In a project we where asked to conduct a research on transitional spaces found in Starbucks, a space that we had chosen in to look at in previous research projects and that we now would refocus on.

Reflection on our previous work

When looking at our previous research within the space we realized that the lens through which we looked at Starbucks was narrow –  our definition of “everyone” within the space had been those who we had seen as customers.

As we went on with this project put weight on the fact that we needed to look at the space again, but this time to make sure to include those we had missed, meaning those who we saw but also didn’t see within the space. These included the staff behind the counter as well as people with disabilities and specific meal restrictions and/or allergies etc.

Decontructing the Transitional Space

Sketch of timeline.

Our transitional space, the line at the counter and the events connected to it, was decontructed into three different stages; waiting in line/line formation, ordering/taking orders and getting seved/serving. We used this timeline as we collected different peoples’ stories and behaviors in order to pinpoint which part of the space we could improve.

The Three Phases

We divided the project into three different phases. All three where very important of course, but for us as a research group it was crucial  to put as much time and energy possible on the first phase. This because we wanted our research to be stable in its problem framing rather than rushing to any solution without any substantial need or thought behind it.

We didn’t choose methods for phase 2 and 3 until we had gone through phase 1. This because we did not think we could fully know which research questions we would need to look at before the problem framing had been done. We also went back and forth inbetween the phases as the testing for instance showed that the problem framing could become better. We would then jump back to phase 1 to redo the problem framing based on feedback given during test sessions.

Phase 1

Problem Framing

Phase 2

Suggest Improvement

Phase 3


  • Literature reviews
  • Observations (customers)
  • Interviews (customers)
  • Flow Diagrams (Staff)
  • Journey Maps (Room)
  • Kiosk wireframes (first idea which was iterated away after first test)
  • Improvements on Starbucks app
  • Toolkit to go with suggested improvement
  • Student testing during “Computational Media Showcase day” on campus.

Research and Results for each Phase

Literature reviews
We started by looking at the material available from the company itself, Starbucks, where we found information regarding their policys and visions. This further lead us to reading about instances of press about Starbucks where we found out that what although Starbucks where priding themselves in the work they do for inclusion, it hadn’t always synced with what customers experiences. Our findings showed that although Starbucks seem to wish to be inclusive in their space and design there might exist issues within the space that are not concidering all perspectives. For instance, although the company stated that they did think of inclusivilty in every step of their design – their new design on strawless cups presumed that all people have the same motor which lead to some people not being able to hold the cup (Blake, 2018).

Observations, Flow Diagrams and Interviews
Observations where made on people within and outside of the space. These included customers seen in line, staff and people not seen within the space, for instance those in a wheelchair.

Interview questions for the staff 
1. What does your schedule look like?
2. What jobs do you handle when preparing an order?
3. How do you split up your time between operations at work?
4. What are some of your biggest frustrations at work?
5. What problems do you think people face the most while ordering?
6. What do you think of a technological intervention like Tapingo?
7. Does Starbucks require that you make special accommodations for people with disabilities? 
8. 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 
1. What are your biggest frustrations while waiting in line?
2. If there was an app/kiosk/technological intervention that you could use to place an order, would you use it?
3. What do you think of the Tapingo app?
4. What often prevents you from visiting Starbucks?
5. Would you prefer an in person interaction when ordering or a technological intervention?


Results showed us concerns about the space not being designed inclusion, not clear information about ingredients and. One interesting result of the interviews with the customers and staff was that while the staff mentioned that it was irritating that customers didn’t know what they wanted once by the ordering counter – customers said they had a hard time seeing the menu while in line. Another interesting finding was that the communication of orders inbetween staff was made through notes on cups, which more often than not lead to miscommunication.

Journey Maps
Charlie Denton from our team looked closley into the spaces of several different coffee houses in Atlanta in order to compare placements of menus, merchandise and overall interior design of the space.He concluded that the design of Starbucks interior design had objacts and space construction that made it very hard, in his words impossible, to maneuver with for instance a wheelchair. He also found that there where examples of better placement for menus where coffee companies obviously had throught about the fact that lines formed far away from the counters could be an issue.

The results from Charlies research of the spaces further strenghtened our problem framing which had a clear theme; miscommunication occuring within the tranistional space, both between customers and staff and between staff members themselves. We also concidered it as part of the problem and problem framing when people where being shut out to the space due to fear of miscommunication (about content of food and beverages) and lack of space for people with disabilities.

Initial Ideas
The initial idea we had as improvement for our problem  was to have a digital order kiosk in specific areas of the space, to let people make their orders while in the space but with the help of technology to help remove elements of miscommunication. This idea however, was removed in process of iterations, testing and dialouge inbetween ourselves, stakeholders and our Professor and Teachers Assistant.

Iterated Idea
The iteration from the kiosk became an app for ordering in line, without paying, which would let the customers communicate needs, allergies etc. and receive an QR code for their order in the end which could be scanned. This too was changed in the iteration process as we realised that the existing Starbucks app would preferably be used by customers and the company.

Final Suggestions
For our final iteration resulted in being improvement suggestions within the Starbucks app as well as a toolkit which came with the design.

The initial ideas and prototype was tested on students  during Georgia Tech’s “Computational Media Showcase day” on campus.

Final Improvement Suggestions

The final improvements included changes to existing app and a toolkit with the thoughts around the final delivery and design which we as researchers suggested would be part of any design delivery to show the designers responsibility in any improvement or product suggestion.

App Improvements

Improvements included improving the user communicating needs and preferences within the app when ordering through for instance selecting of language, clear information about ingredients and other information about specific needs. When order is finished, it is clear what is in the order and the user is given the QR-code which can be scanned by the staff.

After the staff has scanned the code, the receipt with the order, name etc is on it and can be added to the cup instead of handwritten instructions.


The toolkit is our way of celebrating transparency in design work. We believe that we as designers have a responsibility to explain the choices behind our creations and therefore we chose to give improvements in form of direct changes to existing tehnological solutions but also improvements in a way of working, presenting, and hopefully thinking.


Blake, Melissa. “How Starbucks' Straw Decision Lets Me Down.” CNN, 11 July 2018,