The usability of coffee measuring spoons

31.08.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
The discussion at FatDUX this morning focused on Nescafé. And which spoons each of us used to make coffee (note to self: we have a perfectly good, very expensive coffee maker. Why are folks drinking this instant crap?)

It seems that coffee measures are not standardized. They're not even close. In various drawers, I found no fewer than six different measuring "instruments". And their capacities ranged from less than 1 gram to over 10 grams. No wonder our morning coffee ranges from dishwater to mud.

Here's what we have:


From left to right, we have a very expensive coffee spoon from Georg Jensen designed by Arne Jacobsen, followed by a more traditional silver teaspoon. Next, we have a miniature scoop. The wire-handled measuring spoon is an Ole Palsby design from his Eva Trio series of kitchen utensils. Finally, there is a black plastic scoop that came with a bag of coffee, and a smaller, white plastic scoop that came with some tea.

Let's see what they can hold (the first number is heaping, the second is level), measured with real, ground coffee, not the instant crap.

Jacobsen      <1 gram (<1 gram)
Traditional      3 grams (1 gram)
Scoop            4 grams (3 grams)
Palsby            9 grams (8 grams)
Black plastic  10 grams (7 grams)
White plastic   4 grams (< 1 gram)

The directions on our instant coffee suggest "one heaping spoonful per cup".

Hmm. How many different cup sizes do we have...?

How this relates to interaction design
In the field of interaction design, we know that standardization often improves usability, although it can stifle creativity and innovation in the hands of pedantic rule-followers. Could it be that we should be chosing our standards with greater care? That there are some generic patterns that benefit from standardization and "best practice" whereas there are others areas that should be avoided if they impinge on artistic value?

Take for example, the Ole Palsby measuring spoon above. It holds more coffee than almost all the other devices. In terms of volume, it doesn't equate to any of my standardized cooking measuring spoons (teaspoon, tablespoon etc.). So where did this design originate? Did Palsby pull the size out of thin air? In truth, he could have chosen a more reasonable size without compromising his design. I wish he had - my wife insists on using one scoop per cup, plus "one for the pot".  When made with this scoop, her coffee can be used to patch bicycle tires.

On the other hand, Arne Jacobsen's spoon was designed for stirring, not measuring. To change this design would also mean changing its basic function, which would be wrong from an artistic point of view (and a usability POV as well).

So, what do YOU think should be standardized? And why? Does anyone have standardized rules for standardization? If so, I hope you'll share them here.

Is offshoring ever good?

05.09.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
What are the so-called benefits for a company that offshores? More importantly, what are the dangers?

Why companies go offshore
Mostly, offshoring occurs in order to reduce wages related to folks on an assembly line. In these cases, the only winners are the owners of the company. Yet this form for "profitizing" is a double-edged sword.

When offshoring industrial products, workers are usually not required to think - they probably aren't even encouraged to do so. But because wages are cheap, production efficiency doesn't have a high priority. Alas, failure to empower your assembly line to think causes quality problems to remain unnoticed too long. And there will be no manufacturing innovation whatsoever.

How offshoring can kill innovation
Innovation is not invention - although it builds on inventions and the related best-practices that evolve. Specifically, innovation means solving a problem. Here's an example of assembly line innovation. A woman ran a machine that stamped out rubber parts from a flat mat that was fed into the cutting die. Looking around the production hall, she noticed that her machine was the bottleneck - it was the single slowest operation. She also noticed that the die travelled 6 inches each time a new sheet of rubber entered. Yet the rubber was only 1/4 inch thick. The travel time was considerable, as were the security measures that prevented fingers from getting caught in the machine. She suggested reducing the travel to about 1/2 inch. This was done and total production for the facility increased by over 70%. True story.

Alas, most employees just do what they're told and don't ask questions or suggest improvements. So much for in-line innovation.

Offshoring and agile development
Successful offshoring (and outsourcing) also requires the original manufacturer to specify details to an incredibly minute degree. The specification alone can take hundreds or thousands of man-hours. Yet in most instances, this document only serves as a legal cover-my-ass tool when litigation arises because something is not done correctly, not an instrument designed to promote efficiency.

In software development, "agile" is currently the method of choice if you're really interested in benefiting from the combined wisdom of your team. Most offshoring/outsourcing models don't allow this, which is why the Ukraine, Romania, and India, are generally awful choices for offshoring of software development, not because of the quality of the work, but because of the lack of feedback and dialog. You want a team that thinks and spots errors in the specification, not one that just follows orders. And ideally, one would think that low-income countries would be better off building their own economies instead of fostering a community of wage slaves.

How to kill a brand
Brand is another issue. Today, Burberry in the UK has offshored all of its clothing production to China, with the exception of its famous trench coats. Georg Jensen “Danish” jewelry is made in Thailand. Even the iconic American Radio Flyer "little red wagon" is now produced in China - and 45 former employees in Chicago are out of work.

Will I buy another Radio Flyer? No. Today, it’s just more plastic junk from China; the brand has been devalued and no longer represents an American company.

Should I buy an expensive Georg Jensen ring from a high-street shop? Or should I travel to Chang Mei and buy one on the street from the same worker who toils at Georg Jensen during the day and files and hammers at home during the evening. “Royal Copenhagen” china is also made in – well – not China, but Thailand.

I'd be interested to hear from folks who can tell me when offshoring is truly in the interest of the company and their customers.