This week in Contemporary Design Culture we were assigned the task of analyzing somebody making/ ordering a cup of coffee. “Where’s the Product Design in that?”, I hear you say. Fear not Dear Reader, there is a point to this exercise. But first, my observation.
I watched my mother (a seasoned Coffee drinker, with 30+ years of Psychiatric nursing under her belt) make a morning coffee on Saturday morning. She had no idea I was observing her, and neither did I really, until I noticed that she had boiled the kettle for the third time before she even got a cup down from the press. The first time she pressed the switch was when she passed it on her way to let the dog out for his morning… erm… coffee break. The kettle boiled, and Mam was tidying away bowls from my younger siblings breakfast earlier in the morning. Passing back by the kettle, she pushed it again as she went to the bedroom to get her phone. Then, reading a text message about a cancelled soccer match, pushed it again, opened the press and got down a small mug, took a spoon from the drawer, opened the cylinder of coffee, spooned the powder in the cup, and poured the water all within three seconds. The press doors were closed, kettle back in its place, coffee put away, no trace of her being there at all. She walked the four or five steps to the fridge, uncapped the skimmed milk, poured in a ‘good drop’ of milk, and was sitting at the other end of the table before the toast I was waiting for had even popped.
What intrigued me most about the process is the order of events. I know she has two cups of coffee every morning, before ‘tackling the day’, but its the little tasks between that seemed to dominate the time and effort. Moving other peoples mess before addressing her own needs, or needing to have the place tidy before she could enjoy the coffee? The ritual is deeply ingrained. I know she used to smoke with her morning coffee, when I was the one leaving early morning cereal bowls on the kitchen table. Thankfully, she hasn’t been smoking in five years, having just taken the decision one day to switch to nicorette gum. I estimate she could have spent half her adult life doing the morning coffee and a cigarette combo. The process is so streamlined that she could literally do it in her sleep. But why then the interruptions? The dog, the phone, the bowls. They all could have waited if it were me making coffee.
The task of analyzing the coffee process is a classic in design education. The ritual of preparation is part of the experience. I read a biography of a heroin addict who testified that her urges began to be met once she began the preparation of her drugs. Just knowing that the wheels were set in motion, and soon she would feel the effects was relief to the point of emotional reward. Maybe its the same with our drug of choice, be it Coffee or Guinness. Did you know the reason for the two-part pour traditional with stouts is because when buying casks of stout, a publican would buy them in fours, and add a cup of sugar to the fourth. This sugar would increase the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast in the beer, and give the drink a thicker head. When pouring, the publican would fill the glass 3/4 the way full, and top it with the extra sugar keg. This way, the froth was good and thick, and the four barrels would be used at approximately the same time. We only do it today because its traditional, not because it is necessary anymore. If we can design a pleasant experience to go along with the product we are trying to sell, it resonates positively with the user and continued use is likely.