redesign | payments: redesigning the ATM

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The humble ATM. We’re surrounded by them. Since Chemical Bank opened the first ATM in 1969, consumers have had access to their money more conveniently than waiting in line for a bank teller.

ATMs have evolved over time, becoming smaller, smarter and ubiquitous.

Consider:

  • The advent of ATM surcharges meant that every mom and pop grocery store, gas station and bar could afford to put one in.
  • ATMs can now accept checks and cash for deposit without using an envelope.
  • ATMs have been used to sell postage stamps and airline tickets.
  • The newer Chase ATMs now stand in between customers and tellers, offering a wider array of services.

But mobile technology allows ATMs to slim down considerably. Here’s how:

  1. Open your bank’s mobile app.
  2. Specify the amount of cash you want to withdraw.
  3. Touch your fingerprint.
  4. Tap your phone against an NFC reader.
  5. Cash pops out of a dispenser.
  6. Your receipt is shown on your phone.

This eliminates the screen, keyboard and printer.

Banks benefit in a number of ways: less space per machine, lower costs, more throughput per machine (due to shortened transaction times) and eliminating skimming at the ATM.

Consumers benefit from more convenient access and shorter line times.

What would 9/11 and its aftermath look like with the social tools we have today?

Tribute in Light, from Empire State Building
Tribute in Light as seen from Empire State Building – 9/11/2003

Today is the 15th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11.

Shortly after the attacks, I was walking around an exhibit in SoHo called Here Is New York. People had been invited to submit their pictures. These were hung in a gallery. The atmosphere was somber. Union Square was plastered with posters asking if someone had been seen.

In those 15 years, a lot has changed. YouTube didn’t exist back then. (Founded in 2005.) flickr didn’t exist. (Launched 2004.) Facebook didn’t exist (2004). Mobile was in its infancy. (The iPhone didn’t come out until 2007.) Of course, more recent innovations like Snapchat, Instagram, Meerkat, Vine and Periscope didn’t exist. Then-dominant players like Yahoo! and Aol have largely fallen by the wayside. Flickr has become a has-been.

I thought it would be an interesting thought exercise to look at what the world would look like if 9/11 had instead occurred today.

  • Instead of posting flyers, people would use Facebook’s “I’m OK” feature to find news of their loved ones. The service, activated after disasters, prompts people to press a button saying that they’re OK.
  • We’d have live accounts from the disaster scene on Twitter. The whole world would be expressing their sympathies in 140 characters.
  • With smart phone cameras and cheap video cameras like Dropcam, investigators (working with the likes of Google) would be able to create 3D models of the events.
  • We’d see a flood of pictures on Instagram.
  • CNN and other news networks would offer live streams to everyone.
  • People would watch replays of the events on YouTube.

One thing that likely wouldn’t happen: Periscopes and Facebook live. The apps wouldn’t work in the saturated environment. The excessive demand during 9/11 meant that cell networks and landlines in the area were overloaded. There’s no way that current data networks could handle all that traffic. Even pictures would have to be uploaded over broadband connections.

The biggest change — and the one with the most effect — is the advent of in-flight WiFi. Using the communication networks we have today, passengers would be better informed of the events. They could follow the news. With the additional information, they could thwart the hijackers like heroic passengers on Flight 93 did.

In flight WiFi would also allow passengers to leave messages for their loved ones.

In short, 9/11 would be completely different on 9/11/2016.

(This post was posted on a flight from San Francisco to Seattle.)

(This post was updated on 9/11/2016 to reflect the 15th anniversary and to add Facebook Live, which didn’t exist back then.)

Amazon’s Echo is a brilliant, brilliant gadget

Rakesh Agrawal is an expert in product design, having designed products for leading companies such as Microsoft and Aol. He has also reviewed products and written for TechCrunch, VentureBeat, The Washington Post and GigaOm.

The best $100 I’ve ever spent on a gadget. The price has since gone up to $150, but it would be a bargain at $300.

Full review to come. But don’t wait, just BUY IT!

After you watch this video, of course.

redesign | news: The Washington Post

The Washington Post | May 15, 2015

Why Google and Facebook won’t suffer the same fate as AOL

Our CEO, Rakesh Agrawal, writes for The Washington Post on why Google and Facebook won’t suffer the fate of AOL.

With Verizon finally putting an end to the misery of AOL’s decade and a half long decline, some are wondering whether today’s juggernauts — Facebook and Google — will face the same fate. The answer is unequivocal: No.

To understand why, it’s helpful to look at why AOL went from being the No. 1 Internet provider in the country to a has-been outpaced by companies such as Facebook and Google. Facebook is worth more than 50 times the acquisition price for AOL. Google nearly 100 times.

redesign | travel: Travel gear 2007 vs. 2015

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I’ve been traveling all of my professional life. As the years have passed, so have the tools I use when I travel.

Here are my 2007 travel gadgets:

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And now:

IMG_20150111_101218Many of the things in the top picture have been consolidated into my iPhone 6:

  • Garmin navigation GPS/Palm.
  • Garmin hiking GPS.
  • iPod.
  • Phone.
  • USB sticks (I just mail or cloud the contents).

Others have been obviated by technology. I no longer carry Ethernet cables or the router to provide WiFi for me.

My current line up includes:

  • GoPro and accessories. (This is a ski trip; not taken for pure business trips.)
  • A bunch of cables and accessories stored in a GridIt.
  • A Lumix DMC-FZ70. 60x optical zoom FTW. (Don’t usually bring my DSLR.)
  • A power strip. Great for sharing power with others at airports.
  • A SOL Republic Punk speaker. (It’s smaller than a Jambox.)
  • A nano SIM cutter. I use this only on international trips, but it’s small enough to leave in my travel bag.
  • Car power adapter. Always be charging!
  • A 5-port USB charger. Always be charging! This one has a separate cable to deal with tricky hotel room situations.
  • Massive Mophie. Always be charging!
  • LiveScribe 3. It’s the real deal for note taking and syncs great with Evernote.
  • An Asus Chromebook. Unlike my MacBook Air, I won’t be heartbroken if I lose it at security.
  • iPad mini 3.
  • iPhone 6.

I’d probably ditch the Chromebook, but Google gives you 12 free gogo passes with each Chromebook. That alone is worth more than the cost of the Chromebook. Having it lets me stay productive in the air.

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redesignAnswer: Paper statements are more convenient

From Skitch (6)

I’m not a Luddite (clearly). I’m an environmentalist.

But the process for getting online statements is convoluted. Every bank has their own log in system. Everyone has their own archiving rules. Sometimes the format online doesn’t include the same information that the paper statement does.

It’s not hard to miss a statement alert in your email along with the hundreds or thousands of emails you get a month. This could easily lead to a pile of late fees and interest charges. Some issuers do a good job of identifying auto pay in their e-statements; some do a terrible job.

It’s next to impossible to search across the statements from issuers. Ironically, I scan all the paper that is sent to me and then shred them. (I scan them into Evernote to make them easily searchable.)

The paper also serves as a reminder that I need to pay the bill.

What would get me to move to digital statements?

  • If I could get them in secure email, just as easily as I get them in the physical mailbox. 
  • Better design of online statements.
  • An easier way to access them.

redesignAnswer: Paper statements are more convenient

From Skitch (6)

I’m not a Luddite (clearly). I’m an environmentalist.

But the process for getting online statements is convoluted. Every bank has their own log in system. Everyone has their own archiving rules. Sometimes the format online doesn’t include the same information that the paper statement does.

It’s not hard to miss a statement alert in your email along with the hundreds or thousands of emails you get a month. This could easily lead to a pile of late fees and interest charges. Some issuers do a good job of identifying auto pay in their e-statements; some do a terrible job.

It’s next to impossible to search across the statements from issuers. Ironically, I scan all the paper that is sent to me and then shred them. (I scan them into Evernote to make them easily searchable.)

The paper also serves as a reminder that I need to pay the bill.

What would get me to move to digital statements?

  • If I could get them in secure email, just as easily as I get them in the physical mailbox. 
  • Better design of online statements.
  • An easier way to access them.

redesignAnswer: If this chart started with 0 on the Y axis, the line would be flat

 

screenshot2

 

At first glance, this graph implies that U.S. cash transaction volume is plummeting. But look at the right side. The axis starts at $1,300 billion. If this graph had 0 on the Y axis, the line would essentially be flat. As posted, the graph is highly misleading.

Not using zero as the basis of the Y axis can be useful in certain cases, like analyzing short-term price movements in a stock. But this is a terrible use of it. Or maybe it’s a great use — because the writer wants to make a point unsupported by the data. But it’s still wrong.

Bonus error pointed out by a reader: The “We Are Here” line shows us between 2013 and 2014. We’re between 2014 and 2015.

redesignAnswer: Crate and Barrel should stagger delivery of catalogs

I received the catalogs from Crate and Barrel and CB2 on the same day. 

It’s better to spread that delivery out over multiple days because it increases the likelihood that I’d look at one of them. On the same day, it’s possible that I’m on vacation and come back to a pile of mail, my (hypothetical) spouse picks up the mail and tosses it out, etc. Spreading the delivery out doubles the chance that I’ll look at it.

To address some other comments from readers:

  • Crate and Barrel and CB2 can’t hide that they’re the same brand. Well, they don’t try to hide it anyway. All of the multibrand retailers don’t try to hide it. Crate and Barrel/CB2/LandofNod, Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn/West Elm, Banana Republic/Gap/Old Navy/Piperlime/Athleta. There is often cross promotion. And some customers shop multiple brands. e.g. I shop Crate and Barrel and CB2, Banana Republic and Gap, Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn.
  • It’s a waste of paper. Sure, many people would consider it a waste of paper. But these catalogs are expensive to produce and distribute. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t be used. I browse these catalogs while on the toilet. It’s a lot easier to skim through a catalog with rich visuals than the equivalent online experience.
  • My recent customer-service issues with Crate and Barrel. Some recalled that I had a bad in-store experience at Crate and Barrel where the clerk insisted on a physical address for a store pickup. After some back-and-forth, I gave my address as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. Although the White House might receive my catalog as a result, I got these catalogs because I have a Crate & Barrel credit card. (Possible future quiz: why do I have a Crate & Barrel credit card?)