Reducing Miscommunications and Designing for Inclusiveness

Universal Design

Although Starbucks has its commitment to access and disability inclusion, it has received criticism about redesigning the cups and phasing out straws. We aim to look into the transition space and improve its inclusiveness and make it accommodate everyone.


As designers, it’s our responsibility to understand the power of the interactions we design for people. We design to embrace the things that make us human. It’s what drives us to create a world that makes lives better. The result is technology that’s inclusive.

Course: Discovery and Invention

Project: Universal Design/Design Research/Prototype

Professor: Nassim JafariNaimi

Timeline: Oct.27—Nov.30  (5 weeks)


Design an artifact to improve the transition space

After 6 weeks of scientific and ethnographic investigation at Starbucks, we better understand how people navigate and interact with this transition space, and are interested in looking into it again to make improvements to Starbucks.

We began with a reflection of what we have overlooked in previous research at Starbucks. We realized that the lens through which we looked at Starbucks was narrow because we only looked at customers. We observed people who were sitting and multi-tasking, as well as people waiting in line. However, we overlooked people behind the counter, the baristas, and people who were not there due to various reasons. Consequently, for this project, we intended to include those who we had missed.

Define “improvement”

After reflecting previous research findings and several visits to Starbucks again, we hoped to improve this transition space by enhancing the experience for everyone involved in the journey of the line. 


However, such statement is still very broad and general. We have to address several issues here:

a) what are the problems/frustrations do customers/baristas have in the line?

b) how can we design for everyone?

c) how can we design for care/respect/love instead of just for the sake of design?


Deconstruct the user journey

In order to know the potential frustrations of customers and baristas, we took the line and deconstructed it into its micro interactions with each of the three steps, and used different methods to approach them. Take a look at the interview questions and results →

In order to understand the experience from our customer's perspective, we interviewed 26 people, most of whom are college students. We asked questions about their feelings (frustrations & satisfactions) in each of the three steps. Based on their answers, we came up with their journey map, through which we saw major frustrations happened before and during the order was placed. For the baristas, we did not want interrupt their work since they were too busy with the orders. We decided to observe them and used participatory observation to explore their frustrations. They also felt frustrated or embarrassed due to miscommunication.


Identify pain points

Low-fi wireframe

User Feedback and Critique 

We were lucky to have an opportunity to present our wireframe at CM showcase where we received many feedbacks on our initial design ideas.

Collecting Feedbacks on Wireframes and Students’ Experience of Waiting in Line

Hargraves’s and Buchanan’s readings about designing for care and human rights had a huge impact on me. I started to reflect why I came to such a design choice of a digital interface. Was it because the kiosk could accelerate the waiting experience?  Was it because the interface could reduce miscommunication by eliminating conversations? Could the artefact really solve problems and make people comfortable and delightful while waiting? Was it a design for care, or just for its own sake? 


Then we stepped back a bit to question us: How can we design to show care and love, and thus improve people’s physical and mental experience? 


Then we reframed our definition of “improvement”. We decided to look into the inclusive design. We got to talk with people with various difficulties, who were “excluded” from Starbucks because the physical space there was not accommodating. We hoped that by looking at extreme cases and designing for them, we can design for inclusiveness and care.

We learned from Microsoft inclusive design that physical, cognitive, and social exclusion is the result of mismatched interactions. The mismatched cases can be permanent, temporary or situational. Designing for inclusiveness means we go beyond our own experience and take as many situations as possible in making design decisions.


By looking at various universal needs, we try to design to increase accessibility to make the space more accommodating.

Microsoft Inclusive Design: Solve for One, Extend to Many 

Critical Disability Design

To make accessible design while showing respect to people with disabilities, it is vital to notice the potential and invisible stigmatization. For instance, if we just design an app for a "special" group of people, we are distinguishing, isolating, materializing people's difference. Instead, inclusive design and universal design promote to include everyone and give equal care and respect to everyone. Our focus is now shift to find a balance between providing care and avoid stigmatizing. We intended to consider those who don’t have a voice, and help them despite the fact that they don’t ask.


Hence, we decided to get rid of designing a new app on kiosk or on mobile. Instead, we investigated features in current Starbucks app and attempted to make it more accommodating and convenient for everyone.


Identify situations caused by mismatched needs and contexts

The mismatched situations shown in the video is based on the interview results and CM showcase feedbacks. We intended to highlight the potential miscommunications caused by temporary or situational visual/speaking/hearing difficulties. The video functions to instruct our design choices, based on which I designed the following prototypes. 

Digital prototype - Reduce miscommunications & accommodate everyone

Accommodating Feature 1 - Language option

  • Users select their familiar language in advance to see translation quickly at the menu page.

  • ​It saves time and increases efficiency.

Accommodating Feature 2 - Accommodation

  • The term of "accommodation" makes sense to those who need special help. However, we don't use "special service" or "accessibility" here to avoid stigmatization.

  • By selecting a certain difficulty, either permanent or temporary, there will be a shortcut click box at the order page where users can ask for special services from baristas/staff.

  • People have various special needs. We make it easier for people who want to know particular information (allergens, calories etc.) and customize their orders in advance. 

Accommodating Feature 3 - Food preference

Ordering page

Video made by my teammate Charlie 

  • Increase accommodation: preset food preference will be highlighted at menu page; click box will show up at order page

  • Reduce miscommunication: highlighted information; translation option; QR code


Next steps — can we do more?

​During the whole project, I understand that research and design are never linear. As researchers, we go back and forth between data and analysis. We employ different methods based on different contexts and different purposes. Refinement and iteration can be arduous but super meaningful. It gives us a chance to be critical to our own biased knowledge.


The most valuable lesson I learned is the essence of inclusive design. Design is not just for visible needs, aesthetics, multiple functions... but is for bringing care and respect to people who are related. We learned so much that we hoped to compile all our takeaways as guidelines for us, as well as for other designers who want to include universal design in their products. Hence, we were determined to create a "design toolkit" to  offer these guidelines as simple starting points for meaningful changes.

Illustrated and typeset by my teammates Sara and Jhil

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