My Coffee Maker Just Makes Coffee


Couple drinking cups of coffee

I had to replace my dual Keurig coffee maker twice over a period of five months. This occurred a year ago and these are my findings.

Built to Fail?

I followed the manufactor's suggested cleaning schedule and took care of the appliances. My initial conclusion was that the product's design wasn't thought-out well. "It's built to fail!" I said to my wife the morning of the second machine's failure. Another product replaced under warranty, while the broken one's tossed aside. More e-waste because why not?

But after some further reflection, I came to realize the "poor design" was a symptom of a greater cause:

The product tries to do too much.

I'm beating a dead horse by referencing suckless software again, but that core philosophy applies here too. Both digital and industrial design suffer from bloat. Far too often I witness fellow designers over-engineer customer requests. Or they add excessive bloat to new product features. It's almost a rarity these days to find designers who tackle work as single items. Everything expands. Everything needs to do one little extra "cool" thing. Nothing is ever taken away.

I'm sure the designers meant well with the creation of this dual coffee maker. It's interesting to combine both a standard 12-cup percolator and "pod-based" serving options. In theory it sounds quite handy. One appliance that tackles two use-cases. Think of the counter space you'll save!

Unfortunately, in practice, it fails.

Product Decline

I've felt product quality decline in both household appliances and software. Companies no longer seem content with doing one thing well. Everyone needs to reach out into many verticals. Everyone copies their competitors.The need to "grow" their existing features. Adding things that no one asked for. Products are getting slower and losing focus.

People tend to place all that blame on top-level management or developers. They do deserve some blame - but not all. Designers cause a lot of these issues on their own and it's easy to understand why.

The design field drops new designers into a world of bloat. They don't stand a chance. The initial programs introduced to them are behemoth, proprietary pieces of garbage. No other options are available. No one is making strides in this field of "design tool software" because it's a massive uphill battle. Those that try, get snatched up by existing platforms. Designers don't have the luxury of "choice" as much as developers do (within reason). It's a very locked-down industry.

So of course designers will carry this mentality into their own work. It's all they have known. "X and Y companies designed their insert-feature-here with all these extras, so we'll do the same". Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.

The only advice I can give to designers is this: try not to add to the problem. I'm not asking you to move mountains. But consider working somewhere else if your career only adds more bloat to the world. (Easier said than done, I know). Or keep doing what you're doing. What do I know - I'm only some guy who rambles on the web.

Back to the Coffee Maker

So the Keurig is gone. Trashed. The company doesn't want the product back, they tell you to scrap it. "We'll send you a new one for free". Such a waste.

Instead, I snagged the cheapest and most basic coffee maker I could find. It cost me $12. It has no clock, no programming options, no base settings or cleaning functions. Hell, there aren't even level numbers on the water reservoir tank.

You add your scoops of coffee grounds, along with desired amount of water. Then you switch on the (only) button at the side of the machine. After a handful of minutes, you have coffee.

And it's been running perfect for over 8 months now. I clean it every so often by brewing with a small mixture of vinegar and water. That's it. No need for "specialty cleaners" that cost almost as much as the machine itself. The points of failure get reduced as well, since the machine is bare-bones. Nothing can break when there is nothing to break...

"Brewing" Software

At least, for me, I plan to only design what needs to be. If someone asks for a "coffee", they'll get a cup of hot, black coffee and nothing else.