Web App Design Lesson from Our Coffee Machine

November 28, 2006

We have a new coffee machine…I’m just not sure it will stay. Why am I writing about coffee machines? Cusinart’s redesign is a great illustration of how new versions can make products worse, not better.

Okay…here is our old coffee machine (sorry about the photos…they are quick and dirty from my cell phone):

old coffee

Looks like a simple machine, and I will tell you what – it’s great. Independently Joe and Levi both acquired the same one for their homes…I am pretty sure this model was a blockbuster for Cuisinart.

Now a shot of our new machine from the side:

We switched machines because the new one keeps coffee hot for longer. That said, here’s my beef: why is the water gauge on the side? Think about it. Every pot you brew requires reading the gauge to see how much water you have poured in. Therefore, every time you use the thing you need to see that gauge. The gauge is on the side so if you have to reach around the machine to see as you pour. As a result you can’t put this product next to any other appliances or in a corner on your counter top…in fact you might have to physically pull it towards you – across a counter – to get it close enought to read every time you pour water in.

Now if that gauge was on the front, I would be happy. I am guessing that there was a certain aesthetic the design team was trying to achieve. Unfortunately they did not think about the usability (at least not as well as they might have). Since you use this gauge 100% of the time you brew coffee, it ought to be on the front “face” of the appliance. Function before form…this applies to web apps too.

new coffee

When you add or remove an interface element in a web page, you have to ask yourself, “What percent of the time do people use this element?” If it’s more than 20% of the times users are on that page, that interface element needs to be prominent. If you have been successful with a

version of your app (and I am guessing version one of the co

ffee machine was a block buster for Cusinart), it is vital that you keep “prominance” top of mind as you redesign your app from one version to the next…as the team at Cuisinart proves with a less than perfect redesign here.

about the author

Co-Founder & CEO, FreshBooks Mike is the co-founder and CEO of FreshBooks, the world’s #1 cloud accounting software for self-employed professionals. Built in 2003 after he accidentally saved over an invoice, Mike spent 3.5 years growing FreshBooks from his parents’ basement. Since then, over 10 million people have used FreshBooks to save time billing, and collect billions of dollars. A lover of the outdoors, Mike has been bitten so many times it’s rumored he’s the first human to have developed immunity to mosquitoes.