Can technology be more sensual?
News & TrendsInteriorCuisine

Can technology be more sensual?

Pia Seidel
Zurich, on 27.05.2019
Pictures: Thomas Kunz
Post-editing: Eva Francis
Fully automated coffee machines reduce you to the position of spectator and aren't exactly spectacular. Nine students' designs show how cutting-edge technology can still offer a sensory experience.
From the slow design series Designers purposefully create things that forgo technology or slow down processes. It might seem absurd, but these objects should be sustainable and improve our wellbeing. My series highlights the «slow design» trend with current examples.

What kinds of interaction are important to you? The kind shaped by technology or humans? When it comes to coffee, these are easy questions for me. Even though there are automatic coffee makers which make a cappuccino at the press of a button, I still value the manual process.

I met some kindred spirits in Milan. I spent five days there for Milan Design Week. «Buongiorno Pia, come stai?» was my greeting each morning from the barista at the espresso bar I visited daily. I chatted to him or other customers while I stood and happily sipped my «caffè» before making my way to the first «Fuorisalone» event.

Product designers at Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin share my passion for slow coffee. The focus of their «HighTech x HighTouch: Coffee» event during Design Week was the coffee culture of the future. Modern society is shaped by efficiency: whether it's coffee to go or capsules, it has to be fast. The designers are worried that this could signal the end of sensory experiences, so they've developed high-tech machines that still deliver on sensuality.

«Coffee to experience»

«Soyuz» by Thomas Heyder makes the whole grinding and brewing process visible.
«Soyuz» by Thomas Heyder makes the whole grinding and brewing process visible.
«Intuitive Lever» by Tilman Holz has a lever that kicks off the action.
«Intuitive Lever» by Tilman Holz has a lever that kicks off the action.

All of the coffee machines we saw need the user to take action. They stimulate all of the senses and encourage interaction between human and machine. The «Soyuz» machine has its inner workings on show. It looks like a spaceship and focuses on the essentials. The open structure provides both explanation and entertainment: you can see the liquid at every stage, which makes the wait more enjoyable.

The «Bunaa» also provides a spectacle. It encourages manual input with electromagnetic elements and creates an interactive coffee ceremony. More visibility is provided by LEDs, which light up to show which component is currently active.

The «Intuitive Lever» machine by Tilman Holz centres on a lever which will please the child in you. It just screams to be used. Pulling the lever dictates the coarseness of the grind and the strength of the coffee, but you don't need superhuman strength for strong coffee. All the other parts are transparent so that you can see exactly when maintenance is required and when you can do it yourself.

The «Niiir» elegantly nods its head when it gets close to the cup. When the coffee is ready, the machine moves its beak back and tucks it into its chest where it cleans itself. This design can pour out multiple coffees at the same time, allowing the prospect of uninterrupted conversation between several people.

An experience: the tablet in the «Bunaa» set features embedded LEDs. Designed by Jacob Sasse.
An experience: the tablet in the «Bunaa» set features embedded LEDs. Designed by Jacob Sasse.
Simon von Schmude's «Niiir» design interacts with cups and boasts elegant movement.
Simon von Schmude's «Niiir» design interacts with cups and boasts elegant movement.

Composing coffee

Have you ever been waiting in a coffee shop queue and felt overwhelmed by the countless options? Do you even understand the difference between «tall» and «grande»? You're not the only one who's broken into a sweat at the front of the queue. The Berlin students have come up with a concept for this too, which is set to slow down the fast coffee trend.

This is where the «Coffee Composer» comes in: it turns ordering in public back into a pleasant experience and reduces stress levels. Like in a game, you play your chips, which represent ingredients you can use to create your coffee. The self-service concept delivers transparency and entertainment. At the end, the price is projected onto the table.

The «Coffee Composer» allows you to choose every detail.
The «Coffee Composer» allows you to choose every detail.
Use «tokens» to determine the ingredients. Designed by Xinyue Yang and Antonia Nandori.
Use «tokens» to determine the ingredients. Designed by Xinyue Yang and Antonia Nandori.

Enjoy slowing down

The prototypes presented at HighTech x HighTouch show that we can expect more sensuality from smart objects in the future. Until they reach the market, I'll keep to my daily ritual. I have a portafilter machine at home with a milk frother, which I find challenging. While it's warming up, I take my time waking up and enjoy the experience. Even though I only manage latte art half as good as the masterpieces created by my barista in Milan, I'm hanging on in there.

Follow me for future instalments in the «slow design» series. Just click the black button next to my profile. I can’t wait to have you on board.

13 people like this article


Pia Seidel
Pia Seidel
Senior Editor, Zurich

«There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. I believe in the latter.» – Albert Einstein


These articles might also interest you