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Becca Ahlf • Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design • Spring 2012

TABLE OF CONTENTS 05 project description • hunt statement • description • audience • communication goals

09 research • media • influences • competition analysis

17 process • sketches • design evolution • process writing

35 execution • completed project • exhibition and installation

43 evaluation • objectives • quality

47 summary



Going into this project, I struggled a lot with what message I wanted my project to convey. I went back and forth between the tone of my project, with my voice, message and audience. Everytime I changed an aspect of the project, everything would change with it. Once I figured out exactly who I wanted my audience to be (originally I wanted it to be everyone) everything else fell into place. During the brainstorming sessions we had, the question that stood out to me was ‘‘what is something you find yourself talking a lot about?” Instantly I thought PEOPLE! After working in the restaurant industry for 7 years, I find myself ranting a lot about people and the stupid things they say and do. Now I just had to figure out how to make it into a ‘‘thesis-worthy” project. I went from awareness campaign to board game to book to blog. It was definitely a challenge finding a format that already wasn’t overused and would make sense for my audience and topic.

hunt statement I am going to research the customer/service relationship and experience so that I can inform service industry workers on the responses to customer actions.

description A satirical guide for the proper and improper responses for difficult customers and situations in the restaurant industry.

audience Restaurant waitstaff


communication goals After working in restaurant for many years, there are many things that people do that make the human race come off as absolute morons. Yes, I would say the service industry is a jaded bunch and we really only see the one side of our customers. Perhaps we’re a little bitter as well. My job and I have a love/hate relationship. This worked out well though because if there was no ‘‘hate”, I wouldn’t have a project. • The purpose of my project is to find some humor in the customers that make all servers want to pull out hair out and stab someone with a fork. It also is a stress reliever of sorts, and is comforting to know that you’re not the only one who is going through this madness. In turn, I hope that the non-servers who pick up this book, a.k.a. the customer will learn how to properly act in public and realize that the 10 sides of ranch they need aren’t really neccessary.



what i read • Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman • This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider • Are You Tipping Correctly? by Steve Dublanica • Customer Etiquette by Clara ( • Rules for Reservations by

what i watched • Slammin’ Salmon • Waiting • Sh*t Customers Say • Tips from Your Waiter

what i did • Surveys • Interviews • Personal Experience


Name: Age: Years in Customer Service: Occupation/Position:

1. What are some hindrances that prevent you from achieving customer satisfaction? ( peeves, annoyances, etc)

2. What is one of your worst experiences with a customer?

3. Do you have a piece of advice for any future customers?

4. Describe a time when you found yourself failing at customer satisfaction.



competitor analysis • Campaign for Urban Decorum • ‘‘Unofficial” Subway Etiquette Campaign • Restaurant Manners/Etiquette Blogs, Articles, Videos (Oprah, Real Simple, Yahoo • Etiquette Guides (How to Wear High Heels) • Survival Guides (Life Survival Guide, The Zombie Survival Guide) • The ‘‘Golden Rule” lessons for children • Waiting, The Slammin Salmon (comedy movies) • Waiter Rant • The Etiquette App Designs are lacking with image, or style. Most of the articles are written like a standard news article which makes them unappealing and overwhelming with the amount of text. The website uses photographs for each ‘‘tip” but they are a general shot of the situation. Book pages (in etiquette guides and survival guides) are also lacking imagery. Diagrams, illustrations and photographs would be a better way to grasp the attention of specific audiences. Each of the ‘‘competitors’’ I’ve found live within their own realm. The information I have found on blogs are specific to the internet. I haven’t been able to find any of the information in print. The books have information that can’t be found online. The ‘‘humor” aspect is specifically in movies. None of my competitors can capture viewers in a varity of places. Searchability is also an issue. I had to do trial and error to find the keywords needed to find these blogs and articles. If anyone is interested in learning proper etiquette, they’ll have to seach for it. A lot of the choices that my competitors are making are ones that have to do with the placement of the product/message. Looking at One Outlaw’s campaign, he placed signs in the places that people would be doing ‘‘inconsiderate” things. The ‘‘unofficial” subway campaign signs were placed in the subway stations. These posters target people who ride the subway, and hope to catch attention and draw awareness to some of the their habits. Other choices relate to audience. The etiquette guide is ‘‘vintage” and relates more towards an older audience, while blogs could relate to a younger audience.



things i hated about this process • Deadlines • Critiques • Personal Frustration I hate how fast everything is moving. Trying to design the exhibit for the SEC form without even knowing what the project is, is really frustrating. I feel that I am getting pushed into a direction that I am not comfortable with, or that I will end up hating because I haven’t had time to fully figure out what I’m doing or all of the possible routes I could take. Another frustration. I have no idea what I want to do. Critiques have pushed me in directions that I know I don’t want to go, so the feedback is essentially useless to a point. I’ve come up with a lot of ideas so far, but I don’t feel like I have a connection with any of them. I’m afraid that I’m going to design something I hate, and I won’t be putting everything I have into it, and it’ll be a failure. I’m already getting incredibly stressed, and I have barely begun. I also have a love/hate relationship with my topic. After 1-on-1 meetings, I feel really good about my topic. I feel that I have a good direction, and it’s nice to know that Danielle sees where I’m coming from. But, after critique or if I think for too long when doing sketches, I get discouraged about my topic. Not everybody understands, and I’m kind of worried that people visiting the exhibit won’t understand it either.

things i hated about this process • Time management • Calendar • Brainstorming Not saying I have good time management, but it’s something I am fully aware of now that I’m heading into a large project. It’s something that I’ll need to know for all future projects, and I’m hoping I can stay on track. I also like the calendar and the general timeline for this class. Some of the time, it makes things easier because you know exactly what’s due, and it’s not all on the same day. Other times it can get overwhelming. I also liked how we brainstormed topics. A series of, kind of irrelevant, exercises really opened my mind on to possible topics. It’s more of an ‘‘accidental” research.


what i wish i knew (and now you know) Having a ‘‘clear” idea of what you want to do before you actually start is deceiving. Once you really start narrowing down your topic and components it can get really overwhelming. But don’t give up. Just try to talk to people to get your initial thoughts out, and then go from there. Explore all possibilities and don’t let your mind setting on something right away, because it will be really hard to break away from it. And even if a better idea comes along, it won’t seem that great. SO a campaign is NOT the only solution. A few months ago, I NEVER would have pictured myself writing and designing a book. That’s something that was never really an interest of mine, and even though the initial process was hard, I enjoyed where I went with it, and hopefully, fingers-crossed, I still feel that way later. It’s a stressful process; I won’t lie. You have a lot to cram into a short amount of time, but as long as you stay on track and keep up with schedule, you’ll be fine. Also, open yourself up to the critiques. It’s normal to feel flustered and angry if you’re not getting the feedback that you were looking for, but sometimes those comments can spark better ideas. I wish I would have looked into my components a little more. I should have gotten my copy out a lot faster than I did and that would have given me more time to create an extra component, such as a website. Advice? Calm down. I remember feeling anxious, stressed and in freak-out mode at the beginning stages of the project. I look back now and wonder why I felt that way. I’m done and I’m happy with the results! So, don’t take the criticism to heart, not everyone will understand your topic. Some of the comments I got from classmates made me angry because they seemed like stupid comments or questions, when really they just didn’t understand. The professional critique is what really raised my confidence. Those are the people I’m showing off for, so for good comments to come from them, and having them understand made it easier. Things to change about my process: work a little harder at the beginning. Try to get things sorted out so I would be rushing in the middle. The end was a lot easier than I anticipated. So yay for me! ONE MORE THING: even though I didn’t have my exhibit design finalized until later, I should have thought more about how I was going to do it. Painting seemed good at the time, I ended up ordering vinyl lettering late and was rushing to get it finished. I am proud I got everything painted, but I know that I will never do that again.


initial sketches

Restaurant Survival Guide: The Game

restaurant survival guide: game This idea was never full concepting, but the general idea behind it was a game that could be played among the waitstaff at work. Customers would be placed into categories and everytime a server waited on one of those customers, points would be given based on a scale of how horrible that customer was.

survival guide book The concept of this book was to have a restaurant survival guide that included the tools needed to get through a serving shift. Whether it was post-it notes to make note of the customer’s behaivor or hand sanitizer to cleanse yourself of little kid germs. It would all be in the box and the guide to explain how and when to use them.

good vs evil server: book The concept of this book was to have two different egos of a server. The good and bad side. This concept focused on the difficult customers words and actions and the proper and improper ways to respond to them. There would be the things you should do, which are classified as the angel ego and then the things that you want to but can’t. Those are part of the devil’s ego.

good vs evil server: web This was a web concept similar to the book. The website would be split down the middle, showing the good and bad responses to the situation. It would allow for site members to post their own stories and comment on each others.


Good vs Evil Server Web Good vs Evil Server Book

Survival Guide Book:


design evolution


Original Book cover. Final cover is on bottom right



“on the inside” Content: I’m sure you’re wondering where I got the idea for this book. The content came from my experience as a server. I’ve waited on some terribly rude customers that have made me want to walk out of the restaurant mid-shift. I’ve only had one customer make me cry, but I won’t forget it. It’s the one topic that can get me talking and talking til no end. Ranting. I decided to put together a ‘‘conversation” between customer and server. There are the things that we have to say and should say and then there are the things that we want to say but can’t. I’d get fired if I did such actions. Title: ‘‘86” is a term the restaurant uses when we’re out of something. We have a board in the kitchen that says ‘‘86” and as we run out of food items we write it on the board. When I say ‘‘86 Service” I mean that I’ve run out of service. The customer has run me out of patience and good service. There are many nights where I want to ‘‘86” myself. Symbols: Devil horns represent the devil ego and the angel wings represent the angel ego of the server. I kept it simple. The symbol will appear each time the ‘‘character” speaks.


goals of project The goals of this class and project were to have us look back at everything we have learned over our 3.5 years, assess what we’re good at, bad at or what we would like to work more on and put it to the test. Since the project was completely open ended and varied between everyone, it showed how different our skill levels were. For me, I learned how much I like to work on layout design. I also opened my mind to a topic that, 4 years ago, I NEVER would have imagined me doing. I started the semester thinking of simple advertising campaign topics, but I went with an author role and I think it really paid.

biggest accomplishments Since I’ve done layout design before, I didn’t think the actuality of it was that difficult. It was difficult putting it into the format of conversation without areas of heavy text, and to have it be distinguishable in an interesting, thought-out designed way. That was my first accomplishment. My second accomplishment would be the actual writing. All of my copy is original. I’m so thankful for all of my friends in the service industry who helped me out with stories, because my book would have been a lot shorter if I wrote it myself. I deal with difficult customers everyday but not all of the stories are that interesting, or they get repetitive. It was a lot of copy, and I put it off a bit at the beginning, and when I realized how much I actually had to write, I got down to it. I’m really proud of myself for taking on an extra element that I don’t enjoy so much. I came up with a good result. I also find it a success that after 2 weeks of a completed book, I still can’t find anything that I want to change. Usually I feel like I’m never done with a project, which I’m sure will be the case soon, but as for now, I’m that confident in the actual design. Now, I don’t know if everyone else will enjoy it as much as I do, so we’ll find out. But until then, I’m happy with it. What enabled me to succeed with all of this is my love for designing with typography, or this would have been a horrible topic for me to pick. I‘m also thankful that I worked in the service industry for as long as I have so I would have a topic that I knew a lot about and that I’m “passionate” enough about it to work on it for as long as I did. By no means am I passionate about the service industry, but I had enough anger built up to have a topic interesting enough to keep me focused.



For the execution of my project, I decided to go with hardcover perfect bound books. My reasoning for this was I wanted to go for the look of a ‘‘coffee table” book. Something that could be easily passed off between employees at work. I wanted to make the copies look like the original as well so there wouldn’t be too much difference between the two. For my exhibit I wanted to pull out a quote from the book that I thought would draw the attention of the viewers. I wanted to use blocks of color like in the book and I wanted to use a similar set up with the angel and devil symbols, but I wanted to put them into context, which is why I included the full image of a server at a table.

issues Some issues I ran into with the book was the binding. It fell apart during the professional critique so I changed the process a little bit, with hopes it would stay together longer. I had the pages cut evenly, and I clipped them so they wouldn’t move while gluing. I used a few layers of glue, let them dry and over night, and finished the binding with tape. They seemed sturdy, but unfortunately, after a trial run of four people, the pages started to fall out. Sunday night (one day until they were due) I had to take them back to Digi Copy, get them reprinted and spiral bound. With the exhibit, the only issues I had was the lettering. It was really just more overwhelming and time consuming than I had expected to hand paint the lettering. I ordered vinyl last minute so it was stressful waiting for it to be delievered. The fire in the 3D lab posed some problems, my hours were cut short on Wednesday and Friday, but on the bright side, the deadline was extended by a day.


exhibition/installation 38




successes Based on the feedback I received at gallery night and preview night, I think I met the objectives of my project pretty well. A lot of the people that commented on my project work or have worked in the restaurant industry and could relate. Some even told me some of their stories. The fact that people connected with my project meant a lot to me, since I honestly didn’t expect it to be such a big hit. Now I only wish I wasn’t in the corner on the 4th floor so I could have gotten even more traffic. Biggest success I think was the amount of people asking if they could buy my book. I also got a lot of good feedback on the design, as well as my color and typeface choices. With all of this positive feedback I would say I definitely met the objectives of my project.


quality of design I would say the quality of my design was well. I’m already starting to think of ways to improve the design, but for the final product, I came a lot further from where I started. I feel that the fonts, colors and images I used are strong. They relate well to my audience, and they are attention grabbing. I feel that the copy is very strong. I wish I would have played around with a few more layouts so I could display that copy in the best way possible. Craft-wise... I wish I would have spend more time with that too. I assumed that I would be able to figure out the perfect binding the second time, and it turns out I didn’t. Hence getting the copies made last minute. For the installation, the quality of the letters would have been much better if I hadn’t hand painted them. I attempted to color match, but the colors were still a little off. I don’t think it was that big of a deal, but I would have liked the exhibit design to be perfect.



project summary Overall this project was a great experience. I learned a lot about myself as a designer. This was the first (and last) time I’ll complete freedom over a project. I learned a lot about my style and the format I like to design in. It was also nice getting out all of the anger I’ve been building up for so long by ranting for 60 pages. I dreaded this project the semester before. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t have a topic that was good enough, or that I wouldn’t finish in time and Gallery Night would be a total disaster. None of those things happened. RELAX. If you stick to the calendar and meet the small deadlines you plan out, it’ll turn out. The brainstorming helped a lot before we started the final project. You find inspiration and topics in the strangest places. It’s weird to think that four years ago I NEVER would have seen myself writing a book. I’m glad I got to do this for my final senior project. Great experience overall and the positive feedback from the community on preview night and gallery night made this all so much more worth it.

to keep in mind: professional/outside critiques The outside critique is a valuable experience. When working on a project, solo or in a group, you become so focused on it that you either miss things that could be wrong, or you start second guessing your choices (why a work is never “finished”). Having the outside critique would help with both of those. Either they will point out things that need to be fixed or they will calm your nerves by saying it’s working well. The outsider will look at the project like a consumer or society. Granted, they have a little more design knowledge where they will notice things that a non-designer would not (type, kerning, placement) but the initial viewing of the project will be how everyone will see it the first time they look at it. How to go about this? We’ve been taught to network. We all have friends in the industry, former coworkers, classmates, etc whose connections are finally coming in handy! Just kidding, but these people would be great resources to critique work. It’s important to have a network of designers for many reasons, but this would definitely be one of them.



86 Service: Process  

the three month long thinking and development process of my senior thesis.