Discovery & Invention
Nassim JafariNaimi
Aditya Anupam
Time Line
Sep 17- Oct 2 (Part 1)
Oct 2 - Oct 18 (Part 2)
Team Members
Huan Deng, Jhillika Kumar, Charles Massimo Denton, Sara Mostofizadeh (Click to see their portfolios :-D)

Design Team’s Statement

In this project, we have chosen Starbucks at CULC as the transition space. By using different research methods, we were able to include more perspectives to refresh our view of this transition space and meanwhile, we could get a deeper understanding of the methods and how they complement each other. For the first part, we positioned ourselves as bystanders to observe people who were sitting and working at tables in Starbucks (logistic method). We intended to look into how people multitask at Starbucks and how the environment impacts their behaviors. For the second part, we consciously brought our knowledge and impact to the transition space by talking to people and interpreting their responses as well as space (ethnographic method). We intended to investigate people’s motivations for coming to Starbucks at CULC. After two rounds of presentation, I realized the limitations and strengths of different methods.




Identify Transition Space

In a group of six, we first chose two spaces, the coffee shop and elevator, and brainstormed in what sense they were transitional and what would be interesting in the spaces. The coffee shop,namely Starbucks is a transition space if we look at people’s journey of getting a coffee. They transit between indoor and outdoor, from waiting to ordering to waiting to receiving to exiting, and emotionally from desiring to fulfilling etc. On the other, people in the elevator transit from level A to level B, and also change their positions inside the elevator box, from which we could interrogate how their choices of destination/position relate to their behaviors. However, we noticed that if we wanted to observe people in elevator, we had to be in the box and occupy an area, bringing impact to the space and people’s movements more or less.

After discussion, we agreed on that a coffee shop, specifically Starbucks, would be a better place to conduct logistic research since we were able to observe it without intervening the environment. In contrast, the researcher’s impact to the limited space in elevator could hardly be ignored. Hence we eventually decided Starbucks as the site of observation. Here, the challenge would be that we had to quickly find a focus since there were too many things going on in Starbucks.

Methods of scientific tradition & ​Interim Presentation

We looked for methods that could help deconstruct the transition space from Universal Methods of Design.

In our subgroup, we took the methods on the left and thought that they could give us information from different angles.


  • Observation--A comprehensive and objective recording of the space and people’s behavior

  • Participation observation--Observe as a participant in the situation and focus on the interactions, perceptions, and motivations

  • Graffiti Walls--Set up a whiteboard for people to remark their inner feelings at Starbucks

During the first round of research, we basically observed people transiting in line to get their coffee and put a whiteboard near the receiving counter for them to write comments. However, after the interim presentation, we realized that we attended to too many things at the transition space at the same time and not all of the three methods could produce reproducible results. For instance, Graffiti Walls might not be a great choice for logistic research since the answers could be situational and changing. Hence we decided to meet and find a unit of analysis and new methods for the next round of observation.

The final choices & our observing process

A unit of analysis -- Students’ way of multi-tasking

We observed that people waiting in line were continuously at a changing state. We might not have enough time to list their behaviors before they left. So we shifted our focus to people who were sitting at tables, most of whom would stay for a while. And our unit of analysis would be their ways of multi-tasking. The reasons why we reached this theme were:

  • Most people here are students - a constant variable.

  • People are transitioning between a multitude of activities

  • Starbucks provides an environment where individuals are prone to multitask

New Methods

  • Observation - for collecting baseline information, attentive looking, systematic recording of people’s behavior, interactions, environment, etc.​

         Through observation, we had a list of people’s tasks while sitting at Starbucks.


  • Ergonomics Analysis- for analyzing the size, reach, clearance, the posture of infrastructures (tables, chairs)

  • In our observation, we noticed that the tables at Starbucks were of different sizes, which influenced people’s posture and provided constraints to people’s choice of tasks. Thus my teammate also attended to this method to understand people’s multitasking.​​​

The size, shape, heights etc. of tables put limits to objects on them and people's behaviors.


  • Behavioral Mapping - for recording time spent at fixed locations or in transit.

  • We divided Starbucks into different parts based on different tables and areas. It’s a location-based recording of human activity. We mapped out the tables in numbers, observed people at each table, and the specific task they were doing for 15 min. We were interested in the composition of their tasks and how they distributed time in different tasks.

Number each table at Starbucks.

No.1 - 2: Higher tables with 4 seats

No.3 - 4: Lower ones with 1 seat

No.5 - 7: Lower ones with 2 seats

No. 8: A large festive long table

No. 9 - 13: Lower ones with 2 seats 

No. 14 -17: Lowest ones with 1 sofa

How we collect our data

Final Presentation

From the results of the behavioral mapping, we see most people work with their laptop (yellow cards), and some would read/write, eat/drink, look around, check their phone messages at the meanwhile. We recognized laptop, read and write as “working”, while look around, check phone messages, eat as “not working, distractions”. We decided to act our results out in the presentation.

Each of us (Sara-phone, Charlie-look around and Huan-eat) represented a kind of distraction for our main character Jhil who wanted to focus on her working. Through this, we wanted to show what main tasks people would be doing at Starbucks and what the potential distractions were. In a word, it’s hard for people to focus on just one task while sitting at Starbucks based on our observation. The arrangement and design of the space, the tables as well as Starbucks itself a place providing various possibilities for different tasks, lead to people’s multitasking there.

During the research, we practiced the logistic approach in that there was deconstruction both in choosing our unit of analysis and the whole observing process. We deconstructed people’s multitasking into smaller and more specific tasks like reading, writing, sticking to their phone, laptop etc, and then constructed these behaviors into categories (working/distraction) based on how much time people spent on them to look for patterns.

Reflections on Part 1

The logistic methods render objectivity and reproducibility to the research. The researcher could quickly come up with patterns and common themes through observation for further study. However, there are mainly two drawbacks. First, to come up with meaningful patterns, we are supposed to have many samples as possible at different time periods of a day regularly. It is really hard to stick to a fixed research schedule due to group members’ different time arrangements. Second, although we defined our categories based on the observation, we were not sure what the observed were doing actually. For instance, when they were staring on their laptop, we could not see whether they were working on hard math problems or scanning entertaining news. We could just generally group this behavior to the “working” category, which might not be the truth. So it’s time to have new methods to understand people’s behaviors and motivations!!! Hence in the second part, we included the ethnographic methods in our research.


Methods ethnographic tradition

Similarly, we met in groups to decide which ethnographic methods we would like to use to better understand Starbucks as a transition space. But this time, we understood that we, as researchers, would inevitably influence the people and the space we were going to observe.

  • Interviews - for collecting baseline information, attentive looking, systematic recording of people’s behavior, interactions, environment, etc.

  • We first conducted a pilot study to look for a “topic” for this part of the research. We simply asked people why they came to this particular Starbucks and developed conversations based on their responses. Based on their answers, we were interested in people’s motivations for coming to Starbucks at CULC and we decided on the question list for subsequent interviews.












  • Participant Observation- Immersive, ethnographic method for understanding situations and behaviors through the experience of membership participation

    • Marginal - Blend into an environment as natural observers of an activity or event

    • Before interviews, we would like to spend some time to observe and record interviewee’s movement, appearance, expression etc, anything that could influence further interview questions.

    • Full -  Actively participates and occupies a role in the community they are studying, experiencing the same events as their subjects.

    • In our observation, we noticed that the tables at Starbucks were of different sizes, which influenced people’s posture and provided constraints to people’s choice of tasks. Thus my teammate also attended to this method to understand people’s multitasking.

  • Contextual Inquiry - Immersive, contextual method of observing and interviewing that reveals underlying (and invisible) work structure; Observe work where it happens + expose underlying work structure + observe details about the day-to-day activities of people

    • After observation, we could learn from watching (their gaze), then ask what they were attending to in a certain area. If Interviewing taught us what kinds of questions were effective, Contextual Inquiry taught us how to interpret behaviors according to motivations.

  1. Are you an undergrad/master’s/ Ph.D. student?

  2. Which department are you from?

  3. Why are you at Starbucks?

  4. Where are you coming from? Where are you going?

  5. How often do you visit Starbucks?

  6. Are you planning on staying at Starbucks? For what purpose? Approx. how long?

  7. Do you have a class/work nearby?

  8. Do you have tests this week? How does a trip to Starbucks fit into your schedule?


General patterns (go back and forth between data collection and analysis)

  • Most people coming to Starbucks at CULC are students.

  • The location is the Top 1 reason why they come here instead of other coffee shops. Starbucks at CULC is located near many school buildings and the library. Many students transit between class/library and the Starbucks. Meanwhile, its location makes it a good choice of place to meet others.

  • Most people who are in the waiting area prefer not to stay at Starbucks for studying or working because of the noise. Most of them would grab a coffee or some food and leave.

  • Some people prefer to go to other coffee shops where the price is lower.​

Some anecdotal but enlightening cases

  • On Friday afternoon, a scholarship program holds events weekly. Students and faculties of that program could get a discount on drinks and food at Starbucks at CULC. The event venue and the discounted price lead to a longer waiting line at 3 pm.

  • Some people make purchase by Starbucks card. One interviewee mentioned that she would not come here if she did not have the gift card due to the price.

Final Presentation & Reflection

We intended to present our findings in the form of role play. We divided our findings into two parts:

  • People who are waiting in line and would not stay at Starbucks for studying

  • People who’ve stayed at Starbucks for a while but kept being influenced by the surroundings (including the influence from us, the researchers!)

Through this form of presentation, we were able to show the class the most common reasons that students visit Starbucks at CULC by going through the whole customer journey from waiting in line to waiting to receive coffee. Hopefully, the audience could see researchers' impact to this conversation in asking questions related to what they have observed. For instance, Sara (Researcher 1) noticed that Huan (Customer) carried a heavy backpack and purchased a coffee with a Starbucks gift card. And then, Jhil (Researcher 2) hypothesized that Huan might come to Starbucks from a class nearby, and then interviewed Huan to confirm or oppose her hypothesis. How Jhil phrased her questions and responded to Huan's answer could also influence the process of the interview and the results. In our Act 2, we also attempted to show researchers' potential impact in observing people and space. We exaggerated that the observed might notice our existence and then perform their behaviors, which was based on our real experience at Starbucks. In this, researchers' gaze could also be a sort of distraction for people who intended to work and study at Starbucks.


Ethnographic methods make the research quite fun in that the conversations between researchers and interviewers are unpredictable despite the established problem frame. The uncertainty makes each case and interview distinguish from one another, requiring researchers to go back and forth between data and analysis, bring their own knowledge (shaped previously and during research) into their interpretation of data. In this light, ethnographic methods, most of the time, would not provide reproducible results to generate patterns. However, such methods could make up for the logistic methods if we want to know people's feelings, motivations, and purposes. Combining different methods and utilizing them at a proper time enables researchers to bring more perspectives to a research, but meanwhile requires researchers to consciously know their impact on people and the environment being interviewed and studied.

© Designed by Huan Deng with ❤. Last updated in Oct. 2020.