle-shaped dispenser, giving the customer both audio and visual cues. The product received is also neatly-packaged, making it more sanitary than the products dispensed by the previous two machines. The steps that need to be taken are greater than those taken with the previous two machines, but the friendly design of the machine entices the user to invest the small amount of time needed to figure out these steps. Because the product’s id is listed next to its price, and the input for both payment and id are next to each other, selecting the desired product with the machine is intuitive. Overall the machine is intuitive and enjoyable to use.
The amount of steps that must be taken are more complex and elaborate than those taken by a gumball machine. Non-native speakers or those with reading/ visual problems such as dyslexia may have problems operating the machine. The machine is also difficult for children and those with restricted dexterity, such as arthritic patients, to operate.
I noticed that the coke machine was next to another diet coke machine. I noted that the choice for diet or regular via vending machine was nice. I then walked over to the regular machine and first noticed the large glass display to the left. I scanned the various drinks, feeling in control of what product I chose, and picked a drink, noting its price and id. To the right. the first thing to catch my eye is a large green bottle-shaped dispenser, which I know intuitively is where my drink will appear after purchase. I put in the dollar bills, hoping I put it in the right way, and then input the id without much thought. The sound of a machine starting up alert me to the left display, where my drink is dropped onto a conveyor belt that then moves up to move the drink to the green bottle-shaped dispenser. The drink clanks into the drink-like dispenser. The clatter of coins alerts me to my change, which is in the lit dispenser near the bottom right of the machine. Although there were a greater number of steps, the process was very smooth and little thought went into operating the machine, aside from choosing the drink.