Those New(ish) “Infinite” Selection Coke Dispensers

Those New(ish) “Infinite” Selection Coke Dispensers

I stopped for lunch at a fast food place with one of those Coke machines that has dozens of drink options. Whenever I encounter them I briefly ponder how they came up with the IA. Having a category for Low/NoCal and Caffeine Free at the top level makes it harder to find beverages that are both sugar and caffeine free, but dispenses with finicky filtering, which is important in a relatively crude touch interface. I digress. In this case, there were two dispensers side by side, one with a long line-up of people waiting for soda and the other with no line; it was essentially out of order, but ever so much more interesting than had it displayed an out of order sign!

I’ve been struggling with some burn-out and mulling over what really ignites my interest, hovering in a state of mild uncertainty about how I feel about user interface design. But as soon as I realized that the screen on display on the Coke machine was the administrative interface I pulled out my camera and took a picture of it without even giving it a thought. I was instantly intrigued to see the inner workings and get a peek at an information architecture I ordinarily wouldn’t have access to (this was something I also enjoyed in my work with Eaton Corporation when dealing with the manufacturing side of their business).

So many things to observe on this screen! What stands out to me the most is that I don’t have interface cues to understand where I am in the hierarchy (or whether there is a hierarchy)–it *seems* like we may be in the Service Menu, but who knows? A similar issue exists with the Dashboard–I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at and how it relates to HFCS and Water — an even more intriguingly to Product Agitation or Switches and Locks–oh, how I long to see the children of *those* categories!

(At first I’m mildly surprised to see that caffeine free diet coke is lower than regular diet coke–but based on the dates, my guess is the syrup for the regular diet coke was replaced just a couple days ago but the CF diet coke has languished since April, so that makes more sense.)

In hindsight the other customers may have thought the lady taking pictures of the Coke machine was an odd duck (or maybe a Corporate Spy?!), but I was instantly heartened, concluding that I surely still love interface design if encountering the backend interface for a soda machine made my day.  Enterprise software interfaces typically get so little love–but can have such outsized impact on the user experience for their users–the ones I typically classify as “non-elective” users. Even something as mundane as a Coke machine has so much opportunity for improved UX.

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