Project Background
With visitors reaching 20,000 on weekends or holidays, Cafe Aquaria is facing serious congestion issues during busy days.  With limited hands, there is not enough staff to manage these visitor fluctuations efficiently, causing the increasing unsatisfactory rates from visitors.
To provide visitors with an enjoyable and seamless experience at the aquarium, our mission is to look into potential causes that aggravate the crowding issue and explore solutions to alleviate it, and at the same time to create a pleasant user experience for visitors to the cafe.
Aug. 2019- Dec. 2019
My Role
UX Designer:
lo-fi and hi-fi prototyping
usability testing

UX Researcher:
field observation
semi-structured interviews
touring interviews
Define the Problem Space
Secondary Research
Communicate with clients
Field Observation
Understand the Users
User Research
Data Analysis
Affinity Diagram
Journey Map
Exploration of Solutions
Design Alternatives
Feedback Session
Design and Iteration
Wireframe Design
Expert Review
Prototype Design
Usability Testing
Project Background
In order to have a better understanding of the target area of specialty in this project, we conducted desktop research and met with our client to listen to their concerns and expectations.
Dining at Georgia Aquarium
Over 2.5 million guests visited the aquarium in 2018, and summer visitor attendance reached record-breaking numbers. The client has projected that the numbers are only going to continue to increase, which will add stress to the exhibit spaces as well as the dining areas.
The aquarium will be undergoing incoming expansions as expected from 2019 so that solving the overcrowding issue at the cafe will have a significant impact on the overall experience of its customers.
Number of visitors to the cafe can get up to 20,000 in a day
Cafe Aquaria is the only restaurant located in the Aquarium.
Cafe Menu
Stakeholders and Target Users
Target Users
Project Statement
“How might we redesign the service to alleviate the overcowrding issue and make the dining experience more enjoyable at Cafe Aquaria? ”
Define the problem space
Our team conducted a thorough user research to understand customer needs, uncover pain points of different user groups, and guide the later design.
Centering around the idea of the problem statement, we started the user research phase, striving to understand the following topics:
What were the main causes of overcrowding?
What are the user profiles of our customers?
What are the main motivations of our customers?
What is the user journey for customers at the cafe?
What is the impact of staff both from the “back of the house” and “front of the house” on customer experience
Research Methods:
1. Observation
Informational Goals
gain a contextual understanding of the cafe.
form a basic understanding of the user scenarios at Cafe Aquaria
make assumptions about possible customer pain points to better plan the intercept interviews
2. Semi-Structured Interview with dining customers
Informational Goals
learn more about user profiles and motivations
learn more about the user journey of individual customers
understand potential pain points and challenges of customers
know how customers navigate through the cafe
After conducting the intercept interviews, we found that it was difficult to get detailed information and feedback from the customers becuase having customers retrospectively think about their actions did not produce much valuable data. Instead, we think touring interviews with customers in a similar format to contextual inquiry could surface more insights that were lost in the intercept interview process.
3. Touring interview
besides informational goals from semi-structured interviews, we supplimented the sessions with the following questions:
Does the customers mental model o fhow the cafe works match up to the reality of the process?
How does the amount of traffic in the cafe affect customer behavior?
How do interactions with the staff affect their experience?
Where do the information gaps lie in the ordering process?
4. Staff Interview
Informational Goals
What is the impact of staff both from the “back of the house” and “front of the house” on customer experience
How is overcrowding at the cafe influencing staff's behaviors and task flows?
Information Synthesize
- Affinity Diagram
Research Findings
Customer Motivation
“I have food and I’m happy.”
- J.D, child (10 yrs)
“I’m at the cafe because my kids are really hungry, but my sister and I don’t want food right now.”
- J.D, child (10 yrs)
Most customers are motivated by hunger to go to the cafe, they don’t know about it beforehand.
The cafe area is a multi-purpose space for customers to eat, recharge, social, etc.
Some customers had an overall pleasant experience at the cafe.
Majority of the customers felt that the food is not worth the value.
Design Opportunities
How might we build upon the cafe’s existing strengths and customers positive impressions of the cafe?
How might we provide customers with better experience from early stages of their food-finding journey?
Multi-task Parents
"Let’s figure out what we want first, the kids are obviously not going to decide.”
- A mom speaking to her husband
“This cafe is chaos, but an organized chaos - I wish there were more choices for my daughters who are picky eaters.”
- Woman with two daughters
Parents are cognitively overloaded at the cafe and often will need a helping hand.
A lot of information is needed during the ordering process, like looking for food information for their kids and finding ways.
Parents have many things to hold.
Parents often split tasks and meet up at different points in the ordering process.
Design Opportunities
How might we design a solution that alleviates the anxiety of parents and makes the ordering process easier and more enjoyable?
How might we help parents order food for their children or assist children in choosing their own food?
Information Needs
“I breezed by the salad because my family want a burger, but if I knew that there was a salad beforehand I might have picked that up.”
- Lori, Tennessee
“It would be better if we know about the menu and ordering method before we came here. At first we thought the cafe area had several restaurants that needed to order and pay separately.”
- J.D, child (10 yrs)
Customers lack key information that can speed up the ordering process, including information on:
Available food options;
Nutrition information;
Food prices;
Seating location;
Cafe Layout(where to checkout; condiments area, etc).
Design Opportunities
How might we improve and standardize the navigation systems to guide traffic?
How might we help customers make their most preferred choice of food and prevent food wastage?
How might we make the pricing system transparent to customers?
How might we communicate food choices to customers before they enter the cafe?
How might we remove the burden of directing customers away from employees to that they can focus on their main tasks?
Traffic Flow
“During busy days it’s really difficult to move and do my work. Even when you say ‘excuse me,
excuse me’ customers still don’t move.”
– Lamarius, Buffet staff
The cafe are not using the most efficient methods to solve the traffic flow probelms(staff to direct the traffic, a lot of signs).
Layout of the cafe negatively affects both the customers and the staff.
Factors that cause the overcrowding besides the large amount of visitors: wheelchairs, strollers, and lane dividers.
The overcrowding of the cafe affects both the ordering and checking out process of customers.
The current layout of the cafe is not flexible for the needs of different customer groups, and at different time.
Design Opportunities
How might we design a system to make the cafe more prepared for incoming customers?
How might we ensure that customers can get to the food they want without having to go
through each station?
How might we make the space easier for larger groups to navigate?
Sitting Needs
“Let’s find somewhere to sit, if you can even find somewhere to sit in this place.”
– Johnny, Tennessee
Seating is an important part of the cafe experience, yet is one of the touchpoints that causes the most anxiety in a customer’s journey.
Factors that cause the overcrowding besides the large amount of visitors: wheelchairs, strollers, and lane dividers.
Design Opportunities
How might we design a system that indicates the availability and location of seating?
How might we reduce the anxiety around customers being able to find seating?
How might we design a system to allow customers make their dining plan in advance and avoid the peak hour so that the traffic can be controlled effectively?
To keep the users’ perspectives in mind throughout the entire course of our work, we created a set of personas and empathy maps for three main user groups (young couples, families, elderly) informed from our research that captures the majority of the visitors in the aquarium.
User group #1: Suburban Family
User group #2: Young Couple
User group #3: The Elderly
With these insights uncovered from our research, our team began brainstorming various solutions to the overcrowding problem that can improve the cafe experience overall for both the customers and staff.
Through a user-centered approach, the goal during this phase is to narrow down to one solution to make the right decision for the next step of our design process.  

Because we had formed a very specific problem statement further informed by our research, ideation came quickly. We sketched and mocked out conceptual solutions, gathered feedback from our stakeholders and users, and analyzed the pros and cons of each.
1.Pre-Ordering Kiosk
Kiosks at fast-food services and other restaurant chains are getting more and more popular to ease the load of staff and create a self-service experience for customers. We explored this concept in the context of Cafe Aquaria.
Increase customer throughput: Increase sales throughput during peak times and offer another way guests can order and pay
Informative: People can see what items are on the menu beforehand
Customization: People could customize their orders to suit their tastes
Quicker checkout: Customers can pay for their food easily
Long lines: Long lines could form at the kiosk, increasing wait times
Customers confusion: Customers may still need assistance with using the kiosk
Demands more space: Extra space would be needed to accommodate the kiosks
2.Pre-ordering Mobile Web App
With many food-delivery and pre-ordering apps such as GrubHub, UberEats, Doordash etc., people are becoming more accustomed to on-the-go ordering. We see this solution as having major potential in reducing overcrowding and streamlining the food ordering process to make the staff's lives easier and the customers happier.
Convenient: People can order anywhere inside the aquarium and not bound to the boundaries of the cafe
Informative: People can check price and ingredient info without the stress of continuing to move forward in a line
Non-intrusive: Does not require big changes in physical layout or staff workflow
Encompassing: less stand-in-line waiting for customers means less crowdedness at cafe, and less stress for the cafe staff

Discoverability: How to ensure customers know about this app
Initial user effort: Users have to potentially connect to aquarium wi-fi, input web app, and may have to input their credit card information
3. Interactive Digital Display
During our observations, we had found multiple large digital displays around the cafe showing rotating slides of the cafe menu and special discounts and ads. However, users could not interact with the display and because the display screens were on a loop, the customers would have to wait through the ads to see the menu again.

We wanted to see if we could leverage what the cafe already has and improve upon this display to solve for overcrowding issues and give customers more relevant information including an interactive layout of the cafe so customers can have a mental model of where all items are located before entering, as well as the food photos, ingredients, and prices of each item.
Low cost: Does not involve kiosks or substantial app development, and relatively quick to implement compared to other two solutions
Informative: People can have an idea of where everything in the cafe is as well as in-depth food item details.
QR code: People can scan a QR code and save a pdf version of the cafe layout and menu on their phone
Encompassing: less stand-in-line waiting for customers means less crowdedness at cafe, and less stress for the cafe staff

Long lines: May not necessarily reduce overcrowding issue at the cafe
Careful placement: Digital displays have to be strategically placed where customers can see it yet not be obstructive to traffic
Narrowing down on a solution
With three different potential solutions, we created feedback plans involving design and satisfaction questions in order to narrow down our solution from three to one single solution. From the feedback sessions, we chose the pre-ordering app for the following main reasons:
Employees can use the preorder system as a forecasting tool to understand how many orders will come in
People are comfortable with individual experiences, and being able to order on their own.
Research has shown that people order more (and spend more) with pre order experiences.
People can grab a seat in advance
Design evaluation & iteration
With these insights uncovered from our research, our team began brainstorming various solutions to the overcrowding problem that can improve the cafe experience overall for both the customers and staff.
Lo-fidelity Prototype
Expert Review
Increasing fidelity
In-depth Usability Testing
Hi-fidelity Prototype
Lo- Fidelity Prototype
Web App
Favorable for one-time use.
Multi-language Selection
Considering the wide range of visitors.
Placing Order
Offer cafe information
Inform customers of the hours and traffic at the cafe to allow better planning.
Specialized food categories
Make decision-making for customers, especially parents, easier.
Specialized food categories
Offer more flexibles in their food option as they are not in the long waiting line.
Easy checkout
Customer only need to provide name for the order and phone number to place an order
Order in advance
Customers can select a pickup time. We hope this can help them schedule their meal time and provides the kitchen staff valuable information.
Fill the waiting time
Guide customers to find available sitting areas while they’re waiting for their foods getting ready.
Cafe Traffic
Cafe traffic information
By informing tourists about the traffic information, we want to influence their plan of dining to avoid rush hours.
Seating area information
Inform tourists about where to find seats.
Expert Review
Cafe Manager
Georgia Aquarium Customer Services Manager
Task-based usability test to uncover any usability and interaction issues
Feedback on Menu items to validate information architecture
Features survey for both consumer-facing and kitchen operations app to gauge feature priorities
Key Findings
Amount of customization needs to be balanced with staff effort
Allow customers to select sides and drinks to some options to complete the meal.
Combo Meal
Account for “combo meal” ordered on the aquarium website and the use of vouchers and coupons.
Nutritional Info
Present nutritional information like calorie counts and allergy recommendations is vital for customers, especially concerned parents with kids.
Seating Info
Replace the live traffic updating feature with a well-designed map that spatially orients the user to seating areas.
Increasing fidelity
Account for combo meals
When testing with the cafe manager, we were made aware of many customers having coupon and voucher codes for food. As a result, we included a coupon code input in the checkout section.
Adding sides to a meal
We found customer expectations wanted to have side options included when choosing an entree found in common food ordering apps. We added on sides and toppings below each entree selection.
Prioritizing seating location map
In our original prototype, we had included a variety types of seating information including waiting time at the cafe, traffic overview based on foot traffic, and a map of seating area locations. During our testing, both experts believed the seating area map would be most helpful to visitors and the most realistic to implement. We prioritized the seating area map by putting it first and up front in the list.
More In-depth Usability Tests
As we iterated on our design, we began to testing it again with real cafe customers to further validate our design and features. To evaluate the overall usability of the prototype, we had customers think aloud and complete tasks such as ordering a burger and finding seating info. In the end of the testing session, we had participants fill out a SUS form.
Cafe Customers
Prototype used for testing
Key Findings
Ambiguous categories may cause confusion, what is the difference between “Popular” and “Favourite”.
The design doesn’t imply that it’s a pre-order app for the aquarium cafe.
Some of the food items may not be available or need extra weight time
Customers don't want to put personal info when checking out
Need more instructions on pay by cash method and coupons.
Order tracking
Lack the information about food pickup.
Seats Finding
Over half of the participants tried to interact with the seating map
Final Design
Final Prototype
Already the first
IntroductionDefine the problem spaceUnderstand the userIdeationDesign evaluation & iteration