Coffee: The UX Lesson

I look for user experience lessons in the way people use and consume everyday things. As one of the most consumed beverages worldwide, coffee shows the diversity of ways people may use what is in essence, the same thing. Among my friends and colleagues, I see five ways coffee is consumed.

  1. A utility
  2. A break
  3. A luxury
  4. A craft
  5. Incidentally coffee

Coffee as a Utility

K-Cups, instant coffee, or coffee that is not known for a delightful taste where caffeine is the primary goal, is what I consider coffee as a utility. Most adults in the U.S. probably have consumed coffee this way, but for some, it’s the only way coffee is used.

I recall speaking with a barista at La Reunion Coffee. The barista, Mike, I believe was his name, competed in the World Barista Championship. He pointed out that most coffee drinkers do notice a difference between great and tolerable coffee but that they may not care.

In other words, someone who drinks coffee every morning because that is what they do, can appreciate luxury but won’t go out of the way to look for it, as any coffee meets the need they have.

Coffee as a Break

One of my dear friends drinks one, yes one single cup of coffee a day. For him, it’s a break. He drinks his coffee and reads a book for about a half-hour. Pre Covid19, he would leave his home or office and sit with his book, his cup, and check out.

The coffee was not unrelated to the experience, but it wasn’t primary. It was a meditation, and he called it an exercise in stepping away. He didn’t need the caffeine; often, he drank decaf. He was practicing self-care, and equally self-restraint. The coffee facilitated a work life, home life, and mental health balance.

Coffee as a luxury

For some people, they love having the best cup of coffee they can get. The experience they want is quality.

A break in the day, or the utility of caffeine or having a meeting, may be part of the luxury, but it’s not the value driver, to use an MBA term. Here coffee is like a Louis Vuitton handbag without the status symbol. Tasting and savoring, are something that you know is the gold standard for bean juice.

Some of the experience may well come from being served instead of making the best cup of joe one may have, but I’ve moved that to the craft section.

Coffee as a Craft

I used to office with someone who owned every coffee gadget under the sun. She would buy high-end coffee beans, and grind them herself, she had 9 ways of brewing coffee, and she seemed to love making coffee, the way people love baking or woodworking. She would watch the YouTube coffee king James Hoffmann review new ways to make coffee.

For her, the craft was the driving force behind her coffee consumption. The goal of quality was more than the quality, more than the luxury, the break or the caffeine.

Incidentally Coffee

We’ve all had a coffee shop meeting. The coffee is less important than the date, the friend, or the business. The location, the seating, the wifi, that is what matters, the coffee, regardless of quality, is a tax paid to the business for giving you a place to sit.

Why Think About it?

Coffee is a big part of many people’s lives. Civilization was built on Coffee and Alcohol is a valid line of thinking. But the way we all consume the beverage is varied. A feature for some is a value driver for others.

When it comes to building products, you must consider how many ways a product can be used. Coffee, for the most part, is consumed as a drink. But it’s also consumed for many reasons. The perfect coffee cup isn’t just the quality of the coffee as rated by a taste test. When we design, that is worth remembering.

Thanks to Mason Pelt for discussing this with me, and for the header image.

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