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The usability of coffee measuring spoons

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.
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