Distracting coffee breaks

interaction design • 2019

Improving coffee breaks at a start-up incubator

During the course Exploring Interactions, we had to choose a context. In it, we had to pick a target audience and design something with a specific effect in a certain way. I picked coffee breaks at a start-up incubator in Delft and its employees. By doing observations and a contextmapping session, I discovered they did not take ‘proper’ breaks, even though they wanted to. So my design goal became:

something for employees of YES!Delft start-ups, to have a coffee break which captures their focus

Illustration with several people showing an abstraction of the current steps in the ‘customer’ journey.
The current behaviour of my target audience.

The focus of the course was on designing an interaction through explorations, with the guidance of an Interaction Vision. Mine was “peeling the protective plastic cover off a new product”; something which I feel is focused (which could lead to the focus capturing break), productive, easy, free and pleasant.

The visualisation of my Interaction Vision.

A hand-driven coffee vending machine

After testing popping bubble wrap bubbles, planting basil shoots and an on-screen interaction, I tried to let people focus on the coffee making itself during their break. By letting users grind their own coffee, fold a filter and pour on some water, I got people to think about something unrelated to their work for a bit. After iterating through some configurations of this concept, I came to my final design: a hand-driven coffee vending machine.

A gray, dark blue and acid green website, in 2000s style.
The user is guided through using the machine by lights. For the evaluation prototype, I attached several RGB LEDs to a Wemos D1 (WiFi connected microprocessor), in order to *Wizard of Oz* the process without using sensors.
A gray, dark blue and acid green website, in 2000s style.
A rendering of the final prototype: a hand-driven coffee vending machine, where every action is visible. Through the manual grinding and water pumping, the user is distracted from their work.

Designing an interaction through user research and tests

This was an individual project of five months, where I did user research (observations and contextmapping), interventions (rapid prototyping, model making and programming an Arduino) and evaluations (in-context testing with observations and interviews).

A gray, dark blue and acid green website, in 2000s style.
A quick test at our faculty.
A gray, dark blue and acid green website, in 2000s style.
Testing in context: I observed as participants tried the machine and only approached them afterwards, to see the usage as naturally as possible.


  1. Doing in-context observations and interviews requires you to overcome quite a bit of anxiety, but it’s definitely worth it.
  2. However, every bit of research or test needs prepared questions—both for yourself and to ask the potential participant.
  3. In retrospect I realised I had made the mental switch from designing a product to designing an interaction.

Where can I find you? 👀

In a lot of places I guess, but definitely here: