Jen & Laura go to the Castle

Two days ago we began a 16-week project in service design. The task is to partner with a local business then create and execute a research plan that delivers enough value that they are willing to pay us $1000 at the end of 16 weeks. The business also needs to meet the following criteria:

  • Have between 2 and 20 locations, stores, factories, building, etc.;
  • Employ at least 10 people;
  • And be in a humanitarian context.

After receiving the assignment everything began to move very quickly. Jen and I teamed up Monday night, and by Tuesday morning we had a starting list of businesses that fit the assignment criteria or we had a personal connection with that we thought might be useful.

We pitched our proposal to seven businesses via email, phone, or in-person visits before two businesses agreed to sign on. Our pitch started by explaining that we were interaction design student looking to work with a local business on a 16 week project. Then we explained why we thought their business might be a good fit, and gave a general overview of what the project would require and deliver. Lastly, we ended with the hard part which was our request for payment and the short timeline we were working with for a decision (~24 hours). Please enjoy the images below of some of the businesses we visited in-person.


The business we plan to work with on this project is Castle Hill Fitness. CHF is a local gym in Austin with the vision of “fostering a community that celebrates a person’s individual journey towards a higher quality of life.” They are also the only Austin gym that has been recognized as a Green Business Leader by the City of Austin. We decided to make those green initiatives the focus of our initial research plan. We will be meeting with Castle Hill Fitness on Friday to discuss the project in more detail, but we will be presenting our green-initiative-focused plan as a starting point.

Through our research we plan to learn about the green initiatives that Castle Hill has implemented and the impact this has on gym operations and customer experience.

Within this focus we’ve outlined the following goals to help guide our research:

  1. To observe current processes and strategies (both good and bad) used by participants to administer the Castle Hill Fitness green initiatives.
  2. To understand the impact of current green initiatives on the employee and customer experience at Castle Hill Fitness.
  3. To identify opportunities to better the customer and employee experience at Castle Hill Fitness through green initiatives.

To accomplish these goals we plan to use methodologies centered in contextual inquiry. This means we plan to learn about people in the context of their lives. To do this we will:

  • Go to the participants’ work and work-out spaces rather than bringing them into an office to conduct interviews, shadow them, and administer other research activities.
  • Interview a wide variety of gym employees as they perform their job duties to gain a better understanding of their tasks and procedures, especially around green initiatives.
  • Conduct an interview prompted by gym artifacts or behavior, rather than simply following a question/answer script.
  • Develop a series of activities that participants can use to communicate their wants, needs and desires in a creative way instead of simply in a verbal manner.

Who are these participants we will be learning from to better understand and inform our research goals? Well, we would like to work with participants who occupy different roles in the gym to potentially give us different viewpoints and perspectives on the topic. We are also hoping to work with all the members of Castle Hill’s green team in whichever role they fall into. Below is the proposed participant list we created and our plan is to ask our Castle Hill contact for recommendations for specific participants.

CHF participants table

Our specific plan for participants varies slightly based on their role, but generally goes as follows:

  1. Introduce ourselves and ask them to fill out a consent form.
  2. Ask a few introductory questions to get to know the person a little better.
  3. Have the participant to show us their “gym artifacts”. For customers this would be more along the lines of what they’ve brought with them to the gym, and for employees this would be the tools they use to do their job.
  4. Shadow the participant as they go about their activities, and then ask a few deeper questions on our topic of interest.
  5. Facilitate a visual activity involving eco-friendly objects.
  6. Thank them for their time and give them a Soup Peddler gift card.

We will be meeting with Castle Hill Fitness on Friday and will adjust this plan accordingly, but are very excited with the progress we’ve made and looking forward to the next steps.