July 11, 2012

On hot & cold

It’s easy to forget that user interface design doesn’t just matter in the digital world. But it’s just as important in the physical world too. This was illustrated wonderfully through my experience at the local Costa coffee shop today at lunch.

I’m a Costa regular and I, like most people have a couple of favoutire drinks which I order most of the time. Today, though, I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and order something different. So I had a look at the boards behind the counter and found to my surprise that they were only displaying the price for cold drinks. Costa is a coffee shop. I mean I know it’s Summer and people are really getting into the whole iced latte thing but still, no hot drinks? I was very confused.

You lose that simple, instant reference

On closer inspection I realised I was wrong. The hot drinks were listed on the board but they were printed on a blue background. This seems odd to me because blue means cold right? It’s human nature to assign colours to objects and states – it’s an instictive thing. Hot objects are, more often than not, red (or orangey) and cold ones are usually blue. That’s just how it works, that’s what we learn as we grow up.

As far as I can remember Costa’s iced drinks were always written on cooler colours and the hot drinks usually on the signature red. It seems strange that Costa would decide to print its hot drinks list on a blue board as you lose that simple, instant reference for hot and cold. The price list is a simple user interface. I need to be able to look at it and see what I want and find out how much it’s going to cost me. The process should be as simple and streamlined as possible and using colours to break up the types of drinks allows you to instantly rule out one section of the board. The misleading colours on Costa’s new board make this whole process a whole lot harder. In fact, it made getting a coffee a whole lot less enjoyable too.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why the decision was made. What I haven’t said so far is that the board was actually a lovely blue sky with some clouds at the bottom, presumably part of the company’s summer menu branding but it seems sad that throughout the whole design process no one considered the end user – the confused customer, looking for a red board and struggling to understand why they’ve stopped serving hot coffees.

The whole experience has made me wonder whether people have started to forget that user interfaces (or human interfaces) exist offscreen too and are an integral and important part of our lives. Designers, in every discipline should strive to make all user experiences (on and off screen) as fluid and enjoyable as possible.

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