Tip of the day: transform data before plotting
Plotting the signal or the noise

Stumped by the ATM

The neighborhood bank recently installed brand new ATMs, with tablet monitors and all that jazz. Then, I found myself staring at this screen:


I wanted to withdraw $100. I ordinarily love this banknote picker because I can get the $5, $10, $20 notes, instead of $50 and $100 that come out the slot when I don't specify my preference.

Something changed this time. I find myself wondering which row represents which note. For my non-U.S. readers, you may not know that all our notes are the same size and color. The screen resolution wasn't great and I had to squint really hard to see the numbers of those banknote images.

I suppose if I grew up here, I might be able to tell the note values from the figureheads. This is an example of a visualization that makes my life harder!

I imagine that the software developer might be a foreigner. I imagine the developer might live in Europe. In this case, the developer might have this image in his/her head:


Euro banknotes are heavily differentiated - by color, by image, by height and by width. The numeric value also occupies a larger proportion of the area. This makes a lot of sense.

I like designs to be adaptable. Switching data from one country to another should not alter the design. Switching data at different time scales should not affect the design. This banknote picker UI is not adaptable across countries.


Once I figured out the note values, I learned another reason why I couldn't tell which row is which note. It's because one note is absent.


Where is the $10 note? That and the twenty are probably the most frequently used. I am also surprised people want $1 notes from an ATM. But I assume the bank knows something I don't.


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The $10 is actually the second-least used bill, only marginally behind the $50!

$1 and $20s dominate everyday use (with $100s leading the pack but not with most people).



Dan: Nice source of data. It raises a question of direction of causality. Do people not want $10 bills or are they not able to get them from ATMs? Another question I have is: are people actually taking $1 bills out of the ATM? If I'm a store owner, I guess so. If I am a consumer, wouldn't I just give the store a $10 or $20 and get some dollar bills back?


$1 bills are for the strip club.


Banks in the UK stopped doing £5 notes from ATMs *because* they are the most used. They want to reduce how often they need to refill the machines.
(This means shops have to to the effort/expense to get £5 notes to give as change).

Separately: a few years ago, the UK stopped having a number on its (new) coins showing how many pence it was worth. The word is still there. Given (1) people read numbers faster than words and (2) the UK has a lot of non-English speaking tourists, that felt like a big mistake.

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