Vending machines - how their interfaces change over time

Vending machines are here to stay (at least the food and drinks ones). People use them, even if their interfaces are miserable. Similar to copiers, microwave ovens, etc. We got rid of at least group of badly designed interfaces - VCR's :).

There are two groups of vending machine (keep in mind food and drinks) interfaces:

  • 1. interface that maps the product with the button

    One example is Guus Baggermans design


    Another example is IDEO's design

  • 2. interface that expects random combination of buttons to spit a desired product

    IMG_5104.JPG IMG_5106.JPG
    IMG_5108.JPG IMG_5114.JPG

The REAL question is why the second group of interfaces STILL EXIST :( (bare in mind that vending machines from the first groups were available in 1952!!!)?

Innovation does not stop here though (together with stupidity). Let's see some examples

  • Vending machines recognize age & sex and recommend beverages

    "The vending machines recommend beverages after physical attributes of customers are picked up by sensors which allow the machines determine age, sex and other attributes, before offering a number of suggestions. 

    A male consumer, according to Nikkei (subscription), may be shown images of canned coffee due to customer research, which will be displayed on the 47 inch touchscreen monitor before reverting to a normal vending machine display."

    I might be missing something. Why would machine need to recognize sex and age. I don't drink coffee and would have to wait to get to the normal display??!!? Is it still possible for me to buy a drink for my wife? Are we really that stupid to not be able to decide what we want to drink? What happens if I show up with my children there?

    And I bet the tripled sales have nothing to do with a HUGE interactive and funny touchscreen display :)

  • Biometric vending machine

    "Next Generation Vending and Food Service is experimenting with biometric vending machines that would allow a user to tie a credit card to their thumbprint."

    Did they ever try to log in on the laptop with a finger? Is fingerprint really the best way


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frukc on :

touchscreens and buttons with pictures are not the right direction in a vending machine design. it's very important to see real physical product you are going to buy, not photoshoped / ill scaled picture of it.

mkljun on :

I could not agree more with you! But we are becoming more and more used to buy things we cannot touch over the internet. Is our mind changing?

Returning to the vending machines. I do not see any added value of touch screens or biometric scanners in vending machines. Except that they have the "cool" stamp to it and might economically burst up sales (read people using it just for fun). That's why I wrote "stupidity" in the intro sentence.

I just wonder why we don't have more machines of the first type: button mapped with a product (and not some random code).

frukc on :

I agree about "button mapped with a product" vending machines and the best example in my opinion is the one from year 1952.
As for internet shopping - it have some significant advantages over traditional one (at least when shopping for tech), like - ability to compare many products of the same type by specifications / product reviews (from different sources). Not being limited by time, making decision in the comfort of your own home. And what's important - ability to check pricing. Have nothing to do with snacks from vending machines though. :)
Internet shopping actually teaches us to learn more about the product we are going to buy, than less!

mkljun on :

Hi frukc,

nice point of view.

I know that buying tech over the internet has many advantages (to tell the truth I buy most of the things - and not only tech - over the internet). But the "touch and feel" is still missing on many occasions.

For example I had to buy a small compact camera for my wife's purse. We are both used to (D)SLR but they are too big for everyday use. The important thing to me was that the camera would actually take a photo without a time lag between the button being pressed and the photo taken (a way to many compact cameras have this problem!). How do you test this over the internet? I ended up buying a compact camera that had good reviews on this "press and shoot" issue but it is a big compact camera and my wife was not really happy with it :).

Another example was buying a TV. TVs of different brands have very different colour schemes and I've no idea how the resolution and size of the screen go together (talking about 5 years ago with no real HD around). So (to exaggerate) buying an 81 inch TV with 800x600 resolution might not produce the best user experience. I ended up doing a research over the internet about different model prices and functionalities and went to different regular stores to compare the pictures (colour & resolution) between brands and how different screen sizes look from the distance of 2.3m (the distance between my couch and the wall). It is impossible to see this over the internet.

This is also why there are many images of mobile phones in people's hands on the internet so the user can compare the size to one's hand.

But I don't need to touch/see/feel the RAM (memory) or a kitchen blender. It all depends on a product I'd say.

It is also true that people get used to what they get out of the vending machines if they use the same ones regularly. Coffee vending machines for example don't show any product on offer. But people try a few different types of coffee a few times and re-order the same one over and over. So the machine needs to be used a few times to uncover the mystery behind the front plate. Again I'm not advocating such machines. I just wonder why vending machines can't be more intuitive and provide that touchy or a better "see me" feeling for new buyers.

Thanks for sharing.

PS: this comment deserves a post on its own :)

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