The UX of coffee capsules

For my entire UX career so far I have been working with problems that we face on either websites or web applications – yet I’ve always had a fascination with issues that we face outside the digital world.

In a presentation I gave a couple of years ago I highlighted the problems of a supermarket layout, which led to huge queues around the cash registers.

A long line of people in a queue for the supermarket checkout

Long queue at a supermarket

I have also pondered about train ramps for disabled passengers while waiting for the train on my daily commute, and I’m sure we’ve all pondered the problems with door handles, something that you can’t not focus on if you have read “The Design of Everyday Things”.

These issues can be categorised as minor annoyances, through to problems that have a major impact on people’s daily lives.

Something that has been troubling me for the past couple of weeks definitely falls into the first category, and yet the previous design solution that worked (for myself) relied on an element that we shouldn’t wholly rely upon, colour.

After a couple of days observing we drove down to San Diego for the start of the conference.

“Don’t rely on colour alone to deliver your messages online. Instead, combine colour with other design fundamentals such as typography, shapes, grids, and spaces and allocate more weight to important elements.”

“Don’t rely on colour alone to deliver your messages online. Instead, combine colour with other design fundamentals such as typography, shapes, grids, and spaces and allocate more weight to important elements.”

“Don’t rely on colour alone to deliver your messages online. Instead, combine colour with other design fundamentals such as typography, shapes, grids, and spaces and allocate more weight to important elements.”

Tammy Guy, UX Magazine

Tammy Guy, UX Magazine

Tammy Guy, UX Magazine

From Nespresso’s Lungo range I bought two types of capsules, the Vivalto Lungo, and the Decaffeinato. As the name suggests, the Decaffeinato was the decaffeinated option. In the morning, bleary-eyed, I would grab a blue capsule, turn the machine on, and my day was off to a good start. Later in the evening, I’d look for the red capsule, and all was good with the world.

Old Nespresso capsules, one blue and one red

Vivalo Lungo, and the old decaffeinated capsule

Then it all changed.

Nespresso introduced decaffeinated versions of more of their blends, so instead of having a decaf lungo, and a decaf espresso option, they now have a decaf Arpeggio, Volluto, Vivalto and Intenso.

By introducing more to their product line, meant Nespresso then had the problem with how to best show these new products, and not use colours too close to colours that were already in use.

The Nespresso team decided that the best solution was to introduce a red dot to the bottom of the capsule.

New capsules. Both are blue, one has a subtle red dot on the base.

Vivalo Lungo, and the new decaffeinated capsule

“I know the orange Nespresso capsules are caffeinated, but the color is too close to the decaf red ones for me to take the chance”.

“As designers we disable people when we don't get it right”.

Vanessa Fox, @vanessafox (on Twitter)

My morning has now changed, instead of grabbing a blue capsule, I now have to check the bottom of the capsule, if it contains a dot, then I’ll have to get another capsule from another tube. I also now need to remember which tube contains the decaf, and which contains the caffeinated option. First world problem? Absolutely, but one that could be solved in many better ways.

A Nespresso capsule container with lots of blue capsules. It is hard to see which are decaf and which are not

Container full of Nespresso capsules

Improving the user experience

With the shape of the capsule constrained by the device, the colour of the capsule, and shapes used within the capsule design are perhaps the best way of conveying meaning, while still being respectful of the Nespresso brand.

As red was the signal ‘decaf’ colour from Nespresso, then perhaps an alternative solution could have been used, as you often see in the variations or limited editions.

Coming from a digital background, I may tackle things a little differently to industrial designers, and would check for contrast and meaning before exploring the colour options available to me. I would then liaise with visual designers to look at options that convey the message and present the information in a way that is easy to understand.

A mockup of a striped Nespresso capsule, with the lower stripe in red and the top stripe in blue

A less subtle solution to convey the message better

A possible solution could be to mix elements to convey the message better. You could do this by perhaps using stripes or strips of the two signal colours which are known to Vivalto and decaffeinated lovers.

Naturally, if this was a larger project, then there are other areas that should be factored in - namely, the customer will have to remember the colour in the first place, they would also not know the intensity of the coffee, and the display of the coffee type is also very subtle. Areas that could be tested, and could provide a better experience overall.

More articles to read

A look at some of the tools I use when performing accessibility checks.

Highlighting one of the sneakier sides of design.

Thoughts on a trend we'll see everywhere in 2015.

© 2018-2019 Dean Birkett

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