Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Pod Coffee Makers

This really isn't a question, but I turned it into one.  My correspondent sent the following story:

A friend of mine was at a meeting where someone from Philips explained the "sense & simplicity" concept with the Senseo coffeemachine as a good example.

“Look,” he said “the Senseo has only three buttons. One to turn it on, one for 1 cup, and one for 2 cups of coffee. That's all.”

Everybody was impressed. “My coffee machine has just one button: one to turn it on”, my friend thought. She didn't dare to say it out loud.

Nice story, but wrong. Fewer buttons do not necessarily mean easier use.

Even though the friend's coffee machine has only one button, there is a rather elaborate process required to put in the coffee (and to know how much to put in), to add the water (and to know how much to add) and to use a filter (depending upon what kind of machine she is talking about), and afterwards, to clean the machine.

I think the new pod coffee machines are a brilliant innovation -- I'll have to add them to my Good Design pages. The Senseo is simply one brand of the many that have now been introduced.

With the Senseo machine, as with all pod machines, you still have to know how to load the pod. And although I think the coffee is good, it is not as good as with more traditional drip or espresso, particularly with freshly ground coffee beans. But it is a lot easier to use, a lot easier to learn, and a lot easier to clean up-.

So, overall, I think the pod machines are a great advancement in coffee-making. As is usual with early technology, the different brands use proprietary pods, so they are not interchangeable. And some make far better coffee than others. But the coffee is not bad. In fact, it is superior to the average coffee in restaurants and homes. (Then again, it is not excellent either, inferior to that of the better coffee houses and the home where people take the time to grind and brew the coffee. See the reviews, below.)

When assessing simplicity, don't get all hung up on the number of buttons. Look at the whole picture: more is sometimes less. The pod coffee makers are a huge improvement in ease of learning, ease of use, and ease of maintenance over traditional methods. When their coffee-making abilities get better -- and they will -- they will be the coffee maker of choice.

For the opinions of some cofee purists (brutally honest opinions), see these two from
At What Cost Convenience?
A User's Survey.