Design Thinking and Doing Part II—A New, Curated Experience

December 13, 2016 in Notes from the Field
Traci Thomas
Senior Strategic Designer

This blog is the second post of a two part series. Read part one, “Design Thinking and Doing Part I—The Recursive Loop”, here.

Our work with Choolaah, an Indian fast casual restaurant based in Cleveland, OH, underscores how we put in practice a strategic design thinking approach with an iterative design doing process. Choolaah approached MAYA to help them redefine the fast casual service model for Indian cuisine. They sought to present Indian food in a modern and healthy way to make it more approachable for those who might not typically gravitate toward ethnic options. Their challenge was two-fold: demystify Indian food so customers can discover its many tastes and health benefits, and design a service that provides an engaging customer experience that fosters ongoing loyalty.

While Choolaah had identified digital screens early on as one of the core solutions to educate customers, we laid out a roadmap to broaden the scope of our inquiry to ensure that we were addressing the right problem that would lead us to successful solutions. Divergent thinking pushed us to explore many possibilities, even at the outermost fringe of the domain.

Thinking, Testing, and Tweaking

Our roadmap was a mix of workshop sessions to align on shared values and outcomes, a plan for research and capturing research data, and early-stage concept ideation. We created over a dozen sketch concepts to test our initial ideas and assumptions during the research phase at the restaurant. We engaged with roughly 80 customers over a day and a half, and invited them to not only evaluate our concepts, but to also strengthen them by building upon them. We also conducted observational research of customers queuing in line, ordering food, dining in, and exiting the restaurant. We quickly changed the physical environment to address some of the pain points we had observed. This rapid prototype of the space was not only cheap to do, but gave us immediate feedback to tweak our thinking. To ensure alignment between front and backstage needs, we also interviewed Choolaah staff to understand the back-of-house experience and asked them to push against the same concepts and respond to the input we received from customers.

Observing how customers interacted with the space allowed us to pinpoint problems and iterate design concepts to reach a more refined solution through doing.

Learning by Doing

At the start of the project, the conversation was centered around the use of digital displays. At the end of the project, we wrote a narrative around the experience of fast casual Indian dining using personas as our actors and digital menus as one, albeit important, part of the story. The main theme of our narrative was personalization. Needless to say, our work with Choolaah was a hands-on engagement rooted in the principle of “learn by doing” and situated within a real-time, face-to-face context. This was important because of the rich feedback we got directly from users and staff. Feedback, both positive and negative, are gems of information that we can act upon and use to make improvements.

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