Oracle Scratchpad

July 21, 2010

Design …

Filed under: humour — Jonathan Lewis @ 8:38 pm BST Jul 21,2010

… and how not to do it.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve visited two offices which have some really high-tech coffee machines, both from the same company. When you use these machines you have two options, you can punch out the menu options for the drink you want, or you can punch out a “quick code” for the drink you want. In my case (coffee, milk, no sugar) the code is 018, so …

Key punches for option 1

  • coffee
  • milk
  • start

Key punches for option 2

  • Enable quick code
  • 0
  • 1
  • 8
  • start

Yes, it really does take more key strokes to use the quick code than it does to choose what you want.

In fact, checking the dozens of possible drinks combinations on the machine I decided there were probably about six options where the quick code was quicker than just punching in what you wanted, for example:

  • coffee
  • extra strength
  • milk
  • more milk
  • sugar
  • more sugar
  • start

Just keep this in mind next time you think about supplying your end users with a cute feature that’s supposed to make them happier people.


  1. Was that off-topic or dead on-topic? :-)

    Cool features and abilities sell. “Cool” meaning they sound like a good idea.

    “easiest to live with”. Well, they decide if you go back to the supplier or not. That is, if the supplier decision is influenced at all by the end user rather than by some disassociated buying decision maker.

    But the main question, Jonathan, is “was the coffee drinkable”?
    And did you dare try the tea?
    (as Mr Douglas Adams pointed out, you can spend a lot of effort making a drink that is almost completly unlike tea)

    Comment by mwidlake — July 21, 2010 @ 9:54 pm BST Jul 21,2010 | Reply

  2. Well, are there other attributes of the design?

    Is there a standard ten-key pad, where those experienced with such things can enter known codes much faster than reading and selecting arbitrary words?

    Is the design relational and extensible? Is there a limit to varieties of coffee, tea and other drinks?

    Does it have a USB or a network connection?

    Are there legal implications to making coffee?

    Are there sociological ramifications? Woot?

    Comment by joel garry — July 21, 2010 @ 10:50 pm BST Jul 21,2010 | Reply

  3. Methinks the feature might be useful in office situations where colleagues get drinks for each other. You can be more certain of getting something halfway drinkable by giving them the code rather than instructions on exactly how much sugar and milk you want in your exactly-right-strength coffee…

    But yes, the interface is broken. There’s no reason why you can’t design it in such a way that a quick code can be entered immediately. And a 2-digit code (100 combinations) should be plenty.

    Comment by Colin 't Hart — July 22, 2010 @ 9:59 am BST Jul 22,2010 | Reply

    • Quick codes are also very handy if you are bringing coffee to your cubicle friends. It was way easier for us to list the codes in a small paper and stick it to tray than current option which is trying to remember “coffee no sugar bean to cup” kind requests for 5 guys.

      Comment by coskan — July 22, 2010 @ 11:25 am BST Jul 22,2010 | Reply

    • Colin,

      Yes – the concept is useful, the implementation is bad, and the customer is the beta-tester.
      Which takes us back to Martin’s first comment – was I on-topic or not ?

      Comment by Jonathan Lewis — July 24, 2010 @ 10:37 am BST Jul 24,2010 | Reply

      • Having dwelled long and hard on the issue, and very much enjoyed the rest of the input – I’ve come down on the side that it’s bang-on-topic. It’s like clicking many steps through a poor GUI interface to see a table description, rather than just typing “DESC EMP”. It’s not being a GUI that is wrong, it is the implementation.

        Maybe one of your talks at the next UKOUG conference should be about coffee machines and useful user interfaces, rather than all that performance stuff you go on about ;-)

        Comment by mwidlake — July 24, 2010 @ 7:19 pm BST Jul 24,2010 | Reply

  4. Yes, but it’s more geek when you say: give me a 018!

    Comment by lascoltodelvenerdi — July 23, 2010 @ 7:11 pm BST Jul 23,2010 | Reply

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