Industrial Design: Only High-Class Coffee Beans Need Apply

Nov. 23, 2008
BMW Group DesignworksUSA took two years to develop a high-end espresso machine

Edited By Leslie Gordon

What is called “authentic design” is a big factor in the success of premium brands. So says BMW Group DesignworksUSA in California. This design approach depends on knowledge of what makes for iconic, visually appealing shapes. Also baked in is a sensitivity for different cultures. The firm says the approach helped realize a striking design in the development of Starbucks’ Sirena, a high-end espresso machine for domestic use.

Designers studied the traditional “coffee experience” cultures of European cities such as Rome, Paris, and Munich. In these sophisticated locales, the coffee shop has become the meeting place for discerning coffee connoisseurs who consider coffee trendy, versatile, and delicious. These factors led DesignworksUSA to think the Sirena design should fulfill the wishes of those wanting to brew their coffee at home in a classy fashion. Their model was in the style of the traditional espresso master, known in Italian bars and cafes as the Barista.

So the firm figured the new machine should include attributes of the original portafilter design found in cafes. Usually made of brass, the portafilter attaches to the head of semiautomatic espresso machines and holds a puck of coffee in its basket. The device directs high-pressure hot water through the coffee. Designers also deemed it necessary that the Sirena embody Starbucks’ brand statement, “Daily Inspiration.”

DesignworksUSA took two years to develop the machine. In doing so it tossed out various product architectures, gestures (visual cues), colors, and materials to come up with an urbane espresso machine based on the elegant and uplifting Art Deco style.

The machine’s high-tech elements are intended to make it durable and easy to use. For example, colored illuminating diodes signal a specific status as when brewing temperature is optimal. And the inclusion of two boilers helps facilitate both brewing the coffee and steaming the characteristic milk froth. Durability comes from a black and silver metal housing produced in a complex die-casting operation.

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