Hardware

Peter Cochrane's Blog: How many keystrokes does it take to buy coffee?

We should never tolerate dumb design or dumb systems!

Written at a firm in the Cambridge UK Science Park, and dispatched from a free domestic Wi-Fi network in Colyton, Devon

Late last night I checked into yet another hotel with a front desk from hell. I stood there mesmerised as the receptionist tapped away at the keyboard between asking me questions about my reservation, home address, company, wake-up call, newspaper etc, and swiping my credit and loyalty card. It was impressive! A total of 148 keystrokes were required before I got a plastic key and a room allocated.

This morning, in the same hotel, I purchased two coffees, a croissant, a banana and a packet of biscuits for a mere 48 keystrokes. Last week I may have witnessed a world record attempt for the Electronic Point of Sale (Epos) keystroke inefficiency cup. All I wanted was a cup of coffee but it cost 48 keystrokes - for a cash purchase! And to cap it all I was handed an individually printed A5 receipt on good quality paper.

At this point I have to hold my hand up and say that whilst I am not an obsessive counter, I do find myself spotting patterns in brickwork, tiles, roof beams, repetitive human activities and so on. I also sit in restaurants, bars and shops and estimate their yearly turnover, operating costs and margins. I'm not sure why but I just do. Counting keystrokes at every Epos was not on my pastime agenda two years ago but now it is! We seem to be going backwards in time, becoming stupidly more inefficient, wasting the time and lives of operatives and customers.

Swiping my credit and loyalty card should be sufficient. Moreover, when I have stayed in the same hotel, or used the same coffee shop time and time again, it should all be automatic. Just four or five keystrokes should do it! What are the designers of these Epos systems thinking of? Did they ever work on a check-in desk or serve coffee? If only! This is really dumb stuff.

Bluntly, I can't figure out where all those keystrokes came from. I've tried counting out the letters in the words 'coffee', 'croissant', 'banana', 'biscuits' etc but no matter what I do I just cannot get to 48 keystrokes. Hopefully it will all get fixed when we move to payment by mobile phone - unless of course we are expected to do the keying! When I was a kid it was so much more efficient, easier and user-friendly.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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