Design research methods, Way-finding & Navigation
Application of design research methods at CJ Creative Reuse Center (Pittsburgh,PA) in order to gain insight of user’s way-finding experience
The way-finding experience at Construction Junction is nothing like our usual customer experience at Dick’s, HomeDepot, or BestBuy. The jaded door and the large found-material sculpture illustrates everything about this place. Construction Junction does not follow the expected norms of customer way-finding. Without consistent signage and inventory display convention, the space seems promising with possibilities but also appears overwhelming to navigate.
Become aware of the design artifacts and environmental attributes influencing users’ way-finding experience. At different locations of the store.
Design Ethnography (Photo Documentation + Notes)
Design Research Tools:
EXPLORATION AND CURIOSITY (+)
The interior incites a sense of exploration and adventure. The variety of objects differing in size, shape, and color evoke wistful feelings that encourage the user to walk within the space. The scale of the area is also a compelling factor for the user to investigate the space.
Most people explored the space by wandering around and looking at the signs occasionally for guidance. The signs were not necessary but a welcome enhancement of the space
Signages are inconsistent and visually loud. The large EXIT sign initially made me think I was at the wrong location. There is no comprehensive map that shows me how the space is designed.
“This place is so big! I can’t imagine what I can find here”
— Jacob (56) woodshop worker
The towering structures construct an intimate space for the users. The space is surprisingly quiet and helps the user to concentrate in the shopping experience.
Information on signages intersect and overlap, causing confusion to the users. There is no clear grid layout and designed pathways. The space doesn’t afford a safe environment.
The placement of signs did not coordinate with the physical structure of the space, causing instability and visual anxiety.
LACK OF CONTRAST (-)
The lack of contrast between the objects and the ceiling blur foreground and background, making it even more challenging to navigate the area.
“This place feels like my childhood home attic.”
— Maria(42) local resident
COLOR CODE (+)
The lumbers were color coded based on material and size. It was an intuitive system that made it easier for users to pick and choose.
TYPE SIZE (+)
The large type size helps communicating information even from far distances. Once locating the signs, getting to the destination was just a matter of time.
TOO LITTLE INFO. (-)
Once locating the area, I had difficulty reading the faded signs that seemed to inform me more about the goods. It was frustrating to figure out what was the common denominator amongst all the lumbers of different size and shape.
“I might find something good, or maybe not.”
— David (34) real estate manager
The contrast in the wood and metal texture helped me figure out where the appliances are. The environment forces me to rely on sensorial information to navigate the space. Shape and size are also good indicators of the type of object.
TRIAL AND ERROR (-)
There were two appliance aisles with only one actually containing appliances. I had to do trial and error walks to figure out the area I needed to get to. I got used to the idea that signs are not accurate and reliable in this environment.
The lack of threshold in between areas can cause disorientation. For instance, next to the appliances section is a lower ceiling that seems to indicate a threshold. I was unable to tell if the other side was part of the appliances section or an off-limits area. The space doesn’t afford a pathway that complements the layout and organization of the objects.
“I don’t know if these are for sale.”
— Joan (45) uber driver
Framing/Re-contextualize — Identifying and revising the research question. The frame will reflect the insight the designer gained through each iteration.
Prototype — Using design principles and research tools, design a cultural probe that endeavors to creatively capture the in-situation user experience.
Test — Deploying cultural probes and using accessibility/visibility and usability as metrics to determine the design focus on the next round of iteration.
Concept Question #1:
How can users effectively communicate their shopping experiences? Which variables will clearly indicate the causal trends? How will the research be interpreted?
Concept Question#2 :
Where do people experience these feelings and what are the more specific contexts in which these experiences happen? How can the probe promote participation?
Using the information collected from the cultural probe, field observation, interview, and desk research, the group mapped out affinity notes to organize information bottom-up.
Users adopt a different framework at CJ compared to when they go to other stores.
The visual language at CJ is perceived either as inconsistent/confusing or exciting/dynamic.
Temporality is a core experience at CJ because inventory is constantly changing
Users tend to be more leisurely and willing to spend more time at CJ than in other stores.
Conventional signages are not as effective in CJ.
Visual and spatial inconsistency enervates users. Staying highly alert and constantly sense-making the environment overwhelms customers.
Prior experience and customer goals highly influence user behavior.
Location A — Entrance
Location B — Aisles
Location C — Lumber
Location D — APPLIANCES/HARDWARE
Design Choices —
Accessibility/Visibility: In consideration of people’s willingness to participate in the cultural probe, one of the primary design choices to appeal to the audience were color choice and physical installation.
Black and yellow was used to not only refer to the iconic construction pattern but also to associate with the black and gold identity of Pittsburgh.
We selected Helvetica as the head, subhead, and copy font in order to emphasize clarity and augment legibility of information.
The installation was intended to make the cultural probe more noticeable and provide physical imposition to our design.
Usability: Our main concern in terms of usability was to find the balance between the user consciously reflecting on his/her experience but that the required task is not burdensome enough to affect the users’ holistic experience.
The size of the survey sheet was designed to fit in the hand so that the customers can record as they shop. Simplifying metrics and recording methods were ways to encourage the user to respond as well as gain perspective of the participant’s decision making process. Colored sticker labels, one-word answers, and free-comment sections were ways our group thought would effectively tap into the user’s thought process.
Results and Reflection—
Our group were not able to collect responses because there were too little participants. One reason the participation level was so low has to do with the ineffective placement. The store placed all of the cultural probes on the counter.
Another reason our group attributed the lack of participation to is our false assumptions of the users. Although there were no empirical evidence to demonstrate Construction Junction’s customer demographic, one thing for sure was that the people were not responding to the design that the group thought the users would respond to.
One way we tackled this issue was discussing with guest lecturers as well as revisiting the site to make more in-situation observations in order to make more accurate conclusions about the user demographic.
The cultural probe was spread all over CJ. Pictures speak more than a thousand words.
Design Choices —
Accessibility/Visibility : Construction Junction is most of the times filled with customers, and not all the aisles are clearly organized. It reached our concern that it would be important for the cultural probe to be easily distinguishable from the background environment.
We continued on with our original black and yellow color scheme but added the diagonal black and white pattern to include visual elements that would be noticeable even from far distances.
Instead of installing a cultural probe at a single location, the cultural probe questions were placed randomly throughout the space. We also placed these questions on eye-height level and locations where people would easily access.
Usability: Instead of having to hold around a survey, the second prototype promotes participation by allowing participants to be involved digitally. Participants were asked to send photos that capture there feelings to the project-email.
Adding elements of fun and play was also a goal for the second iteration. Taking photos, sharing images and comments, anonymity, etc… were design choices to make the design activity more engaging.
The former iteration asked a sequence of questions. But the second iteration only asks one central question. Our aim was to give more agency and freedom to the participant so that we receive more rich and perceptive data. The questions were free to interpretation and format and structure was less static than the first iteration.
Results and Reflections —
There was also a lack of participation for this iteration as well. People may not have been intrigued by the questions or some factor in the instruction process served as a barrier of participation. Many people may not have had phones that have email features. Most of the customers in CJ are middle-aged residents and may experience difficulty in tasks that are easy to younger age groups.
The questions could have asked too much from the participants. Some of these questions are difficult to address through single photos. Filming is more difficult and people might be less willing to take videos.
The fact that customers are handling potentially dangerous and heavy objects may also be part of the reason participants are not willing to participate. Using phones and taking pictures can be perceived as an unnecessary burden for the participants.
Targeting a niche market, Construction Junction possesses a unique voice as a local business. This is evidently true in the way the physical environment of CJ is laid out.
Data collected through design research suggests that this voice successfully appeals to many residents. The organic layout and inconsistency are the artifacts that many users identify CJ with.
Yet, this certainly creates barriers on attaining new user groups with consistent return rates. Many people described their experience as “draining” or “chaotic,” reflecting the potentially disorienting atmosphere of the space. Terry Wiles, the community outreach coordinator of CJ who we have been working with, has already identified this symptom earlier on in the project.
In order for CJ to enforce dynamism and not chaos, the organization requires a design intervention to develop a visual system that communicates the tone and manner users associate with CJ.