Case Study: Improving the experience of the dining area

Asit Khanda
7 min readJun 11, 2021

User Experience is something I have long wanted to learn about and with my recent enrollment in the UX Mastery program by Growth School, I got a firsthand opportunity to learn about the foundations and this design thinking case study is a result of that opportunity. Hope you end up liking the whole process!

Design Thinking, you say?

Poke Illustration — Astronaut
Think like an Astronaut? Source: Karthik Srinivas

In the simplest terms, design thinking is to understand the user’s problems and present them with a near-perfect solution. It’s a framework which actually helps a designer approach, find & solve problems for a particular user or a group of users. The problems can be as simple or as complex they need to be and same goes with the solutions. In the end, all it matters is to usably & equitably solve the problem of the user(s).

So what’s the whole framework you mentioned about?

More specifically, it’s called the Design Thinking Framework (let’s call it DTF for short). It has 5 steps in it’s process which makes sure you always cater to the users needs and stray outside.

Design Thinking Framework Process
Design Thinking Framework. Image Source: Google
  • Understand how the user experiences the product/area
  • Specify the user’s needs
  • Design solutions
  • Evaluate the solution against the user’s needs
  • Design solutions, Evaluate and it goes on.

Okay, let’s get back to your project?

Yes. So we were divided into teams for this project and were told to pick up one area of a house. Why a house? Because the basics of design thinking start from here. If you can’t understand your users in their comfort zone, how can you understand hard to define problem areas? How can you solve for problems that users don’t even know exist? Picking an area of the house was the simplest way we could put ourselves as designers to test and learn. So I chose the dining room/area (which is already in the headline).

Dining Area
Dining Area? Source: Illlustrations

That’s the area where we usually eat food but also do much more like read a newspaper, sit down to drink water, etc. But of course, as our DTF Framework tells us, we shouldn’t consider ourselves as the user in this case. And so, I set out to understand my users which in this case is my group of 5 people whom I interviewed on a 1v1 basis. This is called the empathize stage where you try to understand and analyze how your user uses their place. It’s almost as if you are in the user’s place and experiencing the user’s workflow yourself. That’s crucial because without understanding how a person uses a product or works in an area, you can never find underlying issues.

Questions should revolve around your topic
Questions should be conversational in nature

The following are some of the questions that I prepared when starting this interview. Please note that this is a hard defined set of questions but rather a framework to work with. I moved around based on the answers and situations provided by the user

Question Set
Empathize by asking users

While asking questions, I had to be very careful not to put questions in their mouth otherwise the whole interview would have went off of an idea that I planted into the user’s head. Here is what my users had to say

User Interviews Set 1
Two users with a stark contrast in dining area usage
User Interviews Set 2
Talking with users instead of questioning brings out a lot of stuff

First thing I learned from these interviews is not everyone dining area is the same. And the experience of each varies greatly even if the confines of the house are the same.

Also, one can bring out a lot of hidden usage and problem areas. For example: I noticed that whenever one of my user is feeling down or sad, sitting at a centrally located place from where the whole house and activities are visible can lift up one’s mood. Pretty crucial mood now that we are all staying home for majority of our time.

What’s next?

Next we carefully study our users and define the problem areas. One can identify a lot of hidden problems if one analyses the way people work in their environment. Sometimes, the user may not even realize that there is a problem because we all get used to our environment. Here is my problem defining for my users

One Area — Varied problems

It’s also important to explain why I think these problems are important to the users. (No fancy images, here, I am writing them all down!)

Dining table is usually a place where one eats, as most users have space constraints, having a versatile dining table is very crucial

Decoration is important for the users because of the ambiance. Eating place is all about relaxing and easing in

All users hate moving furniture and stuff around because it is both exhausting and cumbersome to perform every time

Sarvani almost always eats while working these days so she uses a small work table on the bed which isn’t spacious to accommodate both the laptop & food

Although not directly related but same food dishes also affect the dining experience and they prefer a new dish everyday

Ashwini wants to use the dining table more efficiently which is actually important considering there is so much wasted space but unable to only because it’s not fitting the area where it is placed

Chetan highlighted an important point that they had a confusion if the dining table they want to purchase will fit their dining room aesthetics

So now, we work on the problems?

Yes, but also No. Here we ideate solutions to as many problems, or even, multiple solutions to a single problem and then pick the top 3 to show with the users. Why top 3? Because it’s important we focus on one important problem area to solve and while it can be overwhelming to choose one from many, it becomes much easier if you pick your top 3 based on your priorities

Ideate your way through problems

So, What’s your top 3?

My top 3 problems based on the importance are

  1. Foldable/Versatile Dining Table — Most of the people have issues with space and this foldable dining table can fit into small areas without taking up a lot of space
  2. Adaptable Decoration — If I can provide a detachable decoration solution then it can go up on the walls for existing infrastructure without changing anything that’s already built
  3. Flexible arm attachment for Mobile & Tablet viewing — It can prove to be a great accessory to eat & watch at the same time

What did you pick? Show us the design!

So I picked up the idea of a foldable dining table as it is a major issue with my users as they do not have a dedicated dining area or the dining area is too small to accommodate any kind of table. It’s also an issue while moving around if guests come up and you need to accommodate more people.

This is the design I came up with

2-way foldable dining table
Some more description

The folder mechanism makes sure that you only use how much require and keep it folded to a corner when not in use

Chairs are tucked into the lower cabinet so it all stays in as one small dining table.

It can be expanded on both ends to allow for upto 4 people to sit together

So what did your users say?

This is called the testing phase. Here we show the design/prototype that we have built and take user feedback to make further changes and enhancements. This also shows the user how much the designer was able to understand him/her. Testing phase is important in any design process. Here is what my users had to say

A summary of the feedback received

Where from here?

After the feedback, I iterated on my design and decided that adding wheels in an improvement of the functional experience and makes it portable to be used anywhere in the house as per the user’s needs

Iteration based on the feedback

Great! What did you learn from the whole project?

  • Listening is the most important activity of this entire project. Without listening properly, one can never find the most crucial issues
  • Empathizing is actually quite difficult than one might think. I had to struggle a lot with this. Often times, my assumption brain came in the way.
  • Focusing on the task at hand is more important than thinking of the whole project in one go
  • Ideas are useless until executed to practicality
  • Often times, the most effective solution is the most simple one

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