A Bit More

October ??, 2021

I spend many an afternoon browsing through a nearby Crate & Barrel nearby. It’s a great place to find interior design ideas, and they always have an ample selection of home goods and appliances. For industrial designers, there are few places with as many materials, finishes, manufacturing processes, and high-touch interactive elements on display – ripe for inspiration.

It was on one visit to the kitchen section that something caught my eye. In addition to your usual presets and controls – toast, bagel, frozen, degree of toasting – recent Breville toasters have two additional buttons: “A Bit More” and “Lift and Look.” Simple names that are self-explanatory. Ever load a slice of bread, wait for however long “2” on the dial is, and have it pop up, only to find that the slice is still more bread than toast? “A Bit More” takes care of that, like “snooze” on your morning alarm. “Lift and Look” scratches the itch of “is my toast done?” and “is my toast burnt?”

I’d never seen these on any other toaster (certainly not the one at home that’s even older than I am), so I did a quick web search. A 2017 piece from the Atlantic reveals that these two buttons are the work of an industrial designer by the name of Keith Hensel.

Hensel had been pondering the problem people have with toasters. ‘Your bread comes up too light, so you put it back down, then get distracted and forget, and it goes through a full cycle and burns.… [W]hy can’t the consumer have more control? Why can’t they have “A Bit More?”

“A Bit More” and “Lift and Look” are standard across Breville’s line of toasters.
“A Bit More” and “Lift and Look” turn a potentially-frustrating guessing game into something that is deliberately less precise but, paradoxically, offers greater control. They take advantage of a unique motorized basket, but crucially, the mechanism is in service of these features, which are in turn an acknowledgment of our indeterminate, messy world. “A Bit More,” snooze buttons, and pinch-to-zoom are natural ways to interact with the world. You don’t need to read an operator manual because they speak directly to human nature. Indeed, technology is at its best when you don’t even know that its there.

What makes the Breville toaster special isn’t that it uses a fancy motor that lifts the bread slowly rather than springing up or that it solves some fatal flaw that other toasters have. Rather, it’s special because it makes toasting just that bit better in a way that’s so straightforward and effortless. And sometimes, that little bit is what separates a good product from a great one.

The Atlantic piece explores deeper the role of designers and the tension between intuition and empiricism in the design process. It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in UX and design. I’ll leave you with this quote:

The designer’s job is not to please or comfort the user, but to make an object even more what it already is. Design is the stewardship of essence—not the pursuit of utility, or delight, or form.… The design opportunities that would otherwise go unnoticed emerge not from what people know about or desire for toasting, but from deeply pursuing the nature of toasting itself.

Tags: design
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