UX, short for “User Experience” is a multi-disciplinary concept often applied to software. UX designers work with the goal of making products that are appealing, easy to use, intuitive and enjoyable. All the things a wine tasting should be.
There are numerous sites listing UX principles, for example, UX Planet, webdesignerdepot.com and mockplus.com. And while they almost entirely focus on digital products, it is possible to extrapolate many of these to the successful planning of a wine tasting, whether you’re organising it professionally, socially or academically.
Below, five principles of UX Design applied to the planning of a wine tasting.
What is the goal you expect your user (guest) to achieve by attending your wine tasting? Is it to simply have a pleasant evening? Is it to study for a WSET certification? Is it to gain an working knowledge of tasting technique?
This will determine the level of complexity and depth of the content you will prepare (put simply, what you’ll say about each bottle).
It will even help you decide which bottles to source. For example, choosing an unusual bottle might be great for a social evening but it won’t be of much help for a study group in need of fine-tunning their palates with textbook examples of famous regions for an exam.
There are many details that can easily break the consistency at a wine tasting: are you pouring equal quantities of each wine? Are all your users tasting with the same type of glassware? (if you wanna be a total geek about it, get ISO tasting glasses). Are you allowing the same amount of time to analyse and enjoy each wine?
If you want to go deeper into the consistency, think of the way each wine is presented? Are some of them preceeded by a personal anecdote and others by technical details or plain tasting notes? If we over-hype a bottle we love, we are affecting the experience of those who are interacting with it for the first time.
To be fair to the users and to the wines themselves, consistency should be held in high esteem and pursue as much as reasonably possible (obviously in a social tasting you are allowed to talk favourites, but do everyone a favour and share that though after people have tasted it and not before!).
One of the pillars of UX design is to organise your content in a way that facilitates discoverability. It is also a way to prioritise and show relationships.
Visual elements can be adapted to our wine’s display: for example, one would expect that in a line of wine samples, the one further to the left would be the first one to try. Numbering the samples can be helpful as well, and makes life easier when dealing with many wines.
But besides the visual elements, wine tasting needs to acknowledge two senses often relegated to the back seat in this audiovisual world: taste and smell.
A common way to organise wines in a tasting is: sparkling – light whites – heavier whites – light reds – heavier reds – sweet. This way, the palate won’t be exposed to a wine so big or complex that would overwhelm the taster, rendering him or her unable to appreciate more delicate characteristics of lighter wines.
If you’re dealing with a flight that’s similar in intensity (ie. all unaged Sauvignon Blancs from different world regions), a good way to line them up could be quality tier, so you could serve the simpler, entry level samples first, and leave the cru or grand cru for the end.
If you don’t want people to start drinking the wines straight away, make it clear. Don’t serve a beautiful cheeseboard only to tell everyone twenty minutes later that it’s meant to be shared after the tasting (it’ll be probably half gone by then).
Communicate in a clear way and let everyone know when they can start tasting and when is it ok to move to the next sample. You really want to avoid a user sipping on sample number 4 while others are still discussing number 2 and yet another group swirls number 3.
Intuitivity in wine tasting helps you reduce mistakes, by designing an experience flow that will run smoothly. Don’t present options too soon, don’t leave open bottles on the table if you don’t want users to help themselves to a top up.
Think of what actions your guests could instinctively perform with the space, amterial and elements around them, and make sure you provide them with the right ones.
Unless it’s a blind tasting, make it easy for people to know what’s in the bottles. If you’re serving the wines yourself, be conscious not to cover the label as you pour and hold it in a way that users are able to see it as the wine is served (as a good sommelier would).
If you’re using a decanter, leave the original bottle close to it so users know what is in the glass.
Going back to the smell and taste realm, an important factor in making the characteristics of the wine discoverable at this level is to serve it at the right temperature. If your whites are too cold, the volatile aroma particles users are hoping to perceive won’t evaporate efficiently (think of the difference of aroma intensity between a fresh orange and orange ice cream).
Allow users to properly see the colours of the wine by using only transparent glasses and a white tablecloth. If the tablecloth is a bit much, at least have A5 sheets of paper at hand so they can use as background to fully appreciate a wine’s hue. Good light is crucial too.
This should go beyond saying, but refrain from having other conflicting or overpowering aromas in the room (ie. pizza in the oven, strong air freshner, etc).
A wine tasting is, after all, an experience. Just as in software, you can have the most impressive functionality (or the finest wines), but if users/guests have a poor interaction, they won’t appreciate it.
However, if something is neatly presented in a way people can easily explore it and benefit from it; whether it’s a new app or a flight of Riesling, then your efforts in offering an outstanding user experience will be rewarded.