Buzz Mill Themes: The Patterns Within

Research Team: Shelly, Sara, Kay

It’s been seven weeks since our team first connected with Buzz Mill Coffee Shop, a social initiative cum cafe-bar, in Austin and kicked off our service design research project. As we dive deeper into our data and discuss details around what people are experiencing and how Buzz Mill is trying to influence both patrons and staff, we are beginning to form a mental model of the business and uncover hidden social patterns.


Theming is the process by which we examine all of the audio data to discover latent patterns of feelings or behavior. This requires a level of inference, or using our own reasoning to build a little on the idea being expressed. Theming has been particularly helpful for us to sift through the data and discover deeper meaning behind all those words we captured during our interviews.

After typing out each participant interview, the team separated each discreet thought out and pinned all of them to our walls. It looked something like this:

A wall of utterances ready to be themed
A wall of utterances ready to be themed

Next, we took an interesting utterance and tried to find another one that seemed to show similar ideas of behaviors or feelings, while trying to avoid just matching categories. This exercise helped us to develop “themes” in the data, which slowly grew and morphed as we looked for deeper patterns and discussed the nuances of the business, the environment, and the people to whom we had spoken.

The following are the most interesting themes we found.

Our Themes

  1. There is a desire amongst patrons and staff at Buzz Mill to form relationship by remembering one another from previous visits.
  2. People feel connected when creating something in collaboration.
  3. Going to events motivates people to try new things.
  4. Insecurity is an obstacle to engagement.
  5. The responsibility of the staff’s role at Buzz Mill excites them to improve their community.
  6. A passion of a staff member brought them in touch with Buzz Mill initially.
  7. When people feel unique in some way, the space of Buzz Mill has given them the ability to identify others who are unique in the same way.
  8. The physical space of Buzz Mill facilitates the existence and growth of communities

How utterances support our themes

While some of these themes seem obvious and uninteresting (and, let’s face it, as students, we know they could be much better), the point is that the interview data we gathered supports them. The theme Insecurity is an obstacle to engagement, for instance, is supported by utterances from several people who exudes insecurity around doing something or being social. Let’s examine one:

In our blog post about Stories from the Field, we met Haley, a patron of Buzz Mill who attends events and participates in educational and volunteer efforts often. Here is what she said about the very first event she attended at Buzz Mill, which was free. 

“And since it’s free, I was like, “I’d love to spend a couple hours here and buy drink or something. So it’s not like I’m completely freeloading. – Hayley (Line 4)”

Since the event was free to attend, that should reasonably attract more people because it lowers the boundaries of participating. But in this instance, Haley is expressing insecurity around being perceived as taking too much. Thus, making her feel she needs to buy something in order to feel that she belongs.

Since Buzz Mill’s mission is to “cultivate conscious community” by connecting and educating people, it would be important for them to know things that could be causing unease. Perhaps there is an opportunity there to make someone feel more secure and ready to participate and learn.

Presenting our findings to the business

Once we chose our most compelling themes, our team discussed how each utterance supported the theme and how they related to one another. We created a presentation and explained each theme to Buzz Mill’s owner and operations manager.

We tried to show how both patrons and staff at Buzz Mill interact with the space and with each other, and how that creates certain feelings of bonding or when it might lead to uncertainty.

The owner seemed less interested in what we presented about the staff as he works closely with them and would occasionally interrupt to talk about staff roles and expectations. The operations manager, however, took notes and showed us a nifty diagram he had made of how patrons and staff support each other in accomplishing Buzz Mill’s mission to cultivate community. He said he valued seeing the structure of the business in a different way because it gave him several ideas on how to communicate to patrons that Buzz Mill is here for them.