Redesigning Physical Space – MSU Tech Store
Location: Michigan State University, AL 242 – Intro to Experience Architecture
Date: April 2018 – May 2018
Collaborators: MSU Tech Store Team
My Role: Project Lead, UX Research, Physical Prototype Design
The Challenge: How can we redesign the MSU Tech Store’s physical space to improve user flow and efficiency?
How can the current space be rearranged to allow easier flow for users? What changes can be made to increase efficiency? How can we accomplish these goals on a low budget?
The MSU Tech Store is located at the heart of Michigan State University next to the Hannah Administration Building. With a prime location for students, faculty and staff, it was shocking to find out fewer people were coming to use the MSU Tech Store for technology repairs, buying electronic devices, or even testing out the latest devices, video games, and sound systems on the market. Our goal was to help invite more customers into the store and use their services.
I researched, observed, designed, and built a prototype of the MSU Tech Store’s physical space and presented my prototype to the MSU Tech Store Team for feedback.
Design Process: The Double Diamond
The Problem: At a first glance, what does the problem appear to be?
Design the Right Thing: Start with research. Discover how users interact with the space. Explore opportunities for improvement. Define the major pain points.
Problem Definition: After further investigation and research, what does the actual problem appear to be?
Design Things Right: Develop a prototype. Test the prototype with the users. Deliver results. Listen to user feedback.
Conclusion: Constraints. Future work.
The MSU Tech Store Team said they were having trouble marketing their store and getting people to stop by the store for repairs or pruchasing devices. Those who did stop buy expressed satisfaction when receiving their repaired devices, however, not many people were buying in-store products. Could redesigning the space increase the number of customers and the amount of foot traffic through the store? The MSU Tech Store Team was willing to let me try and find solutions to the problems they were facing.
Design the Right Thing
Research – Initially, the MSU Tech Store Team asked me to redesign their physical space. I stopped by the store a few times to see the space for myself. I talked with the manager about the problem of little to no foot traffic and few pepople purchasing in-store products. He gave me a grand tour of the space and gave me a copy of the blueprints. We discussed the biggest limitations, including physical structure constraints, a maximum budget, and sections of the store that were not to be included in the redesign.
Discover – After learning what I could from the manager, I came back during different times and days of the week to observe customers using the store. I watched for what products were being tested and bought the most by customers. I also noticed there was a corner of the store where few customers visited. Some customers looked overwhelmed by the amount of products the store had on display. There were two doors but only one was used for incoming and outgoing customers. There was little lighting and a few small windows on one wall. The space seemed quite cramped for the purposes it was trying to serve.
Explore – The first solution I thought would improve the customer experience was to remove and declutter the products. The iconic Apple store’s design focus on simplicity would be a great fit for this store. Have a few products on display. Store boxed products in a storage room or hide them under the product display in a cabinet. Remove unnecessary products, such as non-tech related Michigan State merchanidise, and limit the number of shelves and display tables in the store. Lastly, LED lighting across the ceiling and brighter wall colors would improve the visibility tremendously.
There were a few solutions that took further time and thought to discover. For example, a wall and countertop could have been removed to create a bigger open concept layout. The IT repair help desk could be removed entirely to encourage more one-on-one interaction between the IT specialists and customers. Replacing the outdated carpet with a light wood laminate would brighten up the place and make it much easier to clean. Lastly, restoring the use of the second door would allow more foot traffic to enter in one door, drop off a device to be repaired, explore the store’s products, and exit the second door located near the checkout desk after purchasing a few products.
Define – After interacting with the MSU Tech Store Team and observing their customers, I concluded that the major pain points included too many products for a small space causing an overwhelmmed feeling, minimal lighting making it hard to see, conngested foot traffic, and less inviting to ask for help when the team was behind a desk rather than roaming the store.
After my investigation, the problem was no longer the customer but rather the space. It was true that customers were mostly using the sapce for IT repairs, however, the problem was with the use of space. Customers were overwhelmed and less likely to ask for help due to the layout of the space. It was not the customer nor marketing that was letting the MSU Tech Store down; it was its own store.
Design Things Right
Develop – Now that I understood the problem, it was time to put my suggested solutions to the test. I decided to use the blueprints to downscale the physical space to a 12:1 ratio. I used styrene sheets for the walls, making sure to cut out where the windows, doors and archways were located. I also used some cardboard for the construction of the checkout counter. I removed unnesessary walls and the IT repair counter to allow for more space. I had to leave any supporting beams due to the store being on the lowest level of a four story building. I removed most of the obtrusive display tables and movable shelves.
I went with a hunter green along the back wall with windows as a place to highlight products on wall mounts. I mimiced a laminate floor with a MSU-approved light grey color to capture and reflect sunlight coming in from the windows and LED light coming down from the ceiling. I picked a MSU-approved neon green for the wall with the two main doors to also reflect sunlight and LED lights back into the room. I left the other walls, counters and tables white to lighten up the room. Because I was inspired by the Apple stores, I designed portable display tables to showcase one product and store purchasable versions of the same product below. By being portable, the MSU Tech Store Team could move products around on the laminate floor to promote items or replace the display product quickly and easily by moving them to the storage rooms.
One other thing I had to consider was the budget of $10,000 the MSU Tech Store gave us at the start of this project for the redesign of their space. Fortunately, I was mostly planning to remove unnesessary walls, counters and products. I did have to consider the cost of paint, new flooring, new lighting, man hours, and renting a large dumpster. I discovered it would be possible to separate existing cabinets, which would be reused for the portable display tables. Some of the drywall could be cut to cover existing support beams and air vents. Even after calculating an estimate for the expenses, it was still well below the $10,000 budget.
Test – Once I had my prototype assembled and painted, I had a small focus group of four users ranging in ages 15 to 75 try it out using miniature toy people to “walk through” the store. Participants particularly enjoyed being able to move the display tables around and liked the color scheme. One participant looked through the main door with his eye to get a “real” view of the first impression of the space. Three of the four participants used the second door to exit the store.
Deliver – I presented the prototype to theMSU Tech Store Team along with a report on the research I conducted at their store. They were surprised to see that the actual problem was the density of their products in a small space and not a lack of customers. They were quite pleased with my design and even more pleased the redesign would cost less than the $10,000 budget.
Listen – One of the MSU Tech Store Team’s major concerns was reducing the amount of products in the store. They agreed that the color scheme, laminate flooring, and brighter LED lighting would brighten up the place and make it much more inviting. One team member liked the idea of removing the IT repair desk because it allows the IT team to initiate more face-to-face interaction with the customer. The idea of having a separate space to work on IT repairs and organize finished and unfinished repairs was very appealing to the MSU Tech Store Team. They also really appreciated the ability to move the display tables around and restock products easily by taking the display table with them to the storage room. Overall, they were quite pleased with my design.
Constraints – The biggest constraints for this project were MSU Tech Store Team’s $10,000 budget for improving the physical space, the small time frame to complete the project, and out-of-pocket cost to build a prototype as a college student. I was able to tackle these constraints although it took quite a bit of creativity to come up with a way around the $10,000 budget and reuse of materials. I also enjoyed finding cheaper resources that would allow me to make a prototype to highlight the redesign suggestions.
Future Work – Unfortunately, I was told after I presented my prototype to the Computer Center Team that they were already planning to move to a different building the following fall semester. That being said, the MSU Tech Store Team was really pleased with my work and would consider using some of my design suggestions in their new store.