interface standards

7 Jun 2004 - 3:07pm
10 years ago
18 replies
677 reads
Carrie Ritch
2003

new jakob article on his frustration with remote controls. made me wonder if
we should work together to create consistent interfaces across like
applications? I don't want to say standards, but is there a less rigid way
to help the user while allowing for creativity and innovation? Can we use
patterns (placement, wording, layout) or recommended guidelines to establish
some consistency between similar web apps, software, and other interactions
we design?

Or will some of this occur naturally as we discover through research,
testing, and sharing of knowledge that a specific wording or a particular
placement of an interface control has found to be the most user-friendly?

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for June 7 is now online at:
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040607.html
Summary:
The six remote controls required for a simple home theater illustrate
the problems caused by complexity and inconsistency in user interfaces.

i'm really just looking to stir up some good discussion . . . .

carrie
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
carrie ritch
project manager
information architect

fusion productions
46 north avenue
webster, ny 14580
p: 585.872.1900
f: 585.872.2014
critch at fusionproductions.com
www.fusionproductions.com

Integrating meetings, learning & technology

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Comments

7 Jun 2004 - 10:23pm
id at ourbrisba...
2004

Quoting Carrie Ritch <critch at rochester.rr.com>:
> new jakob article on his frustration with remote controls. made me wonder if
> we should work together to create consistent interfaces across like
> applications? I don't want to say standards, but is there a less rigid way
> to help the user while allowing for creativity and innovation? Can we use
> patterns (placement, wording, layout) or recommended guidelines to establish
> some consistency between similar web apps, software, and other interactions
> we design?

That's what common interface standards are for. The problem here is more of a
political, sociological, and business one. Trying to get competing companies to
agree on a common interface is not an easy thing to do. That's 'one more edge'
that's removed for them (even though certain population stereotypes have arisen
from engineers copying the 'look' of certain hardware).

Why not start this with something even more ubiquitous and easier to solve -
telephones? I've yet to come across a usable PABX/Commander type system.
<anecdote>
A telephone system in the last office I visited was a parody of design errors.
To put someone on hold, I pressed the green HLD (hold?) button. That worked
(yay!). When I wanted to take them off hold, I pressed the red RLS (release?)
button next to it - that hung up on them (uh-oh!). I asked someone about this,
and they said "the red button releases all calls - hangs up on them". OK.
Don't press the red button.

I received another call and put it on hold by pressing the green HLD button.
Now thinking that this system must have a modal interface, I pressed the green
HLD button again to release the call back to me. That did nothing. OK, perhaps
I have to press "Line 1" to get it back? That did nothing. OK. Let's try
these 12 buttons with weird icons and no labels. Hmmm... none of them seem to
do anything. Ah... I'll press RLS to get it back to (D'oh!) me... Oh well,
lost that call too.

Feeling a bit stupid, I asked someone else how I could get someone back from
being on hold. "Hold? Oh, don't use that. Just put your hand over the phone.
That's what I do." Hmmm. I'm too curious to let that one go. I ended up
calling the office facilities manager and asked them how hold works. "Oh -
that's easy. When you want them back from hold, just hang up, wait a second,
and pick up the cradle again." How intuitive. Hang up on someone to talk to
them. :|
</anecdote>

Best regards,

Ash Donaldson
User Experience Designer
"It depends."

7 Jun 2004 - 11:32pm
pabini
2004

Hi Carrie

Sounds like a great idea to me. :-) Standards, guidelines, and patterns are all useful, depending on the degree of consistency required. We'd all be in a fix if there weren't standards for automobile controls, for example.

If "standards" haven't happened after more than 20 years of personal computing, I doubt that they ever will occur "naturally". I'm not saying that there is no natural progression toward standards--just that they're not universally adopted and their usefulness to users is thereby diminished. The Web, particularly, seems like the wild, wild West--or should that be the wild, wild Web--compared to desktop software. At least there are strong platform-specific user-interface guidelines for desktop software. The Interaction Design Group seems a natural arena for the development and dissemination of standards, guidelines, and patterns for interactions.

I'd say more if this discussion were within the IxD Workgroup, but you can probably guess what it would be. ;-)

Pabini
________________________________________

Pabini Gabriel-Petit
Principal & User Experience Architect
Spirit Softworks
www.spiritsoftworks.com
----- Original Message -----
From: Carrie Ritch
To: Discuss
Sent: Monday, June 07, 2004 1:07 PM
Subject: [ID Discuss] interface standards

new jakob article on his frustration with remote controls. made me wonder if we should work together to create consistent interfaces across like applications? I don't want to say standards, but is there a less rigid way to help the user while allowing for creativity and innovation? Can we use patterns (placement, wording, layout) or recommended guidelines to establish some consistency between similar web apps, software, and other interactions we design?

Or will some of this occur naturally as we discover through research, testing, and sharing of knowledge that a specific wording or a particular placement of an interface control has found to be the most user-friendly?

Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for June 7 is now online at:
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040607.html
Summary:
The six remote controls required for a simple home theater illustrate
the problems caused by complexity and inconsistency in user interfaces.

i'm really just looking to stir up some good discussion . . . .

carrie
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
carrie ritch
project manager
information architect

fusion productions
46 north avenue
webster, ny 14580
p: 585.872.1900
f: 585.872.2014
critch at fusionproductions.com
www.fusionproductions.com

Integrating meetings, learning & technology

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7 Jun 2004 - 11:46pm
pabini
2004

Ash Donaldson wrote:
> The problem here is more of a
> political, sociological, and business one. Trying to get competing
companies to
> agree on a common interface is not an easy thing to do. That's 'one more
edge'
> that's removed for them (even though certain population stereotypes have
arisen
> from engineers copying the 'look' of certain hardware).

***[PGP] Of course, there is the competitive advantage of actually creating
usable products to be considered. Designing user interfaces to standards and
guidelines can greatly improve their usability.

BTW... I found your anecdote hysterically funny. :-)

Pabini Gabriel-Petit

8 Jun 2004 - 9:41am
Carrie Ritch
2003

> Pabini:
> The Interaction Design Group seems a natural arena for the development
> and dissemination of standards, guidelines, and patterns for
> interactions.

Actually, there are a couple folks in the workgroup working on a
patterns gallery.

I've found collections of interface patterns - more for desktop
software than web sites. The ones I've found for web sites have been
more of a collection of examples than best practices. Probably way too
soon for that on the web but I'm hoping we can start sharing interface
elements that have been tested and work well for others to learn from,
adapt to their own projects and possibly even improve upon them.

carrie
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8 Jun 2004 - 9:54am
Carrie Ritch
2003

> Ash:
> Why not start this with something even more ubiquitous and easier to
> solve -
> telephones? I've yet to come across a usable PABX/Commander type
> system.

That's a great anecdote! I was actually thinking of credit/debit card
machines in stores - different means of swiping your card and in
different directions. For debit cards, some ask for your PIN, some
don't, and some require a signature and some don't. I never know what
process I'm going to go through (and I shop a lot!) and I just loooove
the "duh" look I get from the 16-year old behind the counter.

Then there's ATM machines - some take your card in and spit it out
after the transaction, some have you remove it right away, etc. etc.
One week after the new HSBC ATM was installed at my bank there were
little labels attached to various parts of the machine providing
additional directions. Yikes!

On the web Jakob brings up ECommerce sites. But what I've noticed
(again, love to shop!) is that in the last couple of years I've seen
more and more common elements such as a checkbox if your billing
address is the same as your shipping address. For the most part the
interface and process differs wildly between ecommerce sites but i've
seen more common elements than in previous years.

carrie

8 Jun 2004 - 1:27pm
Dave Collins
2004

>Then there's ATM machines - some take your card in and spit it out
after the transaction, some have you remove it right away, etc. etc.

When War Stories Get Personal

1] A few weeks ago, at a CIBC ATM, I withdrew some cash, walked into a
store and when I came back out, heard the ATM yelling from down the
hall. It still had my card and wanted to know if I needed more time for
my transaction. YIKES! Glad the mall was empty!

Unlike all other ATMs, this one did NOT spit my card out BEFORE my money
- so, as I always do, once I had my money, I walked away.

Even more mind-boggling, it's not even consistent across all their
machines.

2] I have, pushpinned to my wall as I write, a receipt from my latest
ATM transaction (CIBC) wherein I deposited $124,856.00 into my account.
That's to deposit a cheque for - yep - $1,248.56. This ATM - THIS ONE -
expects an explicit decimal.

Forget about "soft" costs of lousy usability, those could have had
*hard* costs - and to me, the consumer.

What do I do for a living? Ironically, I design ATM interfaces for major
banks (note: CIBC was one that decided not to engage us).

Dave

8 Jun 2004 - 1:58pm
Seth Nickell
2004

I have a similar ATM story that involved withdrawing 10x the amount of
money I wanted, *and* losing my card. Three compounding errors/slips
involved. http://www.gnome.org/~seth/blog/Bad_day_for_banking

I'm particularly interested in the "do you have to press 0 twice to
enter cents to withdraw money". To me it represents a simple and high
stakes version of a common problem: Should you incur high but
(relatively) short lived usability problems to improve things in the
long term?

E.g. to request "$80" (aka "$80.00") you have to press "8-0-0-0". If I
were designing the first ATM interface I would probably deal in whole
dollar values. However, as far as I can tell, most ATMs require you to
enter cents (always 0s for withdrawl). Deviating from this results in
people making mistakes, which can have hard costs. On the other hand,
there's a constant small cost to requiring the extra two button presses
(especially for driveup ATMs where its often hard to reach the keys).

I face more nebulous versions of this problem in day to day design.
Should I deviate from what competitors are doing to get small gains?
Does the fact that my new design works better in the long term (and
would be easier to learn from a blank slate) justify the transition cost
for existing users?

At some point (a decade?) enough small usability buglets acrue to
justify a major design revamp. Sometimes this allows a new player to
enter the marketplace, if existing players are too concerned with
alienating existing users. But... it would be really nice (and probably
impossible) to find general ways of dealing with this problem on a more
gradual basis.

-Seth

On Tue, 2004-06-08 at 14:27 -0400, Dave Collins wrote:
> >Then there's ATM machines - some take your card in and spit it out
> after the transaction, some have you remove it right away, etc. etc.
>
>
> When War Stories Get Personal
>
> 1] A few weeks ago, at a CIBC ATM, I withdrew some cash, walked into a
> store and when I came back out, heard the ATM yelling from down the
> hall. It still had my card and wanted to know if I needed more time for
> my transaction. YIKES! Glad the mall was empty!
>
> Unlike all other ATMs, this one did NOT spit my card out BEFORE my money
> - so, as I always do, once I had my money, I walked away.
>
> Even more mind-boggling, it's not even consistent across all their
> machines.
>
>
> 2] I have, pushpinned to my wall as I write, a receipt from my latest
> ATM transaction (CIBC) wherein I deposited $124,856.00 into my account.
> That's to deposit a cheque for - yep - $1,248.56. This ATM - THIS ONE -
> expects an explicit decimal.
>
>
> Forget about "soft" costs of lousy usability, those could have had
> *hard* costs - and to me, the consumer.
>
>
> What do I do for a living? Ironically, I design ATM interfaces for major
> banks (note: CIBC was one that decided not to engage us).
>
> Dave
>
> _______________________________________________
> Interaction Design Discussion List
> discuss at interactiondesigners.com
> --
> to change your options (unsubscribe or set digest): http://discuss.interactiondesigners.com
> --
> Questions: lists at interactiondesigners.com
> --
> Announcement Online List (discussion list members get announcements already)
> http://interactiondesigners.com/announceList/
> --
> http://interactiondesigners.com/

8 Jun 2004 - 3:10pm
Tubman, Wahne
2004

I am actually attempting to write patterns for interactions for Investment
banking business web applications. I am struggling with coming up with a
good template that I can use with all subsequent patterns. Does anyone have
any recommendations? So far the categories I have are :

Name
Name of the pattern

Problem
What problem does this pattern attempt to solve

Use Case
How is this pattern being currently used

Solution
The pattern

Known Uses
Implementation of the pattern within our environment

Usage & User Profile -
Which user group, interaction style and tasks does this pattern support
We have defined Tasks, Frequency and Users as: (Tasks - Navigation; Data
Retrieval ; Data Entry ) (User - Novice; Intermediary; Experienced )
(Frequency of Task - High Medium, Low ). So for example a particular pattern
facilitates frequently performed data entry tasks and workflow for novice
users.

User

Frequency

Novice

Intermediary

Experience

High

Medium

Low

Navigation / Accessibility

Data Retrieval

Data Entry

X

X

Issues
Implementation issues

Possible Enhancements - Mostly features that could be added if there were
some technological enhancements made to our current framework.

Other applicable scenarios - Other appropriate usage of the patterns
Rating - - Usability rating. Each pattern is implemented and user tested and
then we assign a rating.

Has anyone worked on determining such patterns? Any suggestions from the
group would be appreciated. thanks.
Thanks

_____

From:
discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.
com] On Behalf Of Carrie Ritch
Sent: Tuesday, June 08, 2004 10:42 AM
To: Discuss
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] interface standards

Pabini:

The Interaction Design Group seems a natural arena for the development and
dissemination of standards, guidelines, and patterns for interactions.

Actually, there are a couple folks in the workgroup working on a patterns
gallery.

I've found collections of interface patterns - more for desktop software
than web sites. The ones I've found for web sites have been more of a
collection of examples than best practices. Probably way too soon for that
on the web but I'm hoping we can start sharing interface elements that have
been tested and work well for others to learn from, adapt to their own
projects and possibly even improve upon them.

carrie

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8 Jun 2004 - 7:33pm
pabini
2004

Hi Wahne

Wahne Tubman wrote: I am actually attempting to write patterns for interactions for Investment banking business web applications. I am struggling with coming up with a good template that I can use with all subsequent patterns. Does anyone have any recommendations?

You've made a very good start on this. You might add a Purpose section at the beginning, in which you'd define the purpose of the pattern. A Requirements section, in which you'd define the requirements for the pattern in detail, might be even more to the point. You might include sections for applicable results from user research and usability studies. You've got that covered partially in your Usage & User Profile section. You'll probably need a section for related patterns, too, to avoid repetition. Also, you might want to create classes of patterns if you have a lot of them.

Pabini
________________________________________

Pabini Gabriel-Petit
Principal & User Experience Architect
Spirit Softworks
www.spiritsoftworks.com
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8 Jun 2004 - 2:27pm
ldebett
2004

The real problem Jakob and millions of others are in dealing with control
integration - i.e., how do you get ONE REMOTE to handle all the wizbang
features and functionalities of all your home entertainment devices that are
connected in your home? The superset of all these buttons/features is too
large for one to manage, and the devices can't talk to each other.

The standards we should be looking for are not in remotes, but in the
communications/tech arena. We need to define a way for each of these devices
to communicate with each other (via comm cables), identify themselves, offer
up their suite of controls, and allow the main unit to direct traffic as
needed. Home Entertainment MFRs could follow the computer/peripheral model
with USB and Firewire - Plug and Play.

Let the brains of the computer handle all the routing and switching of
commands so *you* don't have to.

~Lisa

-----------------------
Lisa deBettencourt
Senior UI Designer
Bose Corporation
508-766-6575

> ----------
> From: Carrie Ritch
> Sent: Monday, June 7, 2004 4:07 PM
> To: Discuss
> Subject: [ID Discuss] interface standards
>
> <<File: ATT339174.txt>>
> new jakob article on his frustration with remote controls. made me wonder
> if we should work together to create consistent interfaces across like
> applications? I don't want to say standards, but is there a less rigid way
> to help the user while allowing for creativity and innovation? Can we use
> patterns (placement, wording, layout) or recommended guidelines to
> establish some consistency between similar web apps, software, and other
> interactions we design?
>
> Or will some of this occur naturally as we discover through research,
> testing, and sharing of knowledge that a specific wording or a particular
> placement of an interface control has found to be the most user-friendly?
>
> Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for June 7 is now online at:
> http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040607.html
> Summary:
> The six remote controls required for a simple home theater illustrate
> the problems caused by complexity and inconsistency in user interfaces.
>
> i'm really just looking to stir up some good discussion . . . .
>
> carrie
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> carrie ritch
> project manager
> information architect
>
> fusion productions
> 46 north avenue
> webster, ny 14580
> p: 585.872.1900
> f: 585.872.2014
> critch at fusionproductions.com
> www.fusionproductions.com
>
> Integrating meetings, learning & technology
>
>
>

9 Jun 2004 - 9:19am
Dan Saffer
2003

We might want to take a step back and ask ourselves if we really want
to have a set of standardized components. One size might not fit all.
Steven Johnson wrote an interesting piece in Slate about this:

"[B]y bundling applications like iPhoto and iTunes with the Mac OS,
Apple is implicitly making the argument that the "one interface fits
all" model doesn't work for organizing some types of data. In other
words, once you've organized your music collection with iTunes, or your
photos with iPhoto, you'll never go back to organizing them via the
Finder again. So it becomes a swiss-army-knife approach to file
management, rather than a one-tool-fits-all. Interestingly, Microsoft
seems to be going in the opposite direction, at least with its desktop
interfaces."

http://slate.msn.com/?id=2075219&device=

Food for thought.

Dan

Dan Saffer
M.Des. Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University
http://www.odannyboy.com

9 Jun 2004 - 10:38am
Cwodtke
2004

http://www.cs.kent.ac.uk/people/staff/saf/patterns/gallery/interact.html

This is quite useful.

Remember if the form is too onorous, no one will wish to write patterns, which is already a fair bit of work.
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9 Jun 2004 - 11:03am
Carrie Ritch
2003

Great article Dan, thanks! I also liked Jon Udell's take on
this -http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/11/08.html. It will be
interesting to see what will happen to the desktop metaphor - will it
evolve, be replaced or somewhere in between. I'm partial to the iApps
myself.

> We might want to take a step back and ask ourselves if we really want
> to have a set of standardized components. One size might not fit all.

I didn't think we were taking any steps forward in that direction. From the
ATM horror stories I think we can agree that lack of a standard or even a
similar interface across like products/apps can be very annoying and costly
(sometimes, literally) to the user.

Any steps I'd like to see happen are more in the direction of sharing tips,
best practices, examples, patterns, etc. I find Christina Wodtke's
www.widgetopia.net to be very helpful. As well as Martijn van Welie's Web
Design Patterns http://www.welie.com/patterns/index.html and Jenifer
Tidwell's UI patterns http://time-tripper.com/uipatterns/index.php.

What I would also like to continue discussing is at what point would a
standard be helpful and/or necessary, if ever? And at what level of
specificity?

carrie

9 Jun 2004 - 11:22am
Dave Collins
2004

>I didn't think we were taking any steps forward in that direction. From
the
ATM horror stories I think we can agree that lack of a standard or even
a
similar interface across like products/apps can be very annoying and
costly
(sometimes, literally) to the user.

I think the issue at hand is whether the companies involved feel that
there's some distinguishing edge they gain from being innovative in a
specific area. Most technologies eventually tend to hit a critical mass
beyond which users stop caring about the nuts and bolts differences and
start caring more about the distinguishing services.

In the case of ATMs, the banks have rightly figured out that the layout
of their ATMs is not a distinguisher. They want users' loyalty based on
the company's larger philosophy, image and suite of services. ATM-use
becomes nothing but a commodity. It is in the company's interest for the
users to see interface as invisible.

In the case of stereo equipment, the companies are still jockeying for
position, and whether they like it or not, the interface to their device
is still strongly perceived by the user to *be* the device. Thus it is a
valid place for (their marketing division to feel that) innovation in
this area gives them that edge - whether or not it really benefits the
user in the larger picture. *Companies* want brand recognition. Users
don't want it rammed down their throats.

('twould that the browser warriors figured this out sooner rather than
later: Who *cares* about the tool itself - just give us what we came
for.)

Dave

(P.S. Whew! That's a lot of "companies"/"company's". One of those tricky
word pairs for me - like baby's/babies.)

9 Jun 2004 - 7:27pm
pabini
2004

Carrie Ritch wrote:
> Any steps I'd like to see happen are more in the direction of sharing
tips,
> best practices, examples, patterns, etc. I find Christina Wodtke's
> www.widgetopia.net to be very helpful. As well as Martijn van Welie's Web
> Design Patterns http://www.welie.com/patterns/index.html and Jenifer
> Tidwell's UI patterns http://time-tripper.com/uipatterns/index.php.

***[PGP] Thanks for the links! Good stuff.

> What I would also like to continue discussing is at what point would a
> standard be helpful and/or necessary, if ever? And at what level of
> specificity?

***[PGP] I think standards and guidelines should be very specific. Just note
the little nits that people have been complaining about in their posts. It's
often little things that are particularly irritating to users. As the old
saw goes, "the devil is in the details".

It would be useful to promote standards and guidelines as early as possible,
before too many variants proliferate. Of course, it would first be necessary
to test a design rigorously and gain at least its initial acceptance in the
marketplace. The breadth and specificity of the standards and guidelines
would need to evolve over time though, as new features were added.

Pabini
________________________________________

Pabini Gabriel-Petit
Principal & User Experience Architect
Spirit Softworks
www.spiritsoftworks.com

14 Jun 2004 - 2:32pm
Christian Simon
2003

I'm baffled why so many interactioniers would be concerned to develop UI
standards. I understand their use for an existing implementation and several
people have pointed out this may just be a semantic discussion. Any examples
of interactions proven effective would be covered by interaction patterns.
Issues of agreement could be skirted by the nature of pattern studies to
focus on effective examples rather then solving for a complete system.

Xtian

14 Jun 2004 - 3:07pm
Dave Malouf
2005

-----Original Message-----
From: Xtian

<<I'm baffled why so many interactioniers would be concerned to develop UI
standards. I understand their use for an existing implementation and several
people have pointed out this may just be a semantic discussion. Any examples
of interactions proven effective would be covered by interaction patterns.
Issues of agreement could be skirted by the nature of pattern studies to
focus on effective examples rather then solving for a complete system. >>

Great point. Patterns are the key in so many ways here. Standards imply
equal use of patterns across purposes within the same medium and this I
would have to disagree with.

Standards do have a growing place in our work, and unfortunately they lead
to our "demise" in that space b/c once a pattern becomes a standard it means
our level of engagement is not nearly as important as the next level which
is the aesthetic ... Or does it?

Why I like standards. The car & the telephone touch pad. Both are complex
interaction designs that are pretty standard (the telephone has 2 standards:
square and round). The reason these are so great is that anyone everyone can
learn how to use each of these devices once and well, besides the
idiosyncrocies of wipers and lights and placement of the gear shift, they
basically got it. This is why you can rent cars and borrow a phone (or use
your office phone). The standard basically makes the object's interaction
design transparent, leaving the more aesthetic issues to be more fully
enjoyed.

Let's take the car ... Where does this break down. I'm a USer. I recently
went to a former British colony and rented a car there. Oh my G-d!
everything in the car was easy to do, but since the standard of where the
steering wheel goes was different I was going bonkers ... Even lost my left
mirror after about 10min. Of driving to a Grenadian bus (ok, a minivan, but
they call them buses). My point is that by breaking this standard, the
transparency of the device was lost.

So many people won't upgrade their phones b/c they don't want to learn
something new. The same is true for software, VCR's (or whatever you're
using these days to record video transmissions), digital cameras etc. It is
actually economically viable to combine designs toward a normalization so
that users are benefited, and so that users are liberated. This liberation
can possibly lead to faster upgrade rates and thus selling more good
(provided that the selling means cheapening them as well).

-- dave

28 Jun 2004 - 1:01pm
cfmdesigns
2004

Carrie Ritch <critch at rochester.rr.com> writes:

>Then there's ATM machines - some take your card in and spit it out
>after the transaction, some have you remove it right away, etc. etc.
>One week after the new HSBC ATM was installed at my bank there were
>little labels attached to various parts of the machine providing
>additional directions. Yikes!

My thoughts on the matter, from last September:
http://home.earthlink.net/~rubberize/Thoughts/thinking.html#ATM
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Jim Drew Seattle, WA jdrew at adobe.com
http://home.earthlink.net/~rubberize/Weblog/index.html (Update: 06/21)

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