User Research

My view at Suzzallo Cafe.

What did I do?

I chose the Suzzallo Cafe as my location to conduct some user research. I positioned myself at the back, where I could clearly see the entrance, the espresso bar, the food isle, and the general table area. I set a timer and wrote a stream of consciousness about what practices I saw people engaging in, and what they did to solve problems such as finding a table or getting food. I noticed people running into traffic trying to enter and exit the space and when all the tables were full, some people would simply turn around. I also tracked a couple employees who were moving around the space. I wrote a memo identifying some practices and design challenges, which you can view here. Later in studio, we redesigned the cafe based on a design challenge I noticed.

Suzzallo Re-Design (without structural or budget constraints)

What did I focus on and how did that effect my observations?

One aspect of the cafe that I focused on was a couple that was looking for a table. They walked pretty far into the tables, but none were free. When they exited they stopped, because one girl at a table was getting her stuff together. After she left, they sat down, but there was still a different girl sitting at the relatively small table. I was taken aback by this. I know that the culture of Mary Gates is to have multiple parties at a large table, but I have never experienced this at Suzzallo because the tables are so small. I felt like at the very least they could have asked the girl already there, especially because she appeared to be working on something and they were just chatting, but they did not. My interpretation of what happened was colored by their actions that I perceived as disrespectful, and I had to keep myself from taking note of that. In the future, I think it would be beneficial to conduct research in a setting where I am unfamiliar with the customs, so I can mostly objectively view what occurs.

What was a design problem that I witnessed?

I noticed a horrible traffic situation coming in and out of the cafe. There is only one door, and so there is traffic in and out, and there is also the drip coffee and the creamer on either side of the door, so there is cross traffic between those. I thought that was an interesting design challenge because to fix it you not only have to get the creamer and drip close together, but also take into consideration that a lot of the physical structures, such as the espresso station, are immobile. So to address it would be more complex and have more constraints than we normally put on design. This thought led me to continually monitor the traffic level and what people did to navigate, especially when there was lots of people in the cafe.

What were my personal biases, and where might those come into play?

A way in which I could have influenced my research is through my personal experience in the space giving me bias to what I categorized as “normal” (or more like my own) behavior and what struck me as “odd”. It is difficult to detach yourself from your own bias about what is normal and what is different to you. For example, I never order espresso from that cafe because I don’t like waiting in a big clump of people, so I always get drip. This means that I always cross traffic and fuss with the creamer station, which may have been why I noticed it so much. Then when we redesigned our design challenges in studio I focused on optimizing the space for those who get drip and no food, which is what I normally do. I think it is in the redesign process that identifying your reflexes about a situation and understanding your personal bias would be crucial to making a redesign that facilitates flow for a variety of people. Otherwise what you interpret as a good redesign might be worse for some people than the original.

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