Designing Café Oh Yay! ☕

How might we design an app to find the perfect café for working and studying in?
Time to read: 4 min
You step inside a café hoping to find a nice place to hunker down and work. After setting up your laptop, you run into a number of problems: there are no outlets, the music is awful, and the weekly writer's meetup is chatting loudly next to you. Plus, the bathroom is out of order.

How might an app designed to help users find the right café to work and study in help? Our two app prototypes help users choose based on data-backed preferences like busyness and noise levels, saving time and money for the customers and driving more business for cafés.


I really like the atmosphere. It’s nice for meeting an old friend. It also had pretty nice food and drinks so that’s good. As for studying, I see a lot of people here studying so maybe it’s not that bad.
This is a final project that I did in my human-computer interaction class as a senior in college.

The Challenge

Think of a college Starbucks and you might imagine a number of students camped out with their MacBooks and iPads, studying for their next exam. With the only requirements being a latte and maybe a croissant, cafes are lovely places to work — not just for students, but a variety of telecommuters, writers, freelancers, and anybody who fancies a change of pace from the office, bedroom, or library.

But finding the perfect café for your wants and needs is a challenge — maybe you need less noise to focus, or a strong internet connection. Some people might want a café within 5 minutes of walking, while others are content with trekking to find a suitable place to hunker down. In this class project, my team and I conducted a field study (aka followed people around to find cafes), created two low-fidelity prototypes, and ran a within-subjects lab experiment to create a café-finding app called “Café Oh Yay!”.

🔍 Find our blog posts detailing the process here

The Research Process

The field study

For our field study, we sought to understand the typical decision process of finding a café, how the type of studying impacts café-seeking behavior, and the current pain points. Thus, we observed and video recorded how participants naturally searched for a café to study in. Specifically, we used contextual inquiry and direct observation to derive insights.

Informed by these findings, we also created 3 tasks and 3 user personas, from which we created a list of prioritized requirements. Using the requirements, we designed two interfaces to support students in finding a good café for studying.

“Cafes, compared to school and other study spots, are more relaxing. You see people minding their own business and doing their own things.”

The experiment

We recruited 10 participants and tested our two interface designs within subjects — i.e., all of our participants evaluated both interfaces. Our experiment design was a two-factor design with navigation design (”Mosaic” vs. “Slidedeck”; within subjects) and amount of data (8 vs. 16 cafes; within subjects). For our statistical analysis, we used ANOVA to compare means and determine if there is a difference between the two sample groups.


Through an ANOVA analysis of task completion time with the prototype and number of cafes as within-subjects independent variables, we found no statistically significant effects for either variable or for their interaction. However, we found general trends that most participants preferred the "Mosaic" design for finding a cafe but preferred the "Slidedeck" design for browsing.

💭 Reflection

This was my first hands-on research lesson on statistical power, or the confidence to generalize findings within a range of acceptable errors. I was disappointed to find out that our results weren’t statistically significant! Later, I learned that there was no way it could be — we only had ten participants.


Choosing to do a field study, or the practice of observing users in their context to inspire design, was crucial to this study design. Without actually following participants in their search for cafes, I would’ve overlooked key considerations — wanting the presence of other people as a motivation to study, the amenities such as washrooms and wi-fi, and avoiding busy and noisy crowds.

“I am trying to look for an outlet but I can't find one. And I don't know where the nearest washroom is. It doesn't look like there is a washroom in there. That is kind of a big problem, I have a small bladder and I always need to use the washroom.”

The Research Impact

As a team, we conducted an end-to-end study: finding a specific problem to target, exploratory need-finding in a field study, creating user personas and multiple prototypes, and conducting a lab experiment. In the team, I also experienced some responsibilities research manager — I supervised the overall research protocol and process, while my teammates conducted more on-the-ground research in interviewing and conducting experiments.

We presented our findings to guest judges in class and received an A as well as the award “Best Startup Idea”!
🔍 Find the final presentation slide deck here.