I came across this on Dan Pink's blog.

watch yourself

This caption on a coffee cup is supposed to serve as a warning sign to caution people that the coffee is hot and care must be taken to avoid burns.

The problem I see is that noone holds a full cup this way and by the moment when the cup is almost empty the coffee is not that hot and is more or less safe. While the cup is full it is held by gripping from the side and then the hand obscures the caption. Plus the text is so small it drags almost no attention.

IMO it'd be better to place the text closer to the cup top and use a twice as large font.

How useful is the warning implemented the way it is shown on the photo?

  • 14
    Not a result of any usefulness considerations. Just the result of the out-of-control sue'em state of mind in the States Dec 18, 2012 at 11:39
  • It you're going to do it though, you might as well do it properly !
    – PhillipW
    Dec 18, 2012 at 11:44
  • 2
    That warning doesn't actually say that the contents are hot, only that heat is a key ingredient. It could be interpreted that you need to add your own heat to get it ready to use.
    – JonW
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:36
  • @JonW: Another lawsuit waiting to happen. What if we create a StackExchange for assessing lawsuit ideas?
    – sharptooth
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:41
  • 5
    As pointless as tiny legal BS text is, I'm glad they don't slap 72 point SHOVING THIS IN YOUR EYE IS A BAD IDEA OKAY BRO warnings on everything.
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 18, 2012 at 14:09

5 Answers 5


As far as I remember, this is because of well-known Hot Coffee Lawsuit against McDonalds.

Judge Robert H. Scott who presided over this case stated:

...knowing the risk of harm, the evidence and testimony would indicate that McDonald’s consciously made no serious effort to warn its consumers by placing just the most simple, adequate warning on the lid of the cup in which the coffee was served. . . . This is all evidence of culpable corporate mental state


I think it has nothing with UX in common, but just to cover up restaurants from future claims.

  • 1
    Then this is called "A lawsuit waiting to happen" - why can't someone get a burn and then say the warning was placed in such way he couldn't have read it?
    – sharptooth
    Dec 18, 2012 at 11:37
  • 6
    This lawsuit is actually quite an interesting one to read up on. It's not as blatantly a 'well what did she expect, cold coffee?' as one might expect, but more one about whether or not McDonalds served coffee at an unexpectedly high temperature or not. The person who raised the lawsuit was deemed only 20% responsible herself for her injuries.
    – JonW
    Dec 18, 2012 at 11:57
  • 4
    @sharptooth They serve coffee hotter than it would be if you make it at home - "McDonald's claimed that the reason for serving such hot coffee in its drive-through windows was that those who purchased the coffee typically were commuters who wanted to drive a distance with the coffee; the high initial temperature would keep the coffee hot during the trip." (From the wikipedia article
    – JonW
    Dec 18, 2012 at 12:24
  • 4
    As @JonW points out, this is an oft-references but nearly universally misunderstood lawsuit.
    – DA01
    Dec 20, 2012 at 1:40
  • 3
    @sharptooth there's a measurable (if debatable) difference between 'hot' and 'capable-of-inflicting-3rd-degree-burns-scalding-hot'.
    – DA01
    Dec 20, 2012 at 1:44

I look forward to the day the lids on coffee cups include a heat-sensitive "HOT COFFEE" warning label that disappears as the coffee cools to (safe) drinking temperatures, the way the maple syrup bottles include a "HOT" label that appears once you've heated them up in the microwave.

Sadly, I suspect it would have to be limited to re-usable cups rather than disposable materials.


A proper UX solution would involve engineering the cup so that where you held it also provided a tactile indication that it was hot.

As Don Norman pointed out a long time ago, the existence of signage means that the UX has failed.

  • 6
    Well, the cups do, since they're (wait for it)...hot to the touch. The real world provides that feedback. It'd be like a tactile button that blinks and plays an alarm when you press it despite giving tactile, visual and audio feedback naturally when you press it
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 18, 2012 at 14:11
  • 2
    :-). I was thinking more of a design which allows you to actually hold the hot cup, yet which has somewhere which you can easily touch for a short period to check how hot the contents are.
    – PhillipW
    Dec 18, 2012 at 20:47
  • Or a neat solution would be the use of 'temperature sensitive inks' on the outside - so the cup changed from red (hot) to blue (cold)
    – PhillipW
    Dec 21, 2012 at 10:16

There are two aspects, actually:

Legal. This has been discussed already, there Little if any to add. (thanks JonW for bringing up the relevant issue in the case everyone heard of in comments above)

Reinforcement. It may be to late when you finally see it, but by reminding you of the possible consequences of a mishap, should it not make you handle more carefully your next cup?

When our focus is on the coffee, this warning may be pointless. However, if our attention is split between the coffee and the babysitter calling in sick and the argument with your SO yesterday, and why the boss wants to speak to you "first thing in the morning", we get careless, accidents happen.

So from that perspective, even without data, there is Little harm and a possible overall reduction of accidents.


The user experience of drinking a hot beverage is, I assume, enjoying a hot beverage.

This screams 'marketing' more than anything. Even though I am not a lawyer, I think it's fair to say that the statement on the cozy is not in any way legalese. It seems that it's trying to be a bit clever, with a dash of nice typography and graphic design.

It's part of the marketing campaign.

And we could debate the UX of that, but marketing is marketing, for the most part. ;)

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