Cream on Chrome designs an interactive coffeemaker
In times when you can’t physically be together, we digitally share a hot drink with inspiring personalities in our brand new series ‘Coffee Culture’. Today: design duo Cream on Chrome.
Jonas Althaus and Martina Huynh together form the design duo Cream on Chrome. With their interactive installations and design research they build narratives around abstract concepts.
For Z33, Cream on Chrome is not an unknown duo. They participated in the FORMAT edition of 2019, with which Z33 aims to give talent a strong push. After that successful trajectory, we contacted them to design a special coffee machine for the brand new Z33-wing. This resulted in the Greenbox Barista. So grab a cup of coffee and discover what’s so remarkable about this design.
Martina, for your previous project Basic Income Café, you used coffee as a metaphor for the flow of money. Now together with Jonas, you designed a coffeemaker. Is that a coincidence?
M: Now it sounds like a theory (laughs).
J: Why did you choose coffee and not Fanta for Basic Income Café?
M: Because it worked very well as a metaphor. Coffee gives you energy. If you have enough coffee, you can get through the day. When you have enough income, you can buy enough food, etc.
Plus, a coffee café is also a very social setting. People know how to behave there. It is a very inviting place. You can invite someone from a free cup of coffee, you sit down and start talking. And there is also a nice reference to back in the day when you had these coffee houses where affluent men would meet and discuss politics. So yeah, it felt right to use coffee a nice metaphor.
Obviously there is the coffee connection with Basic Income Café, but how did you end up with a coffee maker and what was the idea behind it?
J: The main idea behind it was that you meet a machine that gives you something. But not in such a singular way exchange as a regular coffee machine does. It gives you exactly what you want, but it’s also really boring to interact with it. You don’t get to know it, you’re only there to pick up something. And because of that, you also don’t feel responsible for anything. What happens with the plastic cups? Does it need cleaning? People don’t really care.
So we wanted people to build up a small, brief relationship with it. The easiest way to do it is by involving them into a little game, participating in some way.
M: Exactly. Since the coffee will be free at Z33, we wanted people to take care of the machine with as little maintenance from the staff as well. So we really sell it as a fun experience. The machine is as responsive as possible, with light and sounds, so you can really feel it.
“We wanted people to build up a small, brief relationship with the coffeemaker”
Interactivity plays part your projects. For example 4D News, Basic Income café… Why do you want people to interact with you work?
M: There is something crucial in this moment of interacting or interfacing with something. That determines very much the relationship with it. Our machine is not a simple vending machine where you throw a coin in and you get something and say goodbye to. You start working for your coffee.
And what about the relationship between people? As you mentioned a coffee place has a social aspect as well. Is that important to you?
M: We haven’t seen the coffee machine working with many people yet (due to the coronavirus), but the idea is to fill one carafe of coffee. One carafe makes two to three coffees. So you can just pull yourself a cup and then leave the rest of the coffee standing on the heating plate. So you’re actually already making coffee for the next person. We hope it will play out as we imagined.
J: People actually want to be get in contact with each other but they always need a stupid little reason and we’re happy to give that. The fact that you made a little bit too much coffee for yourself can be a conversation starter.
“We enjoy understanding how things work and look on the inside. So one of the aesthetic inspirations came from making this machine transparent.”
Where did the inspiration come from?
J: We looked at the aesthetics of arcade machines, or other kind of machines that you involve into with a little bit more enthusiasm.
M: We also just enjoy understanding how things work and look on the inside. So one of the aesthetic inspirations came from making this machine kind of transparent. Trough all these bending plexi tubes you really see the water traveling and ending up in a different place. That is not a direct reference, but that idea really opened up the machine.
At the end we’re standing in front of our coffee maker and we’re like: “it really became what we had in mind.” (laughs)
Let’s talk about the materials you used. Some parts are 3-D printed and look very modern, but people also have to work with their hands to make a coffee. It’s a match between a human and a machine. Did you made this connection on purpose?
J: Yeah for sure, from our experience in this day and age, people lose contact to many things. A lot of interaction happens in apps or online. Clicking on things requires very little motion. So it’s always a revelation when somebody experience that they have a body that they can use in some way. (laughs)
M: Also, how you interact with the world, is how you understand it. If you only understand the world through Zoom-meetings or online, that’s a very different and narrow gate to the world as it is.
“It is a very interesting consideration that every part in this building can provoke a meaningful interaction.”
We can also see some ‘special’ elements in your coffee maker, like a sewing wheel, a used hand pump… Why did you chose those objects in particular?
M: The building of Z33 was our first inspiration. The beautiful new wing has some nice ornamental elements like the stairway railings, window elements,… and at the same time it feels modern. That’s why we used some industrial products like a handwheel that speaks of the beginnings of modernity and combined it with flashy new elements. So a wheel from a sewing machine seemed very fitting.
J: We also wanted two different motions. While the wheel is rotating, we chose for a vertical movement to pump. In the end, the users can have a different activation of their muscles.
Because it has such a connection with the building, do you think that this machine can be placed anywhere else?
J: I think it’s a great object for a new museum building. Because furnishing this building is a design job of itself. You don’t want to put a random vending machine there. It is a very interesting consideration that every part in this building can provoke a meaningful interaction. Our machine can be an artwork that is functional as well. It can give the visitors another surprising moment, while still offering just coffee.
M: It feels like there is some room for unconventional surprises in Z33. So this machine is hopefully one of them.
“It feels like there is some room for unconventional surprises in Z33. So this machine is hopefully one of them.”
Does this work inspire you to make more coffee machines?
J: I think it’s a great starting point for us, because we were able to build a machine that is now in an arthouse. It is something that not just looks good, but also is being used by people on a daily basis; which is very cool. Hopefully it will be used by a lot of people for many years. This prospect makes us very proud.
Cream on Chrome portrait by Marie Rime
Photos by Selma Gurbuz