A research project to learn how tech can be used to enhance social and food interaction in dining.
Welcome to Roman dining! This is a service design study on how tech can aid rather than disrupt social and food interaction in the dining scene.
From our discovery research, we found that diners wanted novel dining experiences that were also meaningful. This was due to the many modern dining trends which do not focus on enhancing diner interactions.
We believe that we can use technology to enhance rather than diminish the quality of interaction with one's fellow diners and one's food. And our method of proof was through emotion testing.
HIGH LEVEL TIMELINE
A two-week sprint with discovery research and iterative testing
MAKE OF THE TEAM
Two UX researchers and two interaction designers
To find a way to enhance diner interactions with tech.
As project manager and lead UX researcher, I led my team of four researchers and interaction designers in a topic we were unfamiliar with.
This project began as a service design study in the dining scene. It was difficult to imagine how this project would progress when we began, and my team members wanted to jump to design to see which ideas were most feasible. Nonetheless, I steered my team towards interviewing diners first as that was most crucial to free our work from biases.
Our discovery research results led us to the idea of a digital dining table. As none of us had experience with such a device, figuring out a test plan was challenging. Thus, I chose to use a physical wizard-of-oz prototype to test diners' emotions, and a digital wireframe to test usability. This circumvented the difficulty of programming animations and obtaining a device that could handle simultaneous touch gestures.
UNDERSTANDING THE USER
As our focus is on experiential dining, we wanted to target food connoisseurs and foodies in our research. We wanted to see how diners' experiences differed when they tried unfamiliar cuisines, and what their pain points were in the general dining scene.
It turned out that there were two kinds of diners - some who wanted social interaction, and others whose focus is on acquiring food knowledge. Food personalization was a common desire, and the biggest pain point was when servers did not know their own food in terms of its taste, ingredients, story, or origin.
'I don't want gimmicky modern food trends. What I want is the story behind an unfamiliar ingredient or dish.'
BREAKING DOWN THE PROCESS
Discovery. Design. Iterate.
Once we had an idea of what our users wanted, we did a series of design studios to find solutions to their problems. Since the main issues were personalization, social interaction, and food stories, we decided on a digital table solution.
Many issues came up while designing and testing, as we had issues with text orientation, on-boarding, intuitive design, among other service issues like customization logistics and restaurant data management. Thus, our concept had to be revised at each stage and we did design studios to solve each significant issue.
THESE WERE SOME MAJOR LEARNINGS OR POINTS WE WANTED TO CALL OUT
Why a menu?
Diners wanted a more visual way of ordering. They wanted to see what they would get, but not without a spice of mystery.
Yes, customization is in. But the chefs disagree. We can't hold up the line cooks with every spice and garnish. Even simple custom presentations are not feasible. So we limit customization to one course.
The soul of an ingredient
Understand me. Know your food. Diners were inclined to try new ingredients, as long as they could associate it with what they already knew.
Solo diners wanted something to do in the waiting periods of their 90 minute meals. Even group diners wanted something to break conversation silences.
Food preferences? Popular custom combos? By getting data early, we can access and plan for ingredient surpluses at the end of today's service, not next season.
TITLE OF THE CALLOUT BLOCK
Grinding conventional advice.
Some of the decisions I am happy with was staggering our digital prototypes a day after we tested our physical wizard-of-oz ones, as it gave us time to make changes to the former before testing, and spending the extra time to craft an unconventional test method that suited our purpose instead of following mainstream ideas. These ultimately led to a prototype that people were delighted to play with.
One area I could've improved on as project manager was to find a more effective way at visualizing our design from the start. While textual description of each step of the diners' journey was helpful, each of us had slightly different variations of what our design was. Thus for future projects like this, a mid or hi-fi mockup would be useful at the start even if conventional UX advice says otherwise.