I worked with fellow design students Chenyu Wang and Zainab Aliyu to design a system of products that encapsulates a user experience. We chose to focus on small businesses, and improving the customer experience within a community. The project consisted of researching and exploring how we might merge physical and digital user experiences when shopping. We ultimately created a system designed to assist customers navigate small, local businesses and help small business owners attract new customers. 

Generating Project Ideas

Narrowing our Focus to Local Businesses

Choosing an Area of Focus

Before deciding to focus on small businesses, we considered many different topics to research. We thought about improving the user experience in places such as museums, airports, and even churches.

We ultimately chose to pursue small, local businesses because we felt it would present a rich problem space, and give us the opportunity to design novel solutions.

Contextual Interview Locations

Card Sorting Activity


Understanding People and Context

We began our research by traveling to the Lawrenceville. We conducted contextual interviews by asking small, local business owners what they were currently doing to increase customer engagement within their businesses, as well as within their community. 

We uncovered a few key insights from our interviews. First, small businesses want to target a variety of customers without being exclusive towards a particular demographic. Second, small businesses want to facilitate collaboration between neighboring stores and small businesses. Third, small businesses want unique and creative ways of attracting new customers, as well as catering to existing customers. 

After researching the goals and pain points small business owners experience when it comes to engaging with customers, we decided to shift our focus to the customer perspective when shopping at small businesses. We created a research provocation, a "make tool", to help us interview customers and gain insight as to what customers want when shopping locally. This make tool, called card sorting, allows customers to arrange a series of topics labeled on cards in a particular order, based on their preferences. It gives us as designers a better understanding of how a user is feeling about a particular subject.  

When doing the card sorting activity with customers, we asked what factors influence their decision to explore a particular neighborhood, what factors influence their decision to enter a particular store, and what factors influence their decision to buy a product from a brick-and-mortar store. 

What we found is that customers choose to explore a particular neighborhood based on convenience, accessibility, curiosity, certain stores, and certain restaurants. We found that customers choose to enter a particular store based on the store display, the merchandise, as well as overall curiosity. We also discovered that customers choose to buy a product in person based on their particular needs, interaction with the product as well as their budget and price of the product. 

We then decided to take the information we received from the contextual interviews and card sorting, and create a second design provocation to understand what information will give customers a good first impression of a store. This second provocation is a collage.

Like the card sorting activity, the collage allowed us as designers to see how the customer feels about the store display. We discovered from the collage that customers want variety when it comes to the store display. We also realized that customers are detail-oriented when shopping in person. They take notice when a business puts effort into the product display.  

Affinity Diagram of Card Sorting Findings

Affinity Diagram of Collage Findings

Concept Map


Using affinity diagrams, we were able to discover the goals and pain points of customers and small, local business owners. 

After generating affinity diagrams, we created a concept map as a way of understanding and mapping out the existing problem space. What we realized was how critical the product display is for customers, especially while shopping at a small business.

Generating Ideas for our Final Concept

Identifying Design Principles to Consider when Designing our Final Concept

Storyboard Detailing the User Experience

Concept Development

After synthesizing our research findings, we began our concept development. We created personas, one for the small business owner, and one for the customer. We are ultimately designing for customers who benefit from a more engaging shopping experience, and small business owners who wish to bring in new customers, as well as serve and cater to existing customers. 

From our research findings and insights, we began brainstorming ideas and identifying principles to consider when designing our concept. Once we identified various ideas and design principles, we began to think of physical objects and artifacts that encapsulate the principles we established. This is when we realized a kiosk could be a major part of our final concept. A kiosk would create a unique touchpoint within the customer experience, and provide a medium for the community to increase collaboration amongst various small businesses. We also imagined that the kiosk, as part of our concept, could replace the existing parking meters within Pittsburgh.

At this point, we began designing our final concept. This includes the kiosk, as well as the mobile application and materials needed for the entire user experience. We used various methods of visualization in order to design the user experience including storyboards, sketching, paper models, as well as computer-aided design.

The mobile application, in conjunction with the kiosk, gives customers the ability to export information from the kiosk, pay for parking and utilize technologies such as augmented reality.


Concept Sketches, Physical Prototypes and Wireframes

Final Concept

Our final concept is Waypoint, a system consisting of a kiosk, mobile application, and a series of display codes. Waypoint improves the customer experience when shopping locally. It helps small businesses increase customer engagement, improves how small business owners display their products and increases foot traffic within their businesses. 

The kiosk helps small businesses by advertising events, workshops, and products. The kiosk allows customers to pay for parking, view a public transportation schedule and suggests various locations to visit in the neighborhood. It also serves as a primary touchpoint for customers to create a wayfinding route to locations around the area.

The mobile app allows customers to pay for parking, receive alerts and notifications, download a customized wayfinding route from the kiosk and scan display codes to receive information about products sold at a particular business.

The display codes allow business owners to customize their front window displays, as well as show information to customers via augmented reality. The business owner places the display code on the front window of their business, allowing customers to scan the display code using their smartphones. This prevents business owners from needing to make major renovations to their businesses in order to improve the way they display their products. Customers scan the codes using the mobile application, which then displays recommended products, sales and discounts, customer reviews, events at the location and who is working at the location.