Taking a Stand on Waiting In Line

Image from the New York Times
What makes something worth waiting for?

Why do we get in lines to receive packages, to buy Apple’s newest, shiniest phones, or at funerals, auditions, and concerts? Why do we get in line to get autographs, or set our chess pieces in a line on the board? And why do we spend so much of our time doing this?

In a line, there is a premise of a promise. A promise made by a provider to deliver a service in return for time and money.

In this way, a line is a microcosm of the values of American life. To be in line is to say that you are willing to comply with the system of waiting, by remaining patient and polite, in order to receive a service from a larger body of power in return. It is the compromise we all make in order to have orderly and equal access to the resources it is has to offer- an instance that paints the picture of the American dream.

Project Deliverables —

Observe and collect data about an existing line system, graphically represent your analysis in a visual/video format.

Preliminary Research

Analyzing and comparing line organization in venues in and around the Carnegie Mellon Campus. In the downtown near Oakland and University of Pittsburgh there is a densely populated strip of eateries and shops that cater to student and resident interests.

Environmental Factors

  • External factors like weather, temperature, class schedules, sun position and breakfast/lunch/dinner specific meal preferences greatly influence the customer turnout
78 Degrees and Sunny | 50 Degrees and Rainy

Employee Service System

  • The number of employees on duty vs. the specification of employee duty
  • Example: At the Chipotle bar, multiple employees execute individualized tasks (Meat, Vegetables, Sauce, Garnish) at a rapid pace. This practice was seen in the very first assembly lines (Ford Motors), maximizing not only the overall speed of service, but the quality of the delivery in each step of the process. Someone who is continuously scooping beans into a bowl will become most proficient at that specific task.
  • The rapidness of the service creates a sense of urgency for the user. Time is perceived as faster under this circumstance. Service appears efficient, quick, and delicious = rewarding experience.

Line “Accessories”

  • Products and signage are displayed along the path of traffic as prompts to engage further with the commercial experience. These product pit-stops reel in peripheral revenue to the main services of the place. For example, Starbucks installs display cases on the sides of the line in hopes to have customers discover and buy more of their products.

Hybrid Digital-Physical Systems

  • Many eateries have taken initiatives to pair their physical commercial experience with a virtual one, allowing people to access their products from the convenience of their phone and respective location. The Starbucks app seeks to eliminate* the hassle of waiting in line to order a drink- instead, customers can order and buy ahead and pick up their drink when it is served. (*The user flow in this scenario veers away from the traditional line, but it establishes a virtual queue on which costumers will still have to wait on. However, because of the liberty of movement the consumer has, they may experience this wait time differently than consumers who are confined to a physical space.)

Kinds of Lines

Existing methods of line organization
Single File | Kiosk
Waiting Room/Seated Lines | Multi-Register

Case Study 1: Fuku Tea

  • Location: 3800 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
  • Times of Operation: 9AM-9PM All Week
  • Speciality: Boba milk tea, drinks, small snacks
Initial Observations: 6:20PM — 6:40PM
Service Blue Print/User Case Study | Spatial Notes

Graphic Representation

Population Tracking Over Time | HeatMap/Flow Graph of Population Density

Initial Graphic Representation-Population Density Maps Over Time

Capturing Data

Long Exposure Photography | Heat Mapping Population Density | Data Mining in Python/GH | Rendering in Rhinocerous

Case Study 2: University Center Post Office


  • Date + Start Time + Number of People In Line + Number of Employees (10:30–11:00, 12:30–1:00, 3:00–3:30)
  • Average time it takes for one person to move from the back of the line to the front
  • Average time it takes for people to enter and leave the Post Office space
  • Service Blueprint/User Flow of interactions
  • “Triggers”, Signage and Accessories
  • Population Density
Observations & Thoughts

Physical Space

  • Space is never “full”, but contains a steady flow of people. At any given time, there is an average of 6 customers in the space
  • People who have filled out their materials incorrectly will have to move off the line into the side alcoves to correct any mistakes. They will then have to re-enter the line in order to receive service again. In a sense, this is a secondary line they must go through to have their service completed
  • People who cannot fit in the alcoves will start writing on the wall
  • The line is located down the center of the space, stations are located on either side
  • These peripheral stations include: Dropping off mail, Packaging materials, Forms to go on packaging, Tables to fill out and package mail materials

Alcove 1

Alcove 2


  • The mail leaves the office at 4 everyday, and the facility closes at 5
  • According to Employee A, peak hours of service happen between 12PM/1PM and 3PM.
  • From opening time at 9, there is a steady low flow of incomers, until it starts to fluctuate at 12
  • Population flux also occurs according to the season, (Tax season, holidays, etc.)
  • Customers are not always prepared to ship their mail items because of lack of incorrect address formats or lack of proper packaging materials.
  • There is a fee for shipping mail and packages- before people pay, the employee inspects the material to check for any inconsistencies or breeches of US Postal Regulation. Employees also check for correct address style and point this out to the customer if needed.

Post Education

Employee A noted that international students are the ones to have most trouble filling out items in the correct format. A speculates that post offices in other countries handle post and address formats differently, or that the mailing process it taught differently and at different levels in other countries.
  • Pen pal classes in elementary school in the US teach students how to write and send letters
  • Employee B remembers being taught how to do their taxes in the 5th grade “Now that I’m older I don’t remember how to do them anymore!”
  • Employee A and B were considering to teach the incoming grad students (many international) how to do their taxes and fill out forms during orientation week.
  • In the US, the “From” is always in the upper left corner and the “To” is in the middle. Students will sometimes mix the two and place them in the wrong locations.


  • Employees become visibly stressed when customers come unprepared: unprepared meaning that they have not filled out the mailing address criteria correctly, or if their package/mail item breeches any US Postal regulations.

Case Study 3: Bus Stops

  • Starting Date: 4/15/17
  • Locations: Stop on Forbes in front of the CMU UC, Stop at the intersection of Craig St and Forbes, Stop at the intersection of Forbes and Murray St.
  • Environmental Factors: Temperature between 75–85 degrees, hot and stagnant weather, Easter weekend


  • The “Bus Stop” consists of a glass shelter with benches and a roof. Included in the definition is a 2 to 3 meter radius of space around the shelter. This is where people tend to linger when the shelter is at its full capacity.

Data Collection

Quantitative and Qualitative Data

Questions for us:

  • What are the peak hours of service at different bus stops?
  • What bus stops are the most populated?
  • What variables cause fluctuations in the Bus Stop lines?

Questions for Bus Stoppers:

  • Where are you going?
  • How long have you been waiting?
  • How long do you expect to wait?
  • What do you do to pass the time?


  • Behaviors: On a sunny day like this one, people tended to reside within the shade casted from the shelter, rather than sitting inside it. I speculated that this was because sun was entering through the back of the glass shelter and heating up the people sitting on the benches inside.
  • It’s interesting to note how people spend their time waiting in the sheltered queue. While some seem to be focused on the objective of waiting for a service, others occupy their time by going on their phones, computers, or talking to their friends/family that have accompanied them.

Kinds of Users

Service Flow

Busser arrives at Bus Stop > Busser Sits Waiting > Bus Arrives > Bussers line up outside of bus > Bussers swipe bus card, student ID, or pay to enter

Storyboarding Interactions

Proposed Intervention

Our analysis found that the personal spaces of people at bus stops are susceptible to change as a result of environmental factors and the fluctuating density of people in the space. Our proposed intervention is to create a conveniently modular bus stop shelter that is sensitive to the fluctuations in density of people that inhabit it.

Expanding Bus Stop

Our analysis found that the personal spaces of people at bus stops are susceptible to change as a result of environmental factors and the fluctuating density of people in the space. Our proposed intervention is to create a conveniently modular bus stop shelter that is sensitive to the fluctuations in density of people that inhabit it.

Inspired from the beautiful complexity and dynamic nature of origami structures, the proposed bus stop structure will consist of folding joinery that allows it to physically change in response to density data and environmental factors. The structure will resemble an archway rather than a traditional glass prism. We will be using the affordances of varied geometric forms to permit.

Our speculative intervention begins the conversation about perceived space versus actual space. By having a bus shelter that changes size in only certain situations the perceived space will be the same as with out any sort of expanding feature. During a rainstorm the perceived space will remain similar because of the spike in density of people huddling under the shelter.

Our proposed amorphous structure was inspired by the MIT media lab project bioLogic. As the dancers sweat in the bioLogic clothing the clothing adapts and opens up vents to cool down the dancer. Just as the Media labs project does our adaptive structure would change size depending on the need for shelter in adverse weather.

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