When Used Properly

21 Jan 2015

It is well known in the tech world that to be successful, you need a fussy way to make coffee. A couple years ago, after seeing some great recommendations, I thought I might finally try the legendary AeroPress. Next time I was down at our local fancy coffee shop, waiting for a fancy coffee, I took a look on their fancy shelves, and found the box. It was not what I expected.

An AeroPress box is hexagonal, cheap, and ugly. Enough people had recommended it that I’d expected AeroPress may be the best coffee maker. Holding a flimsy box that declared “The best coffee maker” in 200pt bold italic Frankfurter, I was less sure.

The box seemed to anticipate I might be doubtful, and as such it sought to reassure me. Flanking the unappealing product photo, it was covered nine long customer testimonials from notable coffee luminaries such as “Margie Gray, Milburn, NJ” and “David Maier, Brush Prairie, WA.” One glowing testimonial starts like this:

When used properly, AeroPress produces a remarkably good espresso-style coffee

When used properly? I felt awkward, as one does in the pharmacy when they’re trying to read a package they don’t want to be seen reading. I put the box back down gingerly, collected my fussy coffee, and fled.

In the months that followed I kept hearing recommendations for this thing, so I eventually asked for one for my birthday. Karen got me one, but she had to ask: “Is that the one you wanted? It seemed like it, but the box looked…” Yeah, I know. It looked like infomercial junk.

Since then, I’ve fallen in love with AeroPress. I use one at home and one at work, and make AeroPress coffee almost every day. It’s clean, it’s simple, it’s durable, and it makes good coffee. I’ve since learned its quirky origins as a whiz-bang invention by an inventor of whiz-bang things, which explains the “As Seen On TV” style packaging. I now concur that it is indeed the best coffee maker. Still, while the box’s quote was true in the end, its Five Guys testimonials-in-random-fonts approach made it hard to believe.

In recent years, coffee aficionados, a group that rarely agrees on anything, seem mostly in agreement: AeroPress is the easiest, cheapest way to get started making good coffee. At only $27, it should be a strong seller in every department and housewares store in the country. Instead, it’s mostly sold online.

Side by side on a shelf with a more familiar coffee machine or french press, our beloved plunger is going to lose out. It’s unattractively packaged, strange, and its price seems too good to be true. I suspect the testimonials are intended to make it seem less weird, but beside the clean lines of a Bodum’s box they do the opposite. Shoppers looking for a gift are so turned off by AeroPress’ package that there is a market for aftermarket gift boxes. A sad state for a great product.

One might argue that crafting an attractive design to promote a plastic plunger tube is an insurmountable task. Look no further than the AeroPress World Championship for proof that it can be done well. In recent years, the competition has inspired an array of excellent AeroPress-themed graphic designs.

All of these posters are an order of magnitude nicer than the AeroPress box. After my own heart is the one that depicts the destruction of an AeroPress box.

So, my unsolicited business advice to the AeroPress team at Aerobie is this. Get in touch with one of the talented folks who design the AeroPress Championship posters, and offer them what may be their dream job: design AeroPress some high quality packaging. Commission something that’s worthy of the best coffee maker, and conveys it instead of just claiming it. Sell your great product in something that feels like it will contain something great, and give your customers a complete experience. Then, raise the price by $10 and you’ll sell more AeroPresses than you ever dreamed.

Oh, and let me know if you need a testimonial.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.