Costa Express: Enchanting the Experience Through the 5 Senses

BACKGROUND. There is nothing magical about purchasing a snack or a drink from vending machines. I bet it happened to all of us to pass by an anonymous (and sometimes dirty) vending machine at the airport or at the train station, try multiple times to insert coins that a constantly rejected until, for some reason, they finally are accepted, and then shake violently the machine because what you bought got stuck inside. All of this effort and frustration just to get a quick snack or drink not particularly memorable.

Should it continue to be like this? In an era in which the possibilities for building unforgettable experiences are almost endless, we believe that design should take a stand to generate pleasant and satisfying sensations for customers, indirectly helping companies to increase their market share.

THE 5 SENSES. When we think about having a good hot cup of coffee, our imaginary is immediately filled by positive sensations generated by the memory of past experiences. With the work provided for the British multinational coffeehouse company Costa Coffee, our goal consisted in stimulating the 5 senses to replicate the cozy atmosphere of their coffee bars into a vending machine.

Sight. The vending machine is able to recognize the various moments of the purchasing experience. Since sight is considered to be the most important sense humans have, we have designed a flexible user interface, able to display different messages according to the moments, as brighter images when the consumer is distant or videos of coffee been made when the selection is done. In addition, also forms, colors and materials of the vending machine were designed to contribute to the experience, enhancing positive affiliation with the Costa Coffee brand.

Smell. The sense of smell has a long memory. Every time that olfactory stimulus reappears, emotions and sensations surface again with great vividness. For this reason, the Costa Coffee vending machine was designed to release scents of coffee and chocolate, in order to attract customers and recreate the sensation of entering a Costa Coffee store.

Hearing. Sounds were developed with the double function to envelop the user’s experience by marking the preparation process rhythm, and to recreate the sounds of a Costa Coffee shop. Indeed, the vending machine delivers a sense of quality by providing the sound of coffee being ground assuring that fresh beans are being used instead of instant coffee.

Touch. During the design process, we considered also the tactile perception towards which people can understand the shape and size of objects without the use of the sight. Touch is not only stimulated by the heat of coffee, but also most through a selection of materials that enhance the quality of the experience, avoiding predictable or low-quality surface treatments.

Taste. Finally, taste was ‘the sense’ at the center of the whole project. The Costa Coffee vending machine offers 250 different flavors, easily selectable thanks to the user interface designed by Pininfarina and realized using fresh beans to deliver exactly the same quality delivered in the stores and assure customers’ fidelity over time.

The involvement of one or more senses helps people remember things in a deeper way because they work as powerful triggers of emotions instilled in the subconscious of the human mind. From a business perspective, experiences stimulating as many senses as possible affect customers’ perception, judgement and behavior towards a brand.


Nicola Girotti – Head of Ideation & Industrial Design


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