Here's one of those bread-and-butter design problems that alerts you to the importance of context. It's simple enough to design a coffee dispenser in a studio, where you've worked out people's average heights and eyelines and calculated how they'll interact with the device. Then it goes out into the real world, where unforeseen human behavior leads to unintended consequences.
This one comes to us from California-based Eugenio Leon. On the Core77 boards, he writes (edited here for clarity):
Every now and then I bump into products and situations that could perhaps be better designed, here's one of them. This is at my local Trader Joe's, a grocery store, which [graciously] provides coffee while you shop. They initially provided this type of carafe:
After they replaced it with the kind you see below, I asked what was wrong with the original one. They told me that people on wheelchairs had a hard time reaching them. The counter is roughly three feet off of the ground and the original carafe is about a foot tall. I imagine when a wheelchair user pushed the top of the carafe to dispense, the carafes would tilt and land on the wheelchair user since the force was coming from below.
So they switched to this style of dispenser:
The first problem seems to have been solved by the new dispenser—which ironically brought a new problem: Now folks can't figure out that you have to place the cup on the dot, so there's a lot of spillage, even with the sign. (That sign keeps getting bigger, by the way.) It actually seems to work fine for people on wheelchairs, it is everyone else that seems to be having a hard time placing the cups on the dot.
I did some poking around, and the model of machine appears to be this Bunn/Zojirushi Thermal Server.
Let's zoom in and lighten up both Leon's photo and a press photo of the device to take a better look at the design:
The user interface appears to follow basic rules of good design: The button is a different color and features an icon of fingers above it for good measure. There is no question which part of the machine you're meant to interact with.
The cavity indicates, through basic physical language, that the cup is meant to be nestled inside. Furthermore, a white dot and even a raised plastic reticle clearly indicate where the cup is meant to be centered.
Despite all of these measures, people are placing the cup in a location (underneath the button, I'd imagine) that causes the coffee stream to miss. What do you reckon is the problem?
The only thing I can come up with is that folks in the store are regular shoppers who have become conditioned by the first design. Let's take a look at that one again, a little larger:
So there we have a cylinder and a protuberance. The button atop the cylinder is not a different color and bears no icon, but it is large and the reveal around it indicates it is distinct from the rest of the housing up top.
The protuberance is clearly the spout, but I'd actually imagine this design would create more spillage. The precise location of the nozzle within the protuberance is not obvious, and in the photos up top we can see that Trader Joe's provides tiny cups.
So what's going on here? Are folks using the Bunn placing the cup under the protuberance, wrongly assuming that is the nozzle? Why are they not able to see the white dot and reticle, are they looking down on the machine from an angle that obscures them?
Beyond those questions, I'd ask you:
1) If you were the designer of this machine who learned of this problem, what would you change in the next version? And
2) If you were the manager of the store, saddled with these two machines, how would you solve the problem?
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Bunn already makes a thermal coffee server that solves the problem: the stream of coffee exits directly under the lever. http://bit.ly/1O4wFMc
I've been in this position of having to re-train consumers in a strikingly similar task.
As for us Americans only reading English text--have you never seen someone trying to push in a door that says "PULL?" (And by someone, I mean me)
Instead of the white dot, I would put an icon of a coffee mug--or some other universally known logo for hot beverage--inside of a circle that is the size of the base of the cups used, indicating where to put the cup.
- all 3 give a natural sense of awareness of the hot water/coffee
It may just be me, but I feel like the cup receptacle looks a little more like drainage for accidentally spilled coffee, rather than a surface to place a cup.
A simpler solution for Trader Joe's would be to put old pump carafe on a lower counter. If the counter would have been 30" above the floor it would have been within reach of the wheelchair user, and it would have been just the right height for standing users. Designers tend to over-think.
I would misuse it as well. I would expect coffee to come out from under the button, not that further back and I would probably miss the white dot as I would most likely be talking to someone while getting my coffee.
we have 2 of these units in our office, the deep cavity is due to the glass thermal liner inside this unit, its probably more cost efficient to have a center exit.
It's sort of annoying to hear this back-and-forth conversation over whether we should make things more for the average person or more for the minorities/extremes, eg people in wheelchairs. The answer is that if you make a product thinking about every possible extreme - very tall, in a wheelchair, very short, vision impaired, everything you can think of - then it will end up being a product that is also 100x easier and simpler for the average group. It has been mentioned in a couple of articles here, like the one about female auto designers in the 50s trying to make cars more comfortable and rounded, and the one about OXO's design ethic. In this case it means making it very obvious where the coffee is going to come out and what button you have to push to get it, from every angle and with or without previous coffeemaker experience. Having the nozzle further down is what helps the people in wheelchairs, and doesn't have any effect on other people. They are just confused about the change in shape, so for them it might help, as others have suggested, to have a sign directly where the coffee cup needs to go instead of a sign next to it which they will ignore.
I see several issues with this design, especially considering the departure from a well known product, regardless of the ergonomics.
ergonomic design is interesting. We design for an 'average person' ... but then we come back and make exceptions, or additions to appease a small group, most likely due to the legal risks of not doing so (insert ADA). Why are so many things retrofitted for wheel chairs and short persons, but you never see anything fixed for taller persons?
I totally get this mistake. I think a more obvious (color or form) ring where the cup goes would definitely help. Also the mechanism where coffee comes out is really hidden maybe just extending the spout down to make it more obvious.
Totally agree, I would really like to see the spout. But it would be quite the design challenge, figuring out how to make it visible for both a shorter and taller person.
1. I would remove half of the cavity, there is no need to 'center' the cup, unless the stream is unpredictable, in which case, the nozzle should have been better designed. Removing the depth eliminates the ability to 'over shoot' the center. This would allow any size cup to rest against the back for proper filling, much like the previous design.
2. I would have kept the original that everyone is accustomed to and either recess it into the counter, or find a lower level cart. Or I would realize that less than 5% of the shoppers would even need the easier access, and just scoot it back to where they cant reach it. an associate or someone else could offer assistant a few times a week it would be needed.
I would rather have a design that worked 100% of the time for 95% of users, than one that worked 50% of the time for 100% of the users.
I was really with you until 2. If you aren't designing specifically for accessibility then you are being a jerk.
sorry, i wasnt trying to be a jerk, i was just role playing as a store manager that doesnt want to get sued by someone over-reaching.... then again, people could sue for the coffee being too hot, so better switch it to iced only.
In either role you could put something under the switch, something that continues the curve of the machine or rests on that protruding tongue, to prevent a cup from resting there.
If I were the store manager, I'd add a little coaster with bold text reading "CUP HERE" sitting on top of the dot.
Simple solution. BUNN should add a very clear and written indicator, "place cup here", and add the words "push to dispense"
That's what I was thinking. Getting people to figure out the fingers icon is somewhat irrelevant; if people don't figure out they have to push the button to get the coffee, no coffee comes out and there's no problem.
The point made regarding the number and/or placement of hands while using the two designs is more to the point of usage effectiveness. The original design is not ideal regarding visable indicators but does give the impression of sturdiness. Someone observes another person dispense coffee from a distance, also wants coffee and investigates the device. There is less indication of what to do to pour, but there is little worry that the device is fragile. Ultimately, using two hands to feel the units features someone determines that a pump action with one hand and a "catching" action with another hand holding a cup yields coffee. The two hand approach is common to other pouring solutions and allows for immediate correction in placement of the cup. This appeals to our nature. (Mike's point? )
Sorry, I neglected to state any possible changes to the second device in previous post... Replacing dot with wording (ie, cup here) is effective but only in a single language and to the literate user. To allow for cup repositioning via experimentation without spilling, a slight delay in the dispense of coffee when pushing the lever coupled with a visual stimulus which appears during this brief delay which confirms the stream path. This is similar to laser line indicators on saws where a two step trigger pull first shows the alignment prior to blade engagement.