Bad usability, Daily ramblings, Travel

US dollars and usability

Island

The American dollar is one of the best known currencies in the world and probably the closest you can get to some kind of universal method of payment.

When travelling I would of course always recommend to use local currencies. Anything else would usually be very expensive and sometimes it could be considered directly offensive. Still, when travelling on remote places I always carry some dollars. It’s not the cheapest way to get around, but if your backpack and your passport and your camera and your wallet has just been stolen and the only thing you need is to get to a big city and an embassy, the 100 dollars you have hidden under your belt will usually do the trick. It doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. Some dollar bills has helped me out of simple conflicts on small islands in Indonesia and in the jungle in Malaysia. As mentioned, local currencies help, but when travelling through many countries it’s nice to have something that might work in all of them.

Anyway, I find it strange that this very commonly used currency has such a horribly bad usability:

1. All the bills are the same size
2. All the bills are the same colour

How does blind people pay with dollar bills? I found this solution on blindness.org:

Dollar bills

Coins such as nickels, pennies, dimes, and quarters are easy to tell apart. They all are different sizes, and quarters and dimes have ridges around them, while pennies and nickels are smooth. There are many ways that paper money-like one, five, ten, or twenty dollar bills-can be identified. Some blind people like to keep different bills in separate places in their wallets, especially if it is a larger bill that they perhaps do not often carry with them. The most common way to tell paper money apart is to fold the bills in different ways. Each person will have his or her own way of folding them; there is no standard for everyone. Maybe a five dollar bill is folded in half the long way, and a ten dollar bill is folded in half the short way. Or maybe the ten is folded twice. A one dollar bill might be folded one way or not folded at all. Or maybe a twenty dollar bill is folded in fourths or not at all. Everyone uses his or her own methods. When we get money back from someone else, we ask which bill is which and then fold it.

What’s wrong with different sizes on the different bills?

I have spent my fair amount of time in the US and at some point on each trip I am about to pay with the wrong bill. Something like a 10 dollar instead of a 1 or the other way around. Or even worse, 50 instead of 5… It’s dark, you have been drinking, you’re in a pub. You start paying 10 dollars for each beer. If you’re in Norway that’s perfectly normal, but not in a cheap bar in Las Vegas… (Yes, in hip clubs in Oslo a beer sets you back about 10 dollars, but that’s another story).

What’s wrong with different colours on the different bills?

Beats me. I know that a country’s currency is an important part of the culture. And in the US maybe more than in any other country. Is that the reason why it is impossible to change the dollar bills into something more user friendly?

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