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Department Of Design

Designing Belonging: Zoe Zaharis’ Cafeteria Concept Accommodates People with Disabilities

Design student Zoe Zaharis on the importance of service design in creating inclusion and belonging in public spaces

Zaharis and teammates use Legos to prototype their design. Photo courtesy of Zoe Zaharis

Design student Zoe Zaharis connects her passion for design and service by creating environments of belonging.

Along with 19 other students, Zaharis participated in the Design Department’s recent study abroad to Copenhagen, Denmark. They worked alongside faculty and students from Aalborg University’s service design master’s program and participated in a week-long service design workshop facilitated by Maria Vitaller de Olmo, a PhD Fellow for Aalborg University’s Service Design Lab.

Students use ramps on BYU campus.
Photo by Nate Edwards / BYU Photo

Service design is a human-centered design approach that balances the importance of the customer’s experience and the business process. It involves the planning and organizing of people, infrastructure, communication and media to improve the interaction between a service provider and their customers’ experience. Service designers often focus on serving marginalized groups who may be underrepresented, such as persons with disabilities.

Zaharis says, “The service design industry, and specifically those who work in service systems design, typically work on systemic issues such as immigration, gender equality, etc. Designers in these fields are typically working with government institutions, universities or charities to help build a less biased system.” A service design project often involves things like interviews with stakeholders and assessments of the path the user takes when using the product. Field experts, who are non-designers, are often asked to review the design and assess their industry’s needs.

Students work on their service design. Photo courtesy of Zoe Zaharis

During the study abroad, Zaharis and the other students observed users in the Aalborg University’s cafeteria and updated or created new services to improve aspects of the cafeteria experience. They began by observing everyone who entered the cafeteria, including chefs, students and visitors. They took note of the flow the people took through the cafeteria and what activities they performed (choosing food, payment, etc.). Zaharis was placed in a team with students Jonah Brooks, Emma Creer and Seth Tucker. Once in a team, they identified trends in their data and created “How might we?” questions. Zaharis’ team’s question was, “How might we create a more inclusive cafeteria experience?”

Zaharis said, “We used this question to guide our ideation and prototyping so that our ideas were focused on inclusion. We ideated different ways that disabilities were not met. Our final prototype consisted of one of our test subjects having to navigate the new cafeteria workflow in a rolling office chair to mimic what it would be like trying to use it in a wheelchair.”

The team added ramps in and out of the cafeteria, simplified the cafeteria flow, added lower water bottle filling stations and created a touch-and-pay payment setup. These new configurations are designed to benefit all who enter the cafeteria.

Zaharis views service design as “a great intersection between business strategy, systemic improvement and holistic design.” She hopes to focus her design thesis project, which she will be working on during the Fall 2023 semester, on service design.

Service design attempts to account for a wide range of experiences and create a product that best serves those experiences. This type of design emphasizes the importance of fostering care for people of all circumstances. Zaharis said the ultimate goal was “that, by seeing the cafeteria through a variety of user’s experiences, we would be able to create a more inclusive experience for everyone who might use it.”