Importance of Real World Testing

Recently I went to a franchise burrito joint with the wife (Welcome to Moes!). It was a bit after 12 noon, and the lunch rush was hitting as we received our flour-wrapped deliciousness. I grabbed a table while the wife went around the corner to fill our water cups. Maybe 5 minutes later I’m halfway done with my Burrito, and she’s not back. I pulled myself away from my meal and walked around the corner to check on her.

Surprisingly, I see a very long line of unhappy people waiting to use the one fountain drink machine… waiting only for the fountain machine- not the [manual] burrito assembly line (that line was actually shorter). My wife was #2 in a line 8 customers long (yes, I counted), and this is after about 5 minutes of waiting. Why does a customer have to wait 5 minutes just to get a glass of water? I give you the Coke Freestyle.

Coke Freestyle Soda Fountain

The Coke Freestyle. Restaurant innovation, or refreshment 'bottle'-neck?

Through the touch screen interface, this computerized fountain ‘marvel’ allows you to dispense ice, any number of beverages, and even add flavoring. The available cola-flavor combo permutations present you around 100 different beverage choices in one machine. The Freestyle was released to much hype and applause as the first redesign of the fountain drink dispenser in 125 years. One blog even went so far as to examine the brilliance of the freestyle’s disruptive innovation.

Great right!? So why the long line? Was it broken? Nope.

Fountain machine with lots of heads

Multiple Users, Redundant Backups!

The problem was in the concept itself: the new interface was actually a reduction in users per minute when compared to the more conventional multi-fountain interface. The Freestyle couldn’t serve people as fast as the older cola-barrages. Why?

The most obvious reason for the throughput reduction is clear: it was hard enough choosing between coke, sprite, orange stuff, pibb, and dew. Now you have 100 choices? Selection of your drink takes time.

Furthermore, when you have multiple fountain heads, multiple people can use the same machine if you have a sudden build up of users. The new touch screen interface forces one-at-a-time use.

Also, the Freestyle does not have a separate water spigot. If you simply want water like my poor wife, then you must wait behind all the people finding the right flavor for their coke -debating aloud between raspberry and lime- for touch screen access just to get water!

Not to mention kids want to play with it, and grandmas don’t know what to do with anything that lights up. The Freestyle is a slower interface than the previous fountain machine concept. Why Moe’s only had one of these with no other fountains I can’t be sure.

I will give Moes and Coke the benefit of the doubt. I’ll assume my wife and I were unwittingly participating in beta testing of a new product. This is good. Testing new devices with real-world customers in a real-world setting is essential. Some problems may only surface with customer interaction in a day-to-day real life setting.

Hopefully the problems I experienced with this new interface were noticed and influential to the dudes at Coke, and they will somehow increase user throughput while retaining functionality. Heck, at least put a water spigot on the thing!

About Ed

This Engineering Dude is a contract Mechanical Engineer with 12 years experience in comprehensive electro-mechancial product design. His consumer and OEM products have been sold worldwide in the laboratory, medical, clinical, and research markets. He has also designed orthopedic rehabilitation hardware, firearms, pneumatic weapons, mountain bikes, and even furniture.
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