top of page
Rectangle 181.png


Goal: Conduct extensive research and identify a solution.

Length: 3 months

Team: Sara, Charlie, Huan

Topics: User research, Design methods, prototyping


How can our design intervention improve the coffeeshop experience for everyone?




First, we must contextualize improvements according to the experiences of the groups involved. Our definition was: Enhancing the experience for everyone involved in each phase of the interactions occurring in the transition space. Enhance refers to making the whole experience pleasurable, timely and efficient.


We realized that the lens through which we previously looked at Starbucks was narrow. Since we ourselves have only been customers, our initial research completely omitted invisible groups. This time we had to go outside the box - to people behind the counter at Starbucks, and consider those we didn't see. For an inclusive study, we had to expand our scope.


the transition space.

The exploration space is Starbucks. But what aspect of it? There's so much that goes into the entire coffeeshop experience. Since our focus is on transition spaces, we decided to narrow down our study to the lines at Starbucks. To do so, we had to deconstruct the elements of the line, study lines in various contexts, and find out the strategic intent of the Starbucks line.


some questions we explored.

Is it the same structure at every coffeeshop? Is it located within a certain proximity to the menus? Is the line intentionally placed by the displays to tempt customers to purchase more? Would Starbucks consider removing lines a whole? What purpose do lines serve? Do people enjoy waiting in lines? If there is a long line, does that disincentivize customers? What do the staff do when the lines are long? Are there any barriers that exclude certain groups from entering the line?

so, we deconstructed.


Waiting in line

Placing the order

Collecting order

During our observations, we categorized the phases of the transition space into three distinct interactions that involve either the customer, the staff, or both parties. This deconstruction provided mental schemas that allowed us to study behavior with more ease. At each phase, the question at the back of our minds were:  Where can the interaction go wrong here? What are the customers'/staff's biggest frustrations? 

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.37.28 PM.png

brainstorming design methods 

Diary studies for the staff 

  • Ask them about their feeling when they take the order, guiding artifacts so they can convey personal information on participants  (Smiley faces)

  • Won’t sit down with us during work

  • Won’t sit with us after work

  • Something simple that wouldn’t scare them away

User Journey Maps

  • Focus on perceptions, feelings and emotions of customers + staff at each stage

  • Visualization of experiences when interact with a product/service. For us it is a service. Each moment can be divided and improved

  • Look into what their goals and frustrations

Flow Diagrams

  • We could document the sequence of events that staff do over course of day

  • the actions or process of actors in a system. Cause/effect of interrelated events

  • Cycle of a closed looped system

Evaluation Research

  • Involves the testing of prototypes by real potential users by systems in design development

  • If we are bringing something with us to starbucks, they can touch and test

Directed Storytelling

  • Directed storytelling, easily gather rich stories using thoughtful prompts and guiding and framing

  • With customers that’s another option

Card Sorting

  • We have cards that are different problems that could happen throughout the day

  • Ask them, where do these things happen?

  • Like directed storytelling

how can we best learn through research?

The image on the right depicts a brainstorming session where we broke down the elements of analysis (baristas, customers, and lines). Within each, we further broke down the aspects we were hoping to study (e.g. scheduling, accessibility, technological interventions) and then matched those with appropriate design methods we would use to study them. We realize here, that even the method we used to study each component was biased as a different method would have provided different insights.


snippets of user research

Interview questions for the staff 

What does your schedule look like?

What jobs do you handle when preparing an order?

How do you split up your time between operations at work?

What are some of your biggest frustrations at work?

What problems do you think people face the most while ordering?

What do you think of a technological intervention like Tapingo?

Does Starbucks require that you make special accommodations for people with disabilities? 

The goal of our interviews: If we are designing for all stakeholders in the entire process, by asking different people’s opinions of problems, we can include their perspectives in the design.

Interview questions for the customers 

What are your biggest frustrations while waiting in line?

If there was an app/kiosk/technological intervention that you could use to place an order, would you use it?

What do you think of the Tapingo app?

What often prevents you from visiting Starbucks?

Would you prefer an in person interaction when ordering or a technological intervention?


Participant observation

Breaking down the methods

CM Showcase - presented prototype

Interviewed people to write down problems in experience

zooming out by looking at policy

There are so many factors that come into play to get that one cup of coffee. Instead of looking solely at what was visible to us, we decided to zoom out and find out how policies, machinery, and company values affect the experience of the visible and invisible stakeholders involved. Their recent straw policy seemed to exclude people with disabilities from being able to consume their drinks. 

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.58.18 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 3.58.03 PM.png

If our design intervention aims for inclusivity, first we had to find out of this policy aligns with Starbucks' policy. Even though Starbucks prides itself on its inclusivity, there is this huge problem where anyone with Parikinson’s, etc. can’t have access. That made us think about this huge population that the company overlooks. Not because they were at starbucks. But because they weren’t there.

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 4.03.03 PM.png

the problem? exclusion.

This made us question the inclusivity of the transition space - what aspects of Starbucks act as barriers that exclude certain parts of the population? If they are trying to be accessible to people with disabilities, are they actually using the space? Who else is excluded from the coffee shop? Would Starbucks benefit from a design intervention that aims to incorporate all potential user groups? As researchers going into a space, our scope was confined to the space itself. We forgot to look at those who weren't there. Only once we realized Starbucks was inaccessible to certain customer segments, we wanted to investigate why. Based on our research from the limited time we had, we found 3 overarching barriers that disincentivized certain groups from accessing the coffeeshop.


People with allergies

found it difficult to ensure that their orders did not contain ingredients they were allergic to


People with disabilities

were not able to read the menu and had problems placing + picking up orders


People with language barriers

had a hard time placing orders because of difficulty in communicating


listening to problems

By listening to the various problems people voiced we were able to identify, not only the problems of the staff and customers,but the reasons why other populations (initially invisible to us) felt like they couldn't enter Starbucks. We then began to brainstorm whether or not we could cater a solution to all the frustrations that people faced to ensure that the coffeeshop space was an inclusive one. For staff, the biggest problem was that people would wait till the front of the line to order (inefficiency in time). For customers, the biggest problem lay in various forms of miscommunication. 

deconstructing the problems


Based on research, we grouped the various problems that individuals face into 4 main categories. Under each category, the problems range in extremity.

  • Being non-verbal or mute

  • Speech impediments

  • Heavy accent

  • Language barriers

  • Don’t like talking to people

  • Speaking softly

  • Losing voice

  • Holding something in your hand already- books

  • Broken arm

  • Trouble taking out cash 

  • Parkinsons

  • Crutches

  • The cup was too far away to reach

  • Difficulty holding cup

  • The menu is too low

  • The menu is too far

  • Forgets glasses

  • Not seeing drink when ready

  • Not able to see ingredients in menu

  • Too loud for customer to speak

  • Too loud for staff to hear

  • Not being able to hear when order is called

  • Have your name be heard incorrectly


Our goal was to design a solution that considers every possible problem and ensure that no one is excluded. Our first question was, what kind of a design intervention can we introduce to the transition space?

How can we address miscommunication in each of the micro interactions, speed up the ordering process, decrease waiting time, and cater to all the problems we listed above? We decided a technological intervention would be best suited to tailor a human-centered design.


kiosks as a possible intervention


Initially, we considered kiosks as a design intervention and created wireframes to delineate the flow, sizing and visual characteristics. However, our study of lines taught us that kiosks would obstruct the current Starbucks structure as lines serve a purpose while people are waiting beside displays. We tested the application at the CM Showcase and found that people enjoyed using it.

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 9.42.25 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 9.42.06 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 9.42.20 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 9.42.28 PM.png

mobile app intervention

Since our team is focusing on the queues at Starbucks, we decided to intervene while individuals are waiting in lines to speed up the process and make clear what each menu item is and the ingredients that it contains. From our observations, customers would explore their phones while waiting with no specific purpose. We moved towards creating an interactive experience that allows users to enter their preferences, select their language, browse through special items of the season, and personalize the experience based on any special accommodations required.

Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.55.47 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.55.54 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.57.37 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.55.38 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.56.55 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.56.46 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.57.54 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.57.43 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.57.29 AM.png
Screen Shot 2018-12-13 at 8.57.02 AM.png

Once the staff scan the QR code, not only are they directly informed of the user's order (taking into account special preferences), but they are also aware if the customer has a disability so that they can make appropriate accommodations to welcome them and ease their transition within the coffeeshop space.


During the extensive 3 month research we conducted, we realized that while our approach aims to broaden the lense through which conducted research, we realize that there are several factors beyond our scope of perception that we didn’t account for. We are limited by our 5 senses and believe that if we have more time, we could have gone more in depth. However, during our process, we had several realizations that helped us truly discover the essence of research.

Hence, as a second design artifact, we decided to create a toolkit for future designers to use as a starting point to design with empathy and care. We realized that one of the biggest flaws in research is its esoteric nature and lack of transparency. Hence, by reflecting on our journey to our intervention, we mapped out the milestones that provided us with great insight into design thinking.

bottom of page