Do we believe that the brown pot is decaf?

October 23, 2009

copyright 2009 by Arthur Fink

It seemed odd to me — a brown coffee pot, with a sign that said “Decaf”, while all the other coffee was in orange or red pots.  Decaf usually goes in an orange pot, so this was confusing to me.  “Great subject for a blog” post, I thought to myself, but drinking some of the coffee and reading the morning news felt more important at that hour.

But then an other guest walked into the hotel breakfast room, and asked me if we could trust the “decaf” sign.  Evidently I was not the only one confused!

We are accustomed to various conventions, color codes, configurations, etc.  Decaf goes in an orange pot, oxygen  in a green cylinder, stop signs are red, and (at least in Europe) the cold water faucet has blue markings.  Violate these, and we leave users confused and anxious.

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4 Responses to “Do we believe that the brown pot is decaf?”

  1. Lee Karker said

    I have encountered this same situation and my reaction is not to trust the sign.

  2. Aren’t we just slaves to custom? Or is it that we are empowered by predictability?

    • Arthur Fink said

      Neither, in my opinion. We have multiple languages, and are put off when they deliver contradictory messages.

      For most of us, orange means decaf, and brown means the hi-test.

      I’m fascinated by how many such codes we accept. What would be your reaction to a bright red traffic sign, shaped as an octagon, that said “Speed limit 50 mph”? Or, would you understand the red octagon sign even if it had no text at all (not even “stop”).

      I’d suggest that using such visual languages is adaptive behavior — not something that we’re slave to!

  3. We like this article. As avid lovers of espresso and for someone who consumes 6-8 cups, this article sticks. I like the style of writing too! Great job!!

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