Apparatus & Pleasure - Interaction Beyond Functionality

Apparatus & Pleasure - Interaction Beyond Functionality (B.Sc. Thesis, 2007)

A mechanical tea cemeromony as an alternative approach to interaction design that emphasizes pleasure over efficiency

A mechanical tea ceremony is conducted by an apparatus that was designed to brew green tea in a deliberately slow and aesthetically pleasing process. All aspects of the interaction design of the machine emphasize a pleasurable user experience over mere efficiency and utility. Of course it also makes great tea.

Instead of simply ejecting hot liquid from an anonymous black-box, the machine retains all sensual components and affective qualities of the tea-making process. It assists the user only by taking care of the objective technical variables such as ensuring the correct brewing time and the water temperature, that could compromise the quality of the product. Thus, it removes the tedious aspects of the tea-making process, such as timing and anxious waiting, that obstruct the pleasure of tea, while emphasizing the sensual aspects of the process. The result is a mechanical tea ceremony that does not only provide perfectly good tea, but also creates the right mood and experience for users to fully appreciate it.

The ceremony begins as the user fills the strainer with tea leaves and places the packaging on top of the machine. The device reads RFID-tags embedded in the packaging, to set the appropriate brewing temperature and brewing time for a given tea. The user pours fresh boiling water into the big red teapot and inserts a thermometer. Once the 'play' button is pressed, the machine takes over and continues the ceremony.  Once the water has cooled down to the desired value, the strainer is positioned above the teapot and brought down into the water. The remaining waiting time is unobtrusively indicated by an LED that softly pulsates ('breathes') at a gradually increasing rate. After the set amount of time has passed the tea leaves are removed from the water and the machine announces the feshly made tea by playing a soothing rhythmic knocking sound on a real wood block.

A semi-automatic control mode that that allows the user to manually set a desired brewing time and a temperature is also available. As a brew can be precisely reproduced, users can play with the parameters to find their perfect brew. Connoisseurs of high-quality green teas found this particularly appealing and embarked on a journey to find the ideal parameters for each specimen from their expensive tea collection. Once a good setting has been found it can be associated with any available RFID-Tag to be preserved for further use. Full manual control of the strainer is also possible by connecting any classic arcade-style joystick. The choice of materials also reflects the aspired affective qualities. The wooden housing and the metal control knobs of the device were scavenged from the classic 1962 kitchen radio 'Regina ST' manufactured by Nordmende in Bremen, Germany. The big red teapot shown was manufactured by Kockums Malmö, Sweden, most probably in the late 1960ties.

The tea machine was built as a hands-on project underline the theory in my B.Sc. Thesis 'Apparatus and Pleasure - Interaction Beyond Functionality' at Bremen University.

I designed and built the machine in early 2007.
As of 2010 the machine is still operational and being put to daily use.

  • Final Thesis - Bachelor of Science in Digital Media September 2007
    Universität Bremen, Germany (University of Applied Sciences)
    Supervised by Prof. Dr. Frieder Nake and Prof. Christoph Lischka