Concept: Take the classic picnic ritual and apply it in a modern setting.

The goal of this team project was to use user-centered design research techniques to identify problems in the typical picnicking setting. From there, we were to develop a design solution accordingly. Using different research methods my team and I identified several pain points in the picnicking process and tested working prototypes of our design solution in a real picnic scenario.

Finding the Problems

One of the best ways to understand the problems involved in an activity is to experience them first-hand. That's exactly what we did to start this project. To identify the problems in the picnic process we planned and attended a picnic together and recorded our observations through sketches, photos, and written notes. With our collected we used the AEIOU framework to find key areas of interest in the picnic activity, then created an affinity diagram around those areas. We also created a stakeholder map to identify key actors in the environment.

Research Methods

"AEIOU is an organizational framework reminding the researcher to attend to, document, and code information under a guiding taxonomy of Activities, Environments, Interactions, Objects, and Users."

Graphic by Monika Danh

Stakeholder maps help to visually consolidate and communicate the key constituents of a design project, setting the stage for user-centered research and design development.

Graphic by Monika Danh

Areas of Focus

After making our AEIOU and several rounds of affinity diagramming, we outlined 6 main areas of focus that had promising potential design opportunities. We labelled these areas as: picnic fusion, setup/cleanup, activity availability, improvisations, natural forces, and nature interference. From those 6 we were required to pick 3.

Picnic Fusion: The Modern Picnic

Based on some of our observations, there is a well-aged ritual around the idea of having a picnic. Within our observations we have seen actions that follow the classic picnic heuristic, as well as actions with a more technological twist. There may be exciting design opportunities within the modernization of the picnic ritual.

Nature Interference

An enjoyable and necessary part of a picnic is the outdoors, but bringing many items and expectations from inside to out creates its own set of problems. Bugs, birds, dirt, and terrain become an issue when trying to eat and play outside, leaving many design opportunities open and available.

Setup + Cleanup

From the formulation of the plan to packing up the food, setup and cleanup is essential to consider in planning a picnic. There are many places in which the processes involved here could be shortened or simplified. Further analysis of the setup and cleanup process could reveal interesting design opportunities.


With our areas of focus selected we began our ideation stage. Our initial sketches were very broad in topic, as we didn't have a specific solution in mind quite yet. We noticed that we all had pitched solutions that involved easing the load that individuals had to carry. From that revelation we began to converge on a carrying solution.

We decided we wanted to design a picnic kit that an individual would pack to ease the task of carrying. Users would be able to combine their kits to have a unified picnicking experience.

From this stage we decided to try and come up with a carrying solution for individuals. An important question was raised from this decision: what incentive does someone have to use this item? To address this, we started to play with ideas on how multiple units could interact with each other to provide a pleasurable experience.

Using the concept of tessellation we started to develop a concept that would allow users to use units on their own or connect their picnic kits with others. We decided on the hexagonal form factor early, as it was easily tiled, equilateral and was satisfying to see put together.


After deciding on the form factor of our product we decided it would be wise to start developing some low-fidelity prototypes. The intention of these prototypes was initially to find appropriate scale. We constructed several sizes of kit, ranging from 14 inches across to 18 inches across. With these prototypes we did numerous feature and scale comparisons.

Looking at Proportions

Because we were designing an item for individuals to carry, we spent some time finding good proportions for different body sizes to make our product look more natural in use. This was an interesting challenge, because we were juggling between three factors: proportionality with the body, carrying capacity and ergonomic sizing. Carrying capacity was a particularly challenging topic as we also had to decide what the wall thicknesses of the unit were, since in actual manufacture there would be some level of wall thickness.


After evaluating our existing models we found that we had sized them in the extreme; smaller people and larger people fit with the respectively sized models. From this information we decided to construct a model with a size in between.

Avoiding the Swiss Army Knife Approach

There were a lot of different ideas we were throwing around while working on this project. Coming up with all these different features and ideas was fun, but we thought it would be wise to take a step back and be very selective with what features we actually included.

Finer details

We did a lot of investigation for a lot of the smaller details. We looked at aspects of the kit such as how the blanket would be folded, how the kit would be kept closed, how users would go about packing it and how that would impact the weight of the unit as a whole.

Developing the Blanket

We developed a blanket as part of our kit. Developing this part proved to have similar challenges as designing the case itself. We had to do a number of paper iterations to get proper scale. This was a particularly interesting challenge because we had to find out how big we could make the blanket while still allowing it to fit in the case while folded. Paired with the scaling, we had to also determine the best way to fold the blanket. We came up with several different methods, but two main methods were focused on in our testing.

Final Prototype Testing

After developing our prototypes we went back to the park to test the feasibility of our design.

Credit to my team: Monika Danh, Michelle Jones, Simon Wu, Daniel Song.

The Final Product