The Canopy | Projecting a Digital Self in a Conceptual Urban Coffee Shop

video Info
  • See The Canopy concept video at

    This is a conceptual video of a coffee shop that enables user to project their digital self into a coffee shop environment in the form of leaves. Users in the coffeeshop can interact with leaves that contain photos, quotes, and memories left behind by other customers. The Canopy helps create a feeling of cumulative experience as the user community share with each other, and grow together with the coffee shop.


    Working in teams of three, we investigated possible futures, working in emerging design spaces where no social mores exist to define what should be. We aimed to leverage breakthroughs in UbiComp and social computing technology to envision provocative interactive service-systems designed to support the needs of a target set of users in a specific location: The setting and project scope we chose is an urban coffee shop where people can project a digital self into the place in addition to their physical presence. Here the aesthetic of the venue is co-constructed between the coffee shop and the patrons. We chose coffee shops because there is a prominent market, as coffee shops are ubiquitous and highly variable in style in urban settings. Also, there is huge potential within observing and influencing interactions among customers, providing us with “a blank canvas” to work with.

    Background & Field Research

    In order to understand the reason why people frequent coffee shops, and observe the types of behaviors and social interactions that occur in coffee shops, we conducted shadowing and guerrilla semi-structured interviews with 14 interviewees in different locations in Pittsburgh. Because coffee shops have their own unique identities , and thus receiving different types of customers, we decided to hit many different types of coffee shops to conduct research. The coffee shop we hit includes Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Dunkin Donuts, hotel lobby coffee shop, and Make You Mark, a local Pittsburgh coffee shop. In order to understand the coffee shop environment, our interviewees included customers as well as baristas.

    The questions that we aimed to find out during the first round of interviews include:
    1. Why do you come to coffee shops?
    2. Why this location in particular? Is it because of the coffee, the brand, the environment, etc?
    3. What is your idea of a coffee shop?
    4. What are your thoughts about social interaction inside a coffee shop?
    5. What is your ideal social location and what attributes do you want?
    6. What would you want other people to know about you here?
    7. What would you absolutely not want others to know about you while you’re here?


    After reviewing our research notes, we’ve generated insights from our field research and separated them into insights from coffee shop chains, and insights from local coffee shops.

    Coffee Shop Chain Insights

    From coffee shop chains, we learned that people go to coffee shops because it provides them with a refreshing environment, and that people perceive coffee shops to be a social place. However, this means that customers do not necessarily want to engage in direct social interactions with each other, but rather likes the idea that there are people around them. Participants reported they would want people to know about their current status so they can respond accordingly. Such as, if the participant is studying, then he’d like other customers to keep the noise level down. Some people reported that they do not want to be approached. Finally, many customers reported that baristas are integral to the coffee shop experience.

    “Coffee shops provide a refreshing environment.”
    “I want people to know about my current status so they can respond accordingly.”

    Local Coffee Shop Insights

    The insights we have seen in local coffee shops are similar, though customers from local coffee shops emphasize the sense of building relationships with the coffee shop, a sense of community and the idea of the familiar stranger. The same people frequent the coffee shop everyday, and though customers may not necessarily talk to each other, they have become familiar with each others presence. Participants reported that they would like to have their identity respected here, and also comes to the coffee shop because of the ambience. At Make Your Mark, we have seen that the barista and customers introduce each other to a new customer.

    Key Takeaways

    From our research insights, we became interested in:

    • the accumulation of experience inside coffee shops
    • subtle presentation of self to others
    • coffee shops as sa community

    Generation and Synthesis

    Based on our research insights, we generated more than 50 ideas during a brainstorming session. From there, we picked out our strongest ideas and and compared ideas to look for similarities and finally consolidated our ideas into 8 main categories. Category themes include collaboration, self presentation, changing the coffee shop environment through passive interactions, just to name a few.

    Our criteria for picking ideas include: Is it relevant with customer identity and experience? Is it radical enough to evoke valid feedback? Does it also make sense to the seller’s point of view? Our next step in the research process is to use storyboarding and speeddating to validate our concept. Therefore, we aimed to generate ideas that pushed the boundaries, and the goal of this activity is to understand what customers cared about the most during their coffee shop experience.

    Concept Validation


    We drew 8 storyboards with the final 10 ideas that came out from the synthesis process.

    See all 8 storyboards here.

    Click here to see all storyboards

    This is one of our storyboards that we tested with participants during speed dating concept validation.

    Speed Dating

    We used speed dating to validate their concepts with potential users. Speed dating is a method where concepts are rapidly introduced to users to generate a reaction and gain insight to how a large number of users generally feel about certain concepts. The team speed dated ten storyboards with users in two different coffee shops and other local areas.


    Participants’ main concern with the ideas that involved expressing and putting yourself on a show is how to keep things proper and not profane. Also, participants genuinely liked the idea of building a stronger sense of community, but not necessarily in the context of collaboration. And finally, there is a need for subtlety in all of our ideas. The coffee shop RPG and Philanthropic coffee shop seemed like too much effort, and customers do not feel like putting in so much effort while they’re there.

    A/B Testing

    We also carried out an A/B testing session to further validate our concept while we honed on the details of our concept. While discussing, we had a question: do customers in a coffee shop want to actively search for different categories or types of media, or do they just want to browse randomly? To answer that question, we conducted A/B testing using scenarios with 4 more participants.


    We learned that customers mainly are at coffee shops to chill and relax, so they’re more interested in just casually seeing what content is there. If they had specific content they wanted to see, they would just use Google or Youtube to find it.

    Final Concept

    Finally, we created our concept The Coffee Canopy. It is essentially a huge canopy inside a coffee shop where users upload contents and interact with each other through the digital content that people post in the canopy. Through the Coffee Canopy, customers can show off what they’re doing by posting links or take photos of what they’re doing at the coffee shop, as well as randomly browse through what other customers have posted. Leaves of the canopy will contain accessible quotes, photos and links. Users upload quotes or photos by taking a ‘snapshot’ of the content which transforms into a leaf, and throws the leaf into the air to commit the content into the canopy. Data is received through plucking or grabbing falling leaves.

    The Coffee Canopy uses projection technology and Kinect motion and gesture sensing to recognize customers’ motions and project leaves onto their hand. There are also glass walls on each table which projects falling leaves that customers can ‘catch’, allowing people to interact with leaves anywhere in the coffee shop.

    My Beloved Team Members:

    Ryan Rusnak

    Christian Chanwoon Park

    My beloved team!

    My beloved team members!

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