Lessons Learned from Coffee Pod Stories

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Coffee Cups

Image by Freepik

What types of things might happen when we don't fully understand, explore, or address:

  • the breadth of the whole concept space,
  • a product's many users, and
  • the voice of the customer?

We explore a public consumer complaint and upset over coffee pods. And we imagine what may have happened (or didn't happen) during design development that could have helped avoid the issues from the start.

What are some of the lessons learned from coffee pod stories?

We explore this ongoing, public story to gain some insight that we can apply to our own designs.

What are some lessons learned from coffee pod stories?

  1. Trace the voice of the customer to the engineering requirements while ensuring the intent is correct. Translate not just physical features but the user's process, too.
  2. Clearly define the scope of the product's use space, including the product's end.
  3. Include all the users, manufacturing and disposal, too.

All of these could be considered under the umbrella of understanding the users and the concept space of the product. Quality tools and frameworks provide great ways to discuss and define these things with customers and the team, before we even start product design. We can get early design inputs that affect the product design decisions we make.

A story timeline

Consumer awareness

Consumers give their reaction and change their decision after learning more about the product.

The class action lawsuit

Consumers react to the situation and the judge's comments about the case.

A company response

One company's response involved a lot of testing and development to react. Visit the cited website to see the breadth of their response.

A curious statement made on that page:

"We’ve spent years completing intensive testing, development, and supply chain transition to produce a product that is not only recyclable, but can actually be recycled."

"Recyclable K-Cup Pods & Recycling Information." Keurig. www.keurig.com/recyclable, Accessed 28 Feb 2023.


  1. Keith Fong on March 19, 2023 at 10:35 PM

    Hi, Dianna:
    The first Earth Day was in 1970 so I’m not inclined to think that product design engineers in the 2000s are somehow unable to figure out without the assistance of a detailed specification that “recyclable” means to the product consumers that they should be able to toss the packet directly into the recycle bin. The engineers, if they had any doubts, could have engaged in 10 minutes of market research and asked some friends and family what a recyclable pod meant to them.

    I’m sure the Keurig product design engineers actually use the product and they are dealing with the waste. There is nothing in the redesigned product that they couldn’t have done in the original design.

    I certainly hope this is a case where the executives in the company decided to say the product was recyclable over the objections of the engineering staff. If the engineering staff said the product was recyclable because it could be sent to a single processing facility via the post and the individual components were recyclable at great expense, those engineers would be a discredit to the profession.

    • Dianna on March 22, 2023 at 1:41 PM

      Hi Keith,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      My intent is that this “what if” example of a simple product we’re all familiar with can translate to those other product design efforts that are much more complex.

      I’m sure you’ve seen instances when engineering decisions were made to enhance product performance without much thought of how it could affect the use process, but which did significantly in a bad way. I have! I cannot speak of my particular examples, so I look elsewhere to public stories.

      If you think of another public example of this type of situation that we could explore, as it affects design engineering choices, please let me know! Maybe we could explore it.