LAYERS: Process Documentation

LAYERS is my first experience design project in a team of 5 within the span of 4 weeks, completed in November, 2016. My role for this project was mainly strategy and user experience, as well as developing the content for the project proposal. I also provided insight during the form development phase to convey the product concept through the UX and UI.

This is an in-depth process documentation of LAYERS, focusing on the research and strategic aspect of the team’s thought process.


Introduction to Experience Design

Establishing a Framework

To begin, my team and I created a framework to follow through our process, in order to stay on the project road and develop our solution efficiently. Establishing a solid foundation gave us a better understanding of our own thought process, which allowed us to develop insights fluently.

We planned before the trip.

Before we reach our opening, it was crucial for us to filter what we have by understanding the why (purpose), how (values) and what (tangible results). Building our concept inside-out allows us to trust our intuition more often and enter a flow. By knowing our why, we understood the reason of what we do (Simon Sinek), allowing us to smoothly develop design rationales and discover new approaches. We reestablish value proposition to align with our client’s why, and strengthen our purpose. Which then leads to our design principles, giving us conceptual constraints.

Through these frameworks, we studied our client, their business problem, their value proposition, etc. At one point, we struggled to establish a solution, but by coming back to these frameworks and refreshing our frame of mind, we were able to land a solution with concrete rationale.


Research

Business Problem: Brand Equity

As we began research on P.F. Chang’s, we noticed they had noticeably inconsistent branding and sense of identity, which is likely the root of the issue in the public’s common misperception of the brand.

They’re perceived as a restaurant that serves authentic Chinese food, when in reality their intent is to offer casual asian-inspired dining services together with American-style service.

Brand Equity
The commercial value that derives from consumer perception of the brand name of a particular product or service, rather than from the product or service itself.

‘Why they do what they do’ is not clearly communicated or represented to the public, which negatively affects their plans to expand the franchise in certain locations and creates a lack of understanding and impact among customers.

Thus, there is a significant disconnect between what P.F. Chang’s brand genuinely stands for and how certain actually consumers perceive them.

Expansion Failure

P.F. Chang’s opened multiple restaurants in Canada, ultimately leading up to the company’s filing of bankruptcy protection. They believe the reason why the restaurants did not take off in the Canadian market was because Canada is too “ethnically diverse,” especially in Asian culture.

People would rather spend their money on authentic Asian food, rather than a restaurant that presents themselves as authentic, when they are incorporating American service.

This is where we can see the core business problem, as P.F. Chang’s never claimed to be offering authentic or traditional asian cuisine in the first place. There is a misperception in what the company believes in and what the customer think the company believes in.

Brand Misperception

P.F. Chang’s lacked clarity in the communication of their brand value, and this led to a misperception of a franchise that fail to serve authentic Asian food, when really their focus is to bring high-quality Asian-inspired food together within a non-intimidating atmosphere; something that is inviting to people of all cultures.


At this stage, we were hesitant to tackle this specific business problem as we feared it would lead to a rebranding project. Yet we reframed the problem by asking: How could we convince people of P.F. Chang’s true brand promise, without the company intervening through explicit branding and advertisement? How do we break the misperception of brand without explicitly telling?

“I think the term “authentic” now is a difficult word to pin down. Now everything is so global. Is that authentic? I don’t know. I think people have to judge for themselves: Is it good food or is it not good food?”
— Philip Chiang, Co-founder of P.F. Chang’s

We aim to reach lost audiences through a source they care about. Loyal customers become your main avenue for positive marketing/advertising effect and reinforcement of brand. We wanted to design a digital experience that reinforces P.F. Chang’s real brand promise and position, in order to solve the brand misperception that they claim to offer authentic Chinese cuisine, but don’t measure up.

Mapping out the framework in client specific context

Ideation

Inversion: Reversing Perspectives

Before coming up with a potential solution right away, let’s flip perspectives by questioning the source of the problem. This will help us reach our goals by bringing focus to what to avoid. The idea of inversion states that problems are often best solved when they are reversed.

“Problems frequently get easier if you turn them around in reverse. In other words, if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not ‘how can I help India,’ it’s ‘what is doing the worst damage in India and how do I avoid it?”
— Charlie Munger, Vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway

Framing

So how does a brand’s reputation get damaged in the first place?

Our take on this begins with the unclear communication of brand identity of P.F. Chang’s, which leads to a misperception of the brand suggesting false expectations. Having expectations unmet, this can leave a scarred impression, in which creates a disregard to and dismissal of the company and overall brand. This leads to what we perceive as negative word of mouth.

How can we communicate this clarification of brand? When/where would it be most effective?

One of the best ways to reach lost audiences is through people they care about; people who can influence what they think. Knowing this, how would these loyal customers have such a great experience that they would want to share with their peers? Our response to this is to create opportunities through various touchpoints for an engaging and memorable experience by designing for feelings and emotions.

One Week Sprint

With a broad idea of the final product deriving from rigorous research, we ran a one week sprint to narrow down our scope and develop our provisional form. The sprint began with setting a personal goal and a business goal, as well as identifying potential failures to make sure we stay on the project road.

Target Audience: Returning Customers with True Brand Perception

Next, we listed out key actors that will play in this experience to narrow down our target audience. Our target audience was returning customers with clarified brand perception, since we figured it is important to influence these people first in order to reach the ones who do not plan to revisit.

Iterations

When we began form development, we first identified the customer’s initial engagement that entices the customers, which came to be the image of the food. We also determined what type of value the solution will bring to the table, which were ingredients, reviews and rewards. Later on, we chose not to include reviews, as customers leaving reviews for each meal is unlikely. To replace reviews, we integrated Tips from Yelp, an existing section within Yelp where customers leave short comments.

Initial wireframe concept from the Design Sprint

As we were all envisioning a mobile app at for P.F. Chang’s at this point, we began listing features included in most restaurant/food apps. As we saw the list, we realized how all of these are already included in apps such as Yelp or Zomato, which lead us to questioning if we can reach the same results without designing a restaurant app?

Beginning by considering customers’ desires, we wanted a solution that affords engagement. We framed by asking: Where and how do/can people engage with the business? As of now, the only touchpoints are through the actual restaurant, the company website, third party apps and ads.

P.F. Chang’s is fairly successfully developed in these mediums, so we plugged in our design principles to narrow down our focus. Through our solution, we want to guide customers through the ordering process, and influence them to connect the dots, creating a moment of delight.

Next for us to consider was the kind of experience we are designing for, and what type of value we are designing around.

We wanted to enhance the dining experience by offering an inviting, memorable experience. We wanted to make the customers feel involved by offering an interactive platform that generates insight.

Through this, we thought it would be best to create an add-on to a well known restaurant search/service apps such as Yelp or Zomato, as we realized people would not want another restaurant app. Through this, we re-align the perception of the brand, reversing the damaged reputation.

Brand Value: A Memorable Dining Experience

The core values of P.F. Chang’s derives from the idea of making the Asian dining experience more inviting through high-quality yet affordable Asian-inspired food with Western hospitality. Thus by designing for the in-dining experience around the value of P.F. Chang’s customer service, we realign the focus towards customers, allowing their brand promise to spread through word of mouth.

We believe the service P.F. Chang’s offers to their customers is very crucial to how memorable the dining experience is. With great customer service, the company will be able to spread what they stand for through people, rather than spending money on advertisement.

Integration of Yelp

We saw an opportunity in Yelp, as they’re a service that allows business to connect with the customers. Yelp reviews have become a very important aspect to businesses on Yelp, establishing reputation as they reveal real information shared by real people.

In the context of a restaurant, we saw an opportunity in the ordering process, since this is the timeframe in which customers are exposed to their purpose of visit, the food. The idea was to treat this ordering process the same way Yelp approaches businesses, by providing additional information to guide people’s decision making.

Customers are exposed to a limited amount of information when choosing restaurants to visit, making it difficult for them to decide. So how can Yelp reveal more information during visits to bridge the gap between customers before and after visits?

Journey Framework

Our customer journey framework allowed us to understand both, the customer and business perspectives, in order to figure out which specific stages will coincide with the value proposition we intend to reinforce.

Even though our main focus was during visits, we realized how we must design for the pre and post experience, the initial contact and long-term relationship, as these were key factors in developing our solution, to reinforce value proposition when customers are not directly associated.

Execution

User Scenario Mapping

In order to refine the user experience, we identified a persona, Sebastian, who is a returning customer with clarified brand perception. Sebastian is a father of five, and enjoys visiting P.F. Chang’s with his family. Later on, we realized him being a father of 5 was simply a distraction, which effected our project.

Based off of our persona, we created a user scenario map to drive our form development. Mapping out Sebastian’s actions and results helped us determine the type of content in our solution.

Prototyping

We continuously refined our user interface as we received feedback from people outside the team. At first, we allocated too much real estate for the food, but we realized valuable content should use more of the screen since it was originally hidden.

We originally branded our solution through P.F. Chang’s rewards program, but made the switch to brand through Yelp since we envision LAYERS to be integrated into other businesses. Further insight on the user interface is presented in my portfolio.


Reflection

Transition to the Digital World

The goal was to include truthful information that isn’t usually found on regular menus, as this transparency builds mutual trust between business and people. Not only offering a solution for restaurants, but also affording opportunities for other types of businesses that are on Yelp allows this solution to develop over time.

We strived to design a solution that will act as a transition to a new form of behaviour within the dining experience. I believe user interface will be become part of our environment in the near future, thus our intent was to spark conversations and familiarize the world with the idea of digitization.