I love coffee, it fuels my day, it fuels the company, and I couldn’t do business without it.
Fortunately, I am not alone. Even the Brits have fallen for the allure of good coffee, and coffee shops such as Nero, Costa, Starbucks can be found on every corner of self respecting city centres.
Sometimes, you can even find two branches of Starbucks on the same street within throwing distance. How much more evidence do you need that there is a market for good coffee?
If you can call it good coffee of course…
I doubted it and went hunting for little independent coffee shops in London, and I was successful in finding quite a few of them.
The main difference between the independent shops and the chains is that the former take a lot of time preparing your coffee, whereas Starbucks has turned to an efficient coffee serving machine with a semi-personal touch in that they’ll call out for ‘The Doctor’ (the name I always give) when my coffee is ready.
Coffee, My Granny’s Way
Do the small ones serve better coffee because it takes longer to prepare? Is their coffee as good as my granny’s coffee?
You see, my granny did not believe in fancy shiny coffee machines. My granny believed in a labour of love: boiling the kettle, putting a filter in a coffee filter holder and then, whilst waiting for the water to boil, hand grinding the coffee with an old fashioned but proper burr grinder on the wall.
That coffee grinder has now found a place on my wall and is used regularly to make proper coffee, my granny’s way. No shiny machine of convenience for me but only granny’s hand poured filtered coffee will do.
The granny coffee method does have one drawback. It’s old and it’s very hard to find replacements for the filter holders that can wear out. You can thus imagine my delight when, whilst sipping my coffee in an independent London coffee shop, I spotted them: shiny metal coffee filter holders! Beautiful objects that are also very functional.
“How much can they be?” I thought. “I’ll buy one regardless.”
Decision made, I carried one to the man behind the counter to enquire.
“I don’t know how much they are but they are quite dear,” he warned.
“I’ll have one anyway,” I said, to which he responded: “Good man.’”
Now that made me worry, and quite rightly so! £45s for a piece of metal! I felt I could not back off because of my previous comment, so I forked over the money with a wan smile and took it home.
The next morning, I was ready to try out my new gadget, opened the box and saw that this filter holder had a big hole in the middle. The old one had 3 little holes. I put a normal supermarket filter in, added coffee and poured the water over it. The seam broke and all the water -plus coffee grains- filled my cup.
Google to the rescue.
It turned out that I had bought a Japanese coffee dripper that requires special filters!
Amazon to the rescue.
If you buy enough of the filters they are not so expensive to import. No, honestly, the tops shelves of the kitchen cupboards are not used anyway, and at least I have enough for the next ten years. Saves a bit of effort.
Having gone through this experience, I started to wonder whether you could perhaps also buy better beans online.
And yes, turns out you certainly can.
They are a bit dearer, of course, they come in the right quantity (not too much) and with lovely descriptions of the growers, tasting notes (of course) and appealing packaging.
A Savory Reality Check
I couldn’t help but feel this was a major improvement over the supermarket coffees. In fact, I felt it so strongly that, one day, I said to my wife that the coffee I made now with the japanese ‘coffee dripper’ was the best coffee ever.
I have had the great fortune of marrying a smart woman and, in response to my comment, she informed me that the coffee only tasted better because I had gone through all the effort of sourcing the holder, the filters and special beans, not to mention the whole ten-minute ritual of making one cup of coffee. “The reality,” she said, “is that it doesn’t really taste better, but you think it does because of all of the faff.”
My wife is probably right (she normally is), but the question is this:
Does it matter whether the coffee tastes really better or whether I simply think it does?
Whether it really does or doesn’t makes no difference. It doesn’t change the perceived taste and that is the power of experience design.
It is not just about designing things that are useful, it is not just about designing things that’s easy-to-use.
It is about designing the emotional experience that comes with it, and we, as UX designers, have that power.
Proper design can lift ordinary things, like coffee making, to a new level, increasing the fun, and satisfaction regardless of whether the actual service/product is really better than another.
Experience design (not just UI design) is what gives companies the competitive edge.
To achieve this competitive edge, businesses must design for the whole experience; before, during and after use of a product or a service. Only when you understand the whole journey can you design an emotional element that remains of the highest quality from start to finish.
Companies like Mars understand this very well. Just visit any of the M&M stores to see what you can do with, what is in essence, just sugar coated chocolate, and you will see what I mean.
Last but not least, one of the independent coffee shop close the Akendi UK’s Cambridge office now sells ‘Hario V60 pour-over coffee’ for £4.5 a cup. Sounds exciting but it is the same as my hand poured coffee? Does it begin to rival my granny’s coffee?
If you fancy a cup, please drop into the office and I’ll be delighted to make you one but, be warned, it may take a while.
Dr. Leo Poll is President of Akendi UK. A firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design, to learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.co.uk
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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