Milestone 2

Formative Study and Refined Concept

During Milestone 1, the team made initial observations of our target areas—bars and restaurants—and generated potential design concepts as a means of exploring the space we had selected. Now, at the start of Milestone 2, we have narrowed our scope some to focus exclusively on bars. We have also narrowed our target audience to young adults in their twenties, though, part of this study plan involved observations not necessarily tied to that specific group. At this stage, we are still considering which specific design concept to focus on. In this report we present three relatively polished concepts through storyboards. Prior to revealing those concepts, we detail the process of our formative study plan and the findings that resulted from that work.

Study Design

Our study consisted of three methods—additional informal observations, a cultural probe, and interviews. This three-part methodology allowed us the opportunity to examine bar patrons in a natural setting (through observations) as well as to obtain rich descriptions about bar goers’ experiences at various bars, including the highs and lows of going to a bar (through interviews). The cultural probe offered a chance to capture potentially less tangible information in a way that is relatively engaging for participants.


Each member of the team observed patrons at a bar in Ann Arbor, MI. The goal of observations was to get a deeper look at how people interact with each other at the bar as well as with aspects of the bar itself (e.g. wait staff, drink menus, seating arrangements). The observation locations were as followed:

Location Time of Observation
Arbor Brewing Co. 3:30–4:30pm
Arbor Brewing Co. 4:00–6:00pm
Blue Leprechaun 8:30–9:20pm
Brown Jug 5:00–8:00pm
Red Hawk Bar & Grill 8:30–9:15pm


In addition to observations, each member of the team interviewed at least one person. Some interviews took place on-location at a bar. Others, in order to accommodate participants’ schedules, took place at various off-site locations. Participants included both men and women in their twenties. Interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes to one hour.

Participants were interviewed at the following locations:

Participant ID Location Time of Interview
1 Ashley’s (bar) 8:10–8:45pm
2 Ashley’s (bar) 8:10–8:45pm
3 North Quad 8:00–8:35pm
4 Interviewee’s Home 9:10–9:50pm
5 Madras Masala 1:00–2:00pm
6 North Quad 1:30–2:30pm

Cultural Probe

Finally, we conducted a cultural probe with the same six interview participants. Building on the work of Gaver, Dunne, and Pacetti (PDF), we developed this method as a way of engaging participants without making them feel like they were being studied.

Our probe included three activities that participants were asked to complete on their own time. After a participant completed the three tasks, a member of the research team met with him or her to review the activity results. The three activities were:

  1. mark 10 local bars on a map, each based on a particular criteria (e.g. “Where you’d most like to run into an old friend”),
  2. send three text messages to a member of the research team as if you were texting a friend about a particular bar, and
  3. collect several photos that explain either a really good experience or a really bad experience you had at a bar.

The full instructions can be viewed here (PDF).

Study Results

Several key findings emerged from this study. Each is listed below, accompanied by a brief explanation of how the finding fits in the larger space of the project.

Menus at bars are often problematic, but they can be well implemented.

  • Study participants noted that drinks often lack useful descriptions, images, key statistics (such as ABV), and even price.
  • Figuring out which drinks are on special is difficult.
  • Even finding the menu itself can be challenging (Are drinks included with the food menu?, Is there a beer or liquor list separate from a wine list?, etc.).

This finding came as no surprise. Much of our initial ideation focused on revamping menus as part of the ordering process. This continued for the current round of concepts (presented below).

Ordering drinks can be difficult.

  • Getting a server’s attention is sometimes difficult.
  • Being distracted by conversation sometimes prevents choosing a drink. Often, the server will come before a decision is made.
  • The server’s presence sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable, like they need to quickly make a selection.

Again, this finding was not surprising. However, the extent of these struggles were somewhat unexpected. Particularly interesting was this notion of being pressured to make a decision when the server is present. These ideas played a key role in refining design concepts related to the ordering process.

Long lines, crowds, and noise negatively impact desire to go to a bar.

  • People often go to the bar for conversation. Excessive noise can make this difficult.
  • Participants were more likely to wait for a table if they could grab a drink at the bar.
  • One participant described a strategy in which his party split into two, each putting a name down at separate bars, and rejoining at the first of the two bars to become available.

This finding likely comes as a surprise to no one. What was useful was hearing about participants’ willingness to put up with these negatives as well as their strategies for handling them. This information helped inform our design work on the process of selecting a bar.

Special events are a common reason for going to a bar.

  • Participants noted that special occurrences such as a band playing at the bar, special brewery events, trivia nights, or simply watching a sporting event are a major draw.
  • Other reasons for going to the bar included birthdays and friends visiting from out of town.

Prior to hearing this from participants, we were largely under the impression that the primary reason people went to the bar was talk with friends and maybe meet other people. Events play a far greater role than we expected. This information informed our designs related to interacting with others through activities such as games—the only broad conceptual expansion our study findings led to.

Buying drinks for others is not all that common.

  • Participants described three scenarios in which they typically buy friends drinks: for birthdays, as repayment for a past-purchased drink or favor, or when a purse or wallet is forgotten.

Early in this project we generated ideas to ease the process of buying drinks for friends. This study revealed, however, that the above scenarios are not particularly common. As a result, these ideas were de-emphasized throughout this stage of the process.

Design Ideation and Concept Selection

Each member of the team individually generated a series of design concepts and sketches (at least three per person). We then came together to brainstorm new ideas that built off of that individual work. This resulted in five broad concepts. We then narrowed that new list down to three concepts. To do this, we rated each idea on five criteria: acceptability (from the user’s perspective), usefulness (again from the user’s perspective), demonstrability (how effectively we can demonstrate the concept), plausibility (how technologically, financially, and logistically feasible the concept is), and pleasurability (again from the user’s perspective). The table below shows simple rankings for these concepts based on those criteria ( indicates the concept handles the criterion well, indicates potential problems or questions with how the concept handles the criterion, and indicates the concept does not handle the criterion well.

Finding Seats at a Bar Smart Table: Ordering The “Jetsons” Bar Smart Table:  Game Event Buying Friends Drinks





We selected concepts 1, 2, and 4 from the table above. These concepts fared well on the above criteria. They also addressed needs that study participants most consistently raised. The three remaining concepts are presented in the next section.

Refining the Scope and Selected Concepts

The scope of the project narrowed some as this milestone unfolded. The concepts that centered around sharing drinks with friends has been removed.

As we stated at the beginning of this milestone report, our target audience narrowed after Milestone 1 to center on young bar-goers in their twenties. This remains the case after Milestone 2. Likewise, we are continuing to examine and refine ideas related to the environment inside the bar as well as surrounding the journey to the bar. Following this thread, the three activities we are focusing on are selecting a bar, ordering drinks at the bar, and engaging in an event, namely games, at the bar.

As indicated, our study results revealed that these three areas are ripe with opportunities to augment the bar experience. One potential area of concern is choosing which one to narrow down to. After receiving feedback—from other designers and bar-goers—on the concepts presented below, we will be in a better position to make that selection.

Finding Seats at a Bar

This concept has two main components. The front window of the bar shows a display of the current noise level, how many seats are available, and, if no seats are available, how long the estimated wait is. The second component is a mobile app that users can check to find the same information about a bar in a remote location. The app also allows the user to make a reservation while on the go. This setup requires an integrated window display and sensing system that can monitor noise as well as the number of seats available.

Smart Table: The Ordering Process

Here, we see a smart, touch-sensitive tabletop that aids in the drink ordering process. The bar table automatically recognizes the customer and presents information about what that person ordered the last time she went to that bar. It also suggests new drinks based on prior purchases. The system is designed to remove the customer-server interaction from much of the ordering process. Customers can order drinks directly from the table, and the the sever will bring them as soon as they are ready. If a customer has a question for a server, she can hit the “Call” button and the server will come. This system also greatly aids in the payment process. When customers are ready to leave, they can view a timeline of the drinks that were purchased during that visit. They can then place their credit cards on the tabletop and drag their drinks from the timeline to the proper card. The system then automatically charges the card. If a customer wants to pay with cash, he can still drag his drinks together on the tabletop and then call the server to hand the cash to.

Smart Table: Engagement through Games

This concept focuses on the idea of going to the bar because of a special event, something study participants mentioned is common. Here, we show a potential game where customers become players in the game by activating a sensor on their chair when they sit down. If a customer is selected, her chair will light up, indicating she is being challenged to play the game. She can easily opt out. The reasoning behind this concept is that it offers a means of engaging with other people at the bar—even people located in a physically different place in the bar. The game identified here is Fruit Ninja, but many games, including trivia (which is a staple at many bars) could fit into this system. The game is played through an interactive, touch-sensitive tabletop.


At this point in the project, we have gone through several rounds of ideation and refinement of the concepts we devised. We are now more clear about the project scope and have a greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges we face in crafting a stellar design that meets the needs and wants of our target audience and environment. We brainstormed numerous ideas and selected three of them based on a set of criteria; we will continue to explore these ideas further.

We still have some open questions. One thing we are unsure of is the preference for digital menus over original hard-copy menus. We are considering collecting additional data as we decide how to address this question as it relates to our project scope. Another uncertainty centers on the third concept presented above: what people’s opinion of interactive chairs in a bar setting might be. This question too deserves more research, something that could prove useful in inspiring our ultimate design suggestion.

– Suzie, Shiblee, Brian, Nicole, & Can

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