Coffee, Empathy, and User Experience

Every now and then I find myself inspired by the smallest of changes and improvements to a product, changes which create a real impact on product usability and quality of life for all concerned. These product improvements are inevitably found to be driven by a person of empathy, someone who took the time to think deeply about others and how they see a product and how they interact with a product. Someone who thinks of others first.

In this particular case, the product in question was an automated coffee machine. The coffee machine incorporated a coffee filter paper feeding mechanism. The coffee filter paper supply would, as expected, eventually exhaust itself and the machine would require a new supply of filter paper. The act of loading a new supply was supposed to be (ideally) handled by the end-users of the coffee machine, ensuring minimal disruption to their coffee supply. This is important folks! I would consider an uninterrupted supply of coffee, with its associated caffeine to be a critical measure of business operations!

Although intended to be easy to operate and maintain, this machine was sadly failing in that regard. Locations operating with this machine were generating service calls, and the service company was frequently needing to send personnel to simply replace the coffee filter paper supply.

That is until one of the service personnel solved the issue by putting himself into the customers’ shoes. After all, people just want their coffee; they do not want to think mechanically; they do not want to solve a riddle; they simply want their coffee. So when a person arrives in front of this machine seeking a cup of java, and instead is confronted with a blinking light indicating a lack of filter paper, what did they find to help them achieve their goal? Upon opening the machine, this caffeine starved person was confronted with the following machine internals and associated instructions:


More times than not, upon being confronted with the internals of the machine and the associated instructions, the coffee-seeking customer would simply throw up their hands in frustration and call the telephone number for the service company. A lose-lose proposition, the customer did not get their coffee and the service company must re-direct personnel from other critical business tasks.

Now we come to the solution. A solution delivered by a 74-year-old employee of the service company, someone who loves people and loves his work. Let’s shed a bit of light, or rather color, on the solution:

And there you go. With a bit of strategically applied green nail polish, coffee starved users were now able to understand the instructions, understand the machine, and resupply the filter paper. Service calls plummeted. Ultimately, people were able to get what they really wanted: a great cup of coffee.

And who was the genius that solved this issue? My father-in-law – Charles.

Thank you, Charles, for continuing to show your patience, your love of others, and your ability to apply empathy to solving our everyday user experience problems!


  1. Charles recently left us for his eternal home. At his funeral service, many co-workers shared similar stories. He was always improving, always thinking and acting on behalf of others. In fact, I learned that one California company actually flew him to their engineering facility to teach their engineers about the many small improvements he was making to their products.

    May God bless Charles and welcome him to his eternal home.

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