UX Case Study | To all the steamboat parties I've attended before
Updated: Mar 25
Find out how you can apply User Experience (UX) principles to improve service delivery for all your steamboat parties (Your guests will be asking for more!)
Within a month or so after the new year frenzy, group chats start buzzing with another talk.
“Shall we meet up for Chinese New Year?”
Chinese New Year has become an annual affair for most groups of friends to celebrate togetherness. What other way to do so than through a nice pipping pot of broth and a countless selection of ingredients that can satisfy everyone’s tastebuds?
That’s right, I’m talking about none other than steamboat parties!
It’s difficult to miss the allure of this widely celebrated practice. It’s simple and hassle-free. A trip to the nearest NTUC, Giant or Sheng Siong Supermarket and you’ll find all the ingredients you need, readily sliced, packaged or even cooked - you name it. I’m personally drawn to the part where it doesn’t take much preparation. All you need is a pot and a portable stove.
There’s also little room for error because there is no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone bonds over the low-effort cooking and gets to choose their pick from the common pot. Really, it is one of the most versatile food solutions for group gatherings.
History of steamboat
Now that I’ve built my case for why steamboats are awesome for parties, let me share more about how this tradition started in Lunar New Year.
The origin of eating steamboat stem from the philosophy of how Lunar New Year started - the celebration of the reunion of family. Family members reaffirm the love and respect that bind them together as a unit during this annual affair. To do so, they are expected to return to the family home for reunion dinner.
Food is served in abundance regardless of whether the family is rich or poor as the Chinese believe that having plenty of food would bring the family great material wealth in the new year. The round steamboat pot symbolises “Reunion” (团圆). The literal translation of “reunion” in Mandarin is “group round” and the classic Chinese hot pot, fondly known as steamboat in this region, is served typically during the reunion dinner (团圆饭). It embodies the sense of community and family spirit.
Today, steamboats have become more popular among the urban generation for their ease in preparation and ability to cater to large groups of people. For example, in Singapore, steamboats are becoming more of an everyday phenomenon. Numerous steamboat restaurants have been popping up around the island - Haidilao, Beauty in a Pot, City Hot Pot (just to name a few) and they are busy all year around.
Around the globe, there are many renditions across different countries and cultures of how steamboats are done. The Swiss have the fondue, a Swiss melted cheese dish served in a communal pot. Diners would typically dip bread into the cheese and eat it as such.
For us Asians, we love a hot pot meal. The Japanese call it sukiyaki or shabu-shabu and the majority of Asians call it steamboat. The Asian hot pot meal is mainly broth-based but some have evolved into a dual-component mechanism that contains both a pot broth and a grill set (see Mookata from Thailand).
So.. a steamboat party in the midst of the pandemic?
Well, we all heard the government. With unlinked community cases still sprouting up now and then, we are still not fully in the clear from COVID-19 in Singapore yet. Thus, this Chinese New Year is going to look slightly different for families who are typically used to large gatherings. To curb the COVID-19 transmissions, all social gatherings have been capped at a maximum of 8 guests. The other guidelines include not visiting more than two households per day, and not being able to shout the usual auspicious phrases with gusto during the tradition of “lohei”. Face masks should be also worn during the tossing of yusheng.
This year looks to be a much more muted celebration. But that’s no reason for the cheers to be much less for this beloved festival! Because “the show must go on”, some of you might have bravely volunteered as tribute to host a steamboat party for your friends this year. This article aims to provide you with all the tools and frameworks you need to organise the steamboat party you and your loved ones deserve!
Definition: A UX project brief is different from a traditional creative brief. Instead of dictating project expectations, a project brief is created by the team at the kickoff meeting. Its purpose is to be a handy reference that keeps everyone aligned on a project's intended goals and outcomes.
I enjoyed all the steamboats I have had in the past. My personal highlight would be the chill catch-up sessions I had with family and friends over good food - there is a calm sense of familiarity in connecting with old friends. Yet, every steamboat experience is not without its hiccups.
“Eh jialat, we ordered too much food again”
“Eh bro, what time you reaching ah? 8 already eh!”
“Whose house should we go to for this party?”
What we hope this article can do for you is to put a little brain and effort to design the best possible steamboat party with some core UX principles. The article was designed to be a fun and accessible way to see how UX can be applied to daily life.
Now, let us craft a generic “How might we …” statement. This collaborative exercise is a common practice by teams at the beginning of every project. The nature of the statement is kept broad but focused enough to kickstart the brainstorming for innovative solutions. This can also be called the problem statement of the case - you can read more about drafting a problem statement here.
How might you design the best steamboat party (a party that has the same cheer and celebration as all your previous CNY celebrations) in light of the restrictions imposed by the new COVID-19 guidelines for your circle of friends?
Definition: User research is the methodic study of target users—including their needs and pain points—so designers have the sharpest possible insights to work with to make the best designs
In the next stage in any UX exercise, it is very important to conduct user research. With the goal of designing the best user experience for the 7 guests that you invite, I would recommend conducting quantitative research to have an in-depth understanding of their preferences and expectations of the party.
Some factors to consider:
Activities that they wish to engage in - “Any games you want to play during the session?
Food that they expect to eat at the party - “Eh anything you want to eat?”
Any previous incidents that resulted in unpleasant experiences
At this stage, it’s highly advised to walk in with no prejudices or preconceived notions about your group of friends. For example, this could sound something like “Aiya, Person A will DEFINITELY feel this certain way”. Such statements are presumptive and limiting, and it prevents you from fully understanding your guests and delivering the best service experience.
You should walk into every conversation with your friends with an open mind. You are a committed host, it is important to remain impartial and collect the most authentic responses. So, forget everything that you think you know about your friends at this point. The information you gather should cover their needs, their frustrations and their motivations for joining a steamboat party.
Good user research is crucial in mitigating biases, giving us context and fresh perspectives. With these insights, we can design useful solutions that can better cater to our target audience. It helps us suss out any unarticulated needs and to fill in any gaps in our knowledge about our users, their challenges, and identify opportunities to address them. In turn, this creates greater alignment in the product/service strategy. If user research is based on personal assumptions, the chances of failure are increased because the user experience may not be optimised for the target end-users.
For instance, this is an assumption I could have: “I’ve been to parties that serve ice-cream and those parties are awesome”. But when I bought ice-cream for the next party I hosted, I realised that most of them really have sensitive teeth and refrain from eating ice-cream due to the pain it causes.
Here are some of the responses I got when I did my own research:
“Food must be good - I like the broth to be spicy. But I know XX doesn’t take spicy food”
“Always got nothing to do after dinner, got that awkward silence ah..”
“XX always wants to drink - omg I don’t want”
“This year must have Iberico pork - last year we didn’t order”
“Eh XX has a lot of board games right! Must ask him to bring this year”
With the information gleaned, we will build something called a user persona.
I have done this UX exercise as a way to show all of you a sample of how this can be. This is purely from my personal experience but it’s possible that some of these profiles may sound familiar to you.
The one who is always late - This friend typically will announce in the group chat that he/she is running late only 15-60 mins before the set time.
The one who is a party animal - You can feel the presence of this friend once they step inside any room. But for this friend, activities during and after the party is key to his/her attendance.
The one who is a food connoisseur - This friend that will always have comments about the food that is served, always knows the best deals out there.
The one who is THE dealer - This friend that sits religiously at the mahjong table or is by the poker cards for all 3 days of CNY, almost always heard saying “All in la!”
For the purpose of this short exercise, I will build one sample user persona - Sze Jie, the Food Connoisseur. He is a good mix of the 3 different profiles but leans more towards the food connoisseur personality given his obsession with food.
(I would like to put a disclaimer that I (presently) have no friends called Sze Jie. However, if you find this familiar then yes, I modelled it after you.)