A bright start to each day: Clear instructions & human-centered products matter

Clive Coffee Channel is full of videos with clear instructions

Even the simplest of tasks, like making coffee in the morning, need clear instructions and taking the user into account. Last week we received a Cafelat Robot Espresso Maker as a Christmas gift. This coffee maker looks like a little, cute robot with each part carefully designed and wrapped. Every detail has been thought-through to achieve a pleasing design.

When we were opening the box, we noticed that it didn’t include any instructions booklet. Rather, the box shows high level 5-step process of how to use the machine. As this was meant to be a machine with “no complicated electronics” we thought: Wow! this must be a really easy to use machine. Even the website describes “whole process” as “simple” and taking “just a few minutes”. 

However, when we removed the robot and parts from the box, it was unclear to us what to do next. So we watched a few of the videos from the official website. The way the coffee was made seemed pretty simple and straightforward. At least that was what we thought…

To put it simply: after following the steps as described in the official videos, we made a mess in our first, second and third tries. We were really frustrated. How could it be that something that looks so simple is taking us so long to get it right? We watched even more videos, read forums, read multiple reviews, and even read the 27-page user robot manual. Unfortunately, even after further multiple attempts, we haven’t been able to master the machine. But we have learned that it wasn’t us! (as Don Norman said it in his doors video); actually a lot is needed to achieve the right pressure to make the cup of coffee as shown in the official videos:

  • The type of coffee matters
  • The coffee grind size is important (not too fine, but fine enough)
  • The amount of coffee (the coffee puck! – not 13.5grs, but 16grs or 21 grs)
  • The pressure applied to tamper the coffee is also key

The fact that having the above right is imperative to make a “real espresso” cup of coffee (the selling point of the machine) indicates that instructions should be included with the product. Official videos should stress the importance of paying attention to the above points too. Otherwise, the machine is sold with the wrong message as making a real espresso shot is not a simple process.

Giving clear instructions

The “robot experience” illustrates the relevance of giving appropriate instructions where each key step is explicitly articulated. Most likely people using the robot in the official videos are too used to using the machine and didn’t realize that mentioning small details matter for its effective use. As Richard S. Wurman would say, they suffer from the disease of familiarity. For example, to use the robot, having a scale to weigh the right amount of coffee seems to be as important as having a kettle.

There are many videos explaining how to use the robot and other coffee makers. Most of them don’t explain the coffee jargon, like what pucks are, or use easy-to relate examples. In other words, they seem to be targeted to “expert” coffee maker uses. Only a few videos provide clear instructions. Clive Coffee videos are great examples; you can find them in their YouTube channel.

These are some characteristics of effective instructional videos:

  • Videos are organized in thematic categories
  • Video titles are clear, consistent and inviting
  • Video goals are explained as simple steps
  • Words are used as labels to complement visuals, not repeating the same information
  • Every important detail is explained, even the basic ones
  • Presenters use a slow pace and simple words
  • Options are provided to achieve the same goals
  • Overall clean and harmonious design

Clarifying the intended users is key

This experience also made me wonder whether the robot has been tested with real users. Robot Espresso Maker users have to go through many steps with great level of care each time they want to enjoy a cup of coffee. Some of these steps are intuitive, others are not. Some of these steps take very little time, others can take a great amount of time. Does everyone have that much time in the morning? Does everyone have all the needed equipment? Regardless of the quality of the coffee it produces, I don’t think the robot is for every type of coffee lover. So, who is the intended user of this machine? This piece of information should be clearly stated in the official website.

Even in the simple tasks we can see the key roles that information design (give clear instructions) and field research (talk to users) play to obtain effective results and help people achieve their goals.

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