UX case study

Fixing usability for specialty coffee guides

Best Coffee Guide saved me from bad coffee, so I wanted to save them from bad UX. This project is a give-back to the people who contributed to putting specialty cafés on a map. Cafés, however, don’t seem to appreciate these guides. How to create a win-win for everyone under these circumstances?


Bad coffee can ruin my day — over the years I’ve developed questionable heuristics to help me decide if a place is worth even trying. Eventually, a North London barista told me about the Best Coffee Guide and my coffee life changed ever since. BCG saved me from bad coffee.

But the BCG app has some UX flaws. And since they saved me from bad coffee, I wanted to save them from bad UX. “You save me from bad, I save you from bad—right?”  Not quite so.

Disclaimer: I'm in no way affiliated with BCG.

Problem’s problem

I thought that sharing my intention to improve the UX of specialty coffee guides would be met by enthusiastic feedback from anyone involved in the niche that I wrote to (Specialty Coffee Association, the specialty guides themselves, my own coffee supplier, and some local specialty pioneers).

Getting no reply was a clue in itself  —  I've learned that creating a win-win for everyone is much tougher. My definition of win-win was the first assumption I had to test, so I built a mindmap to find out where my intention was in the grand scheme of coffee things.

What, how, why

What is the human problem being solved?
Best Coffee Guide can literally save you from having a bad day just because, for example, you have a more sensitive digestive system to overburnt coffee.
These guides connect you to delightful experiences, but the experience of searching a cafe using any of the specialty guides is not delightful and can even become frustrating, because the UX of search on each system is ineffective.
How do you know it’s a real human problem? (i.e. what research insights or data backs it up?)
I’ve tested two coffee guides with five people. Only one in five people could complete the task of finding a cafe in a specific area. The rest either gave up the task because they didn’t know what else to do, or they managed to complete the task after they’d been given some clues.
The eight people I interviewed said they all had a challenge when they had to find a specialty cafe when traveling.
Why does the business care about this? What business metrics or outcomes might the solution affect?
BCG: Best Coffee Guide should care about this because, for example, 25% of people using their app might never be aware that they can pay for a premium subscription, even if they are aware there is such a thing — because they don’t see the payment button (the button is buried 700px down the page).
ECT: A significant percentage of European Coffee Trip users might never see the cafes on a map, and another significant percentage might never find the precious specialty guides, just because they are labeled as “city guides” and with tourist landmarks on the background.
The first metric is task completion rate — for my testing with five users it was 25% for both BCG and ECT. The second metric is satisfaction: for BCG is was 52.5%, and for ECT it was 40%.


As a tourist, the odds of running randomly into a specialty café are smaller than seeing first a gray dot in this 1,000 dots image:


This challege can be solved at four different levels:

1) Tourist blog sharing coffee experiences around the world
(eg 2FoodTrippers).  
Plus: great tourist experience in images.  
Minus: it doesn’t put cafes on a map.

2) Put cafes on the map (European Coffee Trip).
Plus: you know where the cafes are on the map.
Minus: not a location-based search, so you can’t see where you are in relation to the cafes on the map.

3) Best Coffee Guide uses location to show you cafes on a map around your location.
you can check how far (in minutes or kilometres) the closest cafe is from you.
Minus: You can’t search cafes near a specific location (eg near a hotel or a museum).

4) My benchmark prototype helps you find specialty cafes near a specific location (near you, or near a postcode, or near a museum, park or neighbourhood) or in a city, or you can search by specialty cafe name.


As this is an independent project born out of my passion for specialty coffee, I had the freedom to take all necessary roles when required:

- A leadership role to decide the product vision;
- A UX researcher hat to find out what people need most from such an app and in what context;
- A product designer approach to create a benchmark prototype as the best output to serve the project purpose (to help BCG to improve their app and to increase the number of premium accounts);
- An interaction designer knowledge to find the simplest and most efficient search pattern to incorporate all four solutions above and to build a functional prototype for usability testing to support the completion of the main tasks;
- A UX researcher role moderating five remote comparative usability tests and then synthesizing top usability issues for the three systems compared.
- A visual designer role delivering layouts following the Material Design guidelines.


Discover-Define-Develop-Deliver (the double diamond process).
Discover: Mind map; desk research; interviews; ampetitive analysis; SWOT;
Define: product vision; key groups; personas; pain points; key tasks; journey maps;
Develop: benchmark prototype and comparative usability testing with five users (with an iteration after testing with three users);
Deliver: revised benchmark prototype next to the Best Coffee Guide, to highlight the improvements BCG needs.

I started research with a mindmap to put in context all my biases and to lay ground for the user groups. I’ve interviewed eight people on their specialty experience, why they still drink bad coffee, and how they solve the “good coffee” problem when they’re tourists.

Product vision

The competitive analysis of five competitors, put against a SWOT, helped define a product vision, which fits well one of the BCG app reviews.

Key groups; personas; pain points; key tasks

Based on the interviews, I created the key user groups. The initial mind map helped adding nuances to primary and secondary personas (“The Enthousiast Tourist and “Not trying out new experiences”). The pain points result from our main persona trying to do the main task using three different systems: Best Coffee Guide, Europea Coffee Trip, and Yelp.

Journey maps reveal task completion issues

Benchmark prototype; comparative usability testing

Comparative usability testing with five users on the benchmark
prototype, Best Coffee Guide and European Coffee Trip.

Benchmark prototype—revised design

Benchmark & Best Coffee Guide: Onboarding, search, subscribe

Interactive prototype

Results / Outcomes / Next

I started this project from the desire to improve Best Coffee Guide app usability. I've only suggested improvements for the most frequent problems because I’ve only tested with five users, but there's still scope for solving the pain points of our secondary persona with a study of how to avoid bias when reviewing cafes after visiting them.

Beyond that, there are many questions from my initial mind map that are still intact. Who is taking care of specialty ignorants? I dream of a specialty coffee app focused on community spirit and appealing to people who should discover the basics of the specialty niche—these people are as much as 99% of the world and they would appreciate a better coffee cup.

Lessons learned

For this project I wanted to extend focus beyond UX; I wanted to take into account the real competitive context and how it influences design, strategy, content and pricing structure. I’ve discovered that:
- UX has a place in the greater scheme of things;
- a product’s strength can compensate (to a certain degree) for bad UX;
- a product doesn’t just exist out there by chance—someone has produced meaningful work at its invisible foundation.

Read the full story on Medium (17 min read)

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