“Good designs will have it all – aesthetic pleasure, art, creativity – and at the same time be usable, workable, and enjoyable.”
I have a favourite gadget – it’s beautifully designed and yes something that actually does what it supposed to do and makes my life easier! It’s a well designed object that’s easy to interpret and understand – we didn’t need the instruction manual to operate this one.
I love fresh coffee but not the filter/cafetiere kind – the made with a shot of fresh espresso kind. I discovered this love whilst in Paris with Kieran, my other half, a few years ago and when we got back we invested in a Gaggia Cubika – it made great coffee for a while but what a load of faffing about! You had to virtually dismantle the entire machine to fill it with water, then it was a fine balance of getting the coffee grind just right and tamping it down with just the right pressure. I kid you not, you’d have needed a degree in something very clever and a fair wind to achieve a good crema from it. It was the most temperamental machine ever.
The Cubika eventually blew a gasket (I know how it felt) and due to problems with supply from Italy replacements were rarer than hen’s teeth. We decided to cut our loses and buy a new espresso machine. Kieran spied a Nespresso shop when we were in Nice last year and took a fancy to their very sleek, sexy looking machines. We finally took the plunge- despite the fact that it’s a pod system and you can only buy the pods online.
We bought the Magimix M190 11300 Citiz and Milk Nespresso Coffee Machine in Black and I have to tell you it’s fantastic. It looks great, fantastic streamlined design; shiny black with sleek chrome. And you know what it’s soooooeasy to use. Bravo Nespresso!
This is a coffee machine designed by someone who cared about the thing not only looking great but actually being easy for me to use. You can fill up the water tank by just removing the water tank, you pop in your pod and out comes the perfect espresso – crema and all. Brilliant. Perfect every time. Even the milk frother produces consistently frothy milk. It’s even easy to clean, all the bits are accessible and, apart from some grooves on the front of the container that holds the ejected pods, there’s no hidden nooks and crannies that your washing-up brush can’t access.
My only gripe is that there are a couple of buttons that have dual purpose. You know the ones where if you hold it for 1 second it does one thing and if you hold it for 2 seconds it makes cold frothy milk for a frappe instead of nice warm milk for your latte. To be fair there are pretty strong clues to tell you what it’s doing - the light on the front of the milk flask goes blue if it’s making cold milk and red if it’s heating!
I’m currently reading The Design of Everyday Things and I think the Nespresso designers must’ve read it too. According to the author, Donald Norman, if you can’t use a device or gadget easily, it’s not your fault it’s the designer’s. There’s apparently three disciplines of design that make things easy and intuitive, or otherwise, to use; visibility, mappings and feedback.
Visibility is whether you can tell what state the device is in and the alternatives for action just by looking at it. So on my coffee machine the button you press to dispense coffee flashes green when in stand-by mode and is a solid green when its ready. I think a flashing light is a pretty standard way of describing something that’s in stand-by state.
Mappings are related to whether its possible to determine the relationships between actions and results – between the controls and their effects. It’s pretty obvious that pressing the button with a small glass icon on is going to dispense an espresso shot whilst the one with a tall glass will dispense a longer shot with more water.
Feedback displays the results of your actions so on my coffee machine the LED on the front of the milk flask lights red when it’s warming and frothing milk, and blue when it’s frothing cold milk. Easy peasey.
Donald Norman sums up my experiences perfectly, he writes:
The next time you can’t immediately figure out the shower control in a motel, to work an unfamiliar television set or stove, remember that the problem is in the design. And the next time you pick up an unfamiliar object and use it smoothly and effortlessly on the first try, stop and examine it; the ease of use did not come about by accident. Someone designed the object carefully and well.
Introduction quote by Donald Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group and author of The Design of Everyday Things.