Research Team: Shelly Stallings, Sara Miller, Kay Wyman
Over the past three weeks, our team has been creating and executing a process of obtaining research data through contextual inquiry at the local business Buzz Mill Coffee Shop. And what a whirlwind it has been. This is an update on what that process has looked like and some of our discoveries after presenting some stories form the field to the business.
Our group partnered with Buzz Mill to conduct a service design study. Our first step was to understand a bit about the business. We did this by reading through content on their website as well as visiting and spending time in the space.
From there, we created a focus statement for our research, which centered around how Buzz Mill cultivates community through an organization they’ve developed called Lumber Society. We worked to identify individuals we planned to interview, developed a series of questions that would invoke an understanding of their experience, and reached out to them individually, through email, text (obtaining their numbers through friends at Buzz Mill), or simply approaching them at an event.
We began interviewing folks and realized through our conversations that a sense of community and its value to folks at Buzz Mill extended beyond the Lumber Society. At that point, we changed our focus statement to be a bit more broad, now focusing on how Buzz Mill cultivates community and how people at Buzz Mill experience that community. We also broadened the audience to whom we would reach out and adjusted our questions to have a less narrow focus.
This provided some wonderful data that we have been collecting over the past three weeks by spending many hours at Buzz Mill observing interaction in the space and interviewing 18 individuals. Those individuals were a mixture of patrons and staff (10 of which were patrons, 8 of which were employed by Buzz Mill) spread between their San Marcos and their Austin locations.
Today, we presented our progress to the owner and another member of upper management. Below is one of our stories from the field:
Meet – Olivia!
Olivia obviously likes her job and feels connected to the people there.
When asked to describe Buzz Mill to someone who has never heard of it, she says:
It’s clear that Olivia gets a sense of comfort and well-being when she is at Buzz Mill. When asked what her best moment at Buzz Mill was, she responded:
Buzz Mill values and supports its staff going out and doing things that combine their passions and affecting positive change in the world, which they refer as a person’s Purpose Parallel. The owner, Jason, sits down with each member of his staff and has a long discussion to help them develop their unique strengths and interests.
We asked Olivia what her Purpose Parallel is and she had some difficulty articulating it.
Later in our conversation, however, Olivia did open up on working towards an artistic passion and explained how the community at Buzz Mill was instrumental in furthering her personal goals:
We can see that the Buzz Mill community positively influences Olivia’s life nearly every day.
After this experience, we have many learnings and are excited to get started on the next stages of our design process.
For our presentation, we decided on a format that presented personas for each of the 18 individuals we spoke with, and chose to focus on telling the stories of four. We found it difficult to par down the stories of these four individual’s into a couple quotes. We tried to choose quotes that captured the essence of an individual and were not taken out of context. However, because people most often speak from stream on conscious in interviews, this required making some judgments, of which there is not necessarily a “right” choice. This uncertainty of not knowing is something we each intend on getting more comfortable with over time in order to save time oscillating over “what’s best” and just try putting it together in a story or deck.
That said, we found working as a team in this process was invaluable. As we began to consider how to format our presentation, we printed out photos and all our transcribed utterances from the interviews we conducted and individually considered quotes and photos that captured the essence of an individual we spoke with. Once these were chosen, we shared with one another our thought process in choosing these moments in the conversations as valuable. In this, we were able to critique and challenge one another and were able to create stronger, more compelling and consistent stories because of it. Something a couple of us identified wanting improve upon is communicating our ideas and the reasoning behind our choices.
Human nature can make it hard to let go of personal ideas of how something should be done. While often we were able to talk through things in this process and come to a consensus, there were times, especially as time got short, that we each had to compromise to move the greater process along. This felt like an issue of both an attitude (one that needed more openness potentially) and time.
We also learned much from the reactions of the business leaders to our presentation. In this regard, the format appeared to be successful. They understood the depth of our conversations by the depth of the stories we told but also the breadth of our research as we presented all 18 personas to them.
In our process, we attempted to pull out quotes or part of stories that suggested a divergence from the way the business hoped people were experiencing things. While we may have been successful in that, the individuals we told stories about seemed to be ones they were familiar with, whether by knowing that persona or guessing the actual person. There was almost an expectation that they would hear stories that were brand new, even if there was knew information in the stories that we told. And in that way, we may have disappointed.
This poses two questions to consider: could we have done a better job of choosing stories? And could we have done a better job of choosing quotes that communicated the value of their experience?
Regardless, this is been a wonderful experience with much to reflect and iterate upon in the coming weeks!