A chocolate cake and the user experience

When a simple home activity gave me thoughts about UX project mistakes.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a chocolate cake for my daughters (4 and 6 years old). I called them to announce my plans and, as expected, they jumped for joy with the news.

I’m pretty sure that by the time I told them about the cake, their little minds started imagining how the cake would look, smell and taste. They must have imagined exactly how it would be like, or how they wanted it to be.

What they didn´t imagine is that I secretly decided that it would be a healthy cake. So I replaced all ingredients and used wonderful healthy ingredients like whole wheat flour, rolled oats, linseed, quinoa, chia seeds and 100% cocoa powder. I thought that no one would notice the changes… I mean, 100% cocoa powder is almost the same as chocolate, right?

When the cake was ready, I was delighted to see how beautiful it looked: the cake had risen to a perfect height and it didn´t shrink. There was a nice brownish color. It was crispy around the edges and looked soft on the inside.

However, the first thing I noticed was that it didn´t have that wonderful chocolate cake smell. I really missed the freshly-baked aroma. But that was just a detail that no one else would notice.

The girls were really excited to taste it!

But guess what: no one liked it.

The texture of the cake was really strange and dry, the cocoa powder made it bitter and it had no taste of chocolate at all. The linseed pieces were too hard and the chia seeds tasted funny.

Nobody even wanted to finish the piece that was on the plate.

The cake grade was a 3 out of 10, and I was very disappointed.

As I didn’t want to bin the cake, it occurred to me that a good chocolate frosting would fix the problem. Then, with French hazelnut oil, melted chocolate, sugar and cream, I made the perfect icing. I covered the cake with a generous amount of frosting, and it looked even more attractive.

It was time to taste it again. The frosting really helped, because it was a pretty good one, but the cake was still not good. It was a bad cake with a good frosting. The grade went from a 3 to a 4.

Yet I didn´t give in. This time I decided to add a nice blackberry jelly as a filling. It would definitely increase the grade! So it took me some time to carefully cut the cake in half, spread the jelly over each half and put it back together.

The cake was even more beautiful, it looked like the kind of cake that Nigella would do.

The best jelly picture I found online.

Time to taste it. Third time is a charm, right?

But that beautiful cake was a grade 5.

The cake was still bad.

Then I realized that even if I added cherries, nutella or even gold dust, the cake would still be bad. The idea that I had sold the kids was the idea of a chocolate cake. So it just had to look like a chocolate cake, feel like a chocolate cake, smell and taste like one, and it would do the trick.

But I did something else, I did a bad cake and tried to “gourmetize” it.

If I had just accepted that the cake was not good at all, it would have been easier. I would not have lost time and money with things that would just add frills to what should be good — in its essence. My mistake.

At the end of this, I realized that these kind of mistakes also happens at work.

And now on, when dealing with projects, I will remember these chocolate cake experience facts:

1 — The idea that you sell must be perfect in what people will expect of it: Know exactly what the essence of the product is and make sure it is there;
2 — If something looks beautiful, it does not necessarily mean that it is good;
3- Adding frills does not guarantee that a bad product will turn into a good one;
4- Adding frills to a bad product might make you lose time and money;
5- No matter how hard it may seem, sometimes it is better to consider that the product is useless and discard it;
6- It’s hard to fool people that know exactly what they are expecting.
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