Coffee Meets UX Design

Sarah Rigor, Partner Insight Project Manager at the Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington

Sarah Rigor, who has a Master’s degree from IIT—Institute of Design in Chicago, is a Partner Insight Project Manager at the Starbucks corporate headquarters in Seattle, Washington. With experience as a previous Starbucks store manager in Chicago, Rigor combines her impeccable people and research skills to pave the way for a successful career in human-centered design.

How do you define UX design?

I would prefer to say “human-centered design,” because when you’re designing, whether it’s an experience or a product, you’re focusing on someone’s needs. So, you do research to find what these needs are and how to solve them.

Why did you go into this field?

I’ve been with Starbucks for a very long time, and I knew I wanted to advance my career and continue to grow with the company. So in 2011 when I was given the opportunity to roll out an Express Store prototype for Starbucks in Chicago in the Loop, I happily accepted. Because my store was the first of its kind, I was asked by the Seattle Design team to observe and interview my customers and partners around their experience with the new store design. As phase two of the prototype was wrapping up, I realized that experience design interested me, so I found a graduate program that would allow me to combine my retail Starbucks experience with moving forward to corporate Starbucks.

What has been your most memorable experience with research and design thus far?

During graduate school, I was accepted into a 5 week long program in India where we conducted research on the current Healthcare situation in Mumbai.  Working on a team with my school mates and along side the Godrej team was a great collaborative effort.  

I enjoyed this because I love traveling so it was a wonderful experience being able to immerse myself in the culture in India and get to know the people I was designing for.

Sarah Rigor in front of coffee trees growing at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, WA. 

What does your design process consist of?

It starts with understanding real people in real situations through observation and market trend research. From there the process consists of cycles of research and analysis to create and explore concepts. From there we prototype, in some cases through multiple iterations, to get feedback from the user or stakeholder. 

How do you work with other designers?

After graduate school I co-taught an undergraduate design thinking class where the students were of all different disciplines and were introduced to the design principles to solve real world problems and work in a collaborative team to get the most of each team members' knowledge and expertise.  The class taught the students to think outside of the box and come together as a team to solve everyday problems no matter their educational background or level of experience, much like the real world.

Do you prefer to work alone or with a team?

I prefer a team because most of the time it’s better to bounce ideas off each other and collect feedback than work alone. Collaboration creates great content.

What is something useful you’ve learned since coming to Starbucks?

I've learned the power of storytelling and how important it is to influence and communicate through messaging.  

What does it mean and what does it take to be a great UX designer?

Above all, to sum it up, would be empathy. It is imperative to understand who you’re designing for. If you don’t understand who you’re designing for, then there’s no purpose to design that product. You must comprehend feelings, behaviors, and habits of that person and if you put yourself in that person’s position, then you can better design for them.

What do you think will be the next big trend in the UX design industry?

I think designing experiences is the next big trend.  People want more than just a fun gadget, they're looking for an entire experience.  An engaging experience they can make their own and explore over and over again.

How do you stay current on human-centered innovations?

Going online, there are workshops that I’ve been wanting to sign up for to keep me up to date. Also, just networking and connecting with people in the field, people I work with or old friends from graduate school. Facebook is also a good medium to use in my current position.

If you were to design a product and a stakeholder said you couldn’t “do it,” how would you respond?

I would say that anything is possible.  You just have an open mind and the courage to create and innovate. The right solution will follow.