Leveraging Technology to Create a Global Community.

Brand/Retail Experience, Spatial UX, Design Research - Spring 2016


American Eagle: #WeAreAEO

Partnering with American Eagle Outfitters,this project dives into what relevance the brick and mortar retail experience means and what affordances does it allow, while also being critical of the current technology injected into retail stores, and how it can be used as an asset for differentiation and enhancing brand culture/engagement.



For this project, I was part of a 3 person group of designers. My tangible contributions to the project were primarily in design/ethnographic research, system/holistic experience design, storytelling/videography, and designing the mobile phone application add-on.


An aspirational brand with  confused implementation.

Inclusivity and differentiation is at the heart of the brand.

On the very first day, American Eagle presented their brand values, mission, and plan for the future, They introduced campaigns like "Aerie Real", emphasizing that they want to be a brand that is different - both in culture and sales. As a result of seeking differentiation and relevance, they've made a decision to be a future-forward company, wanting to integrate tech into stores, remove cash registers, and redefine the retail brick and mortar experience.


Why did they come to us?

Being so aspirational, they've invested huge amounts of money on integrating tech like MPOS (Mobile Point of Sale devices) into their stores, but employees and customers both were not using the them.

What was going wrong?

The operations people at AEO were obsessed with Apple Stores and their integration of MPOS devices, so they thought they could do the exact same thing with American Eagle stores. Misguided decisions left them confused, as we found out during research that copying the tech of a different retailer, may not fit your context in the same manner.



Start by intimately understanding the brand, context, and problem.

Corporate|Associate|Customer|Context-Driven Research.

Not knowing much detail of the problems, we decided to start our research process with an observational and learning mindset, before making any assumptions for design. We wanted to deeply understand every touch point of the retail experience, seeking to understand how corporate, sales associates, customers, and the brick and mortar store intersect and influence each other/what role they play in the system.


Methods to gain better understanding:

  • Interviews
  • Shadowing
  • Storytelling/Mapping
  • Fly-on-the-Wall Observation



Generative Research to gain actionable insights from customers and associates.

Approaching our Big Questions.

How do we start to answer our big questions from the previous research phase? Together as a team, we put together an arsenal of generative research methods to get real customer feedback in scenarios that will give us greater insights than just observing or interviewing.

Again, we wanted to have an even balance of customer-driven and associate-driven research methods.


Customer Driven:

  • Interactive Checkout Signaling (understanding comfort with MPOS)
  • Customer-Associate Interaction Poll (How much do customers want to be engaged)
  • Private vs. Public  Feedback (understanding customer-associate trust)


Associate Driven:

  • In-depth Associate Interview (relating to trust, body language, and MPOS)
  • Cash Register vs MPOS Task Analysis (What are the barriers in using the MPOS and is it better than the cash register?)




A technology system to enhance, not detract, from the brand experience on all touchpoints globally.

During a partnership with American Eagle Outfitters, my group members (Eileen Huang & Temple Rea) and I conceptualized a new complete customer journey system (in and out-of-store experiences) that drew from American Eagle Outfitters's push for inclusivity and customer/associate equality. Inclusivity is not only about building empathy and compassion for others through reminding ourselves of our similarities, but also recognizing what makes us different. We strove to provide a shopping experience where you may be able to "feel" at every point in the system. It connects customers to each other across the global community, while simultaneously giving emphasis to the unique and remarkable idiosyncrasies present in each individual's own city.


When integrating tech into your experiences, you need to be sure that it's not just because you're playing catch up with other companies, but that it's in-line with your values/adds to the experiences you place in front of customers. After doing research, we decided to use their value of Inclusivity as a lens to frame our approach.



#WeAreAEO: Celebrating individuality and inclusivity and using tech for richer human connection.

What is Inclusivity?

Being inclusive generally means there is a community where people are included equality and celebrated individually.


I believe that everyone has a longing for a sense of belonging. When you feel a sense of belonging and you’re also learning about others in the community, you really feel what inclusivity is like. AEO already has inclusive motif through AerieReal, Project Live your Life, International Stores


We’ve created a system both in-store and out-of-store to strive for a feedback loop and complete system. We’re trying to put the values of the company where the people can really feel it. In store, at home on the app. We don't want the ad campaigns to stress inclusivity, but inject the feeling of inclusivity into every shopping touchpoint like the in-store and phone application shopping experiences.



How do you "feel" the inclusivity?

How Do You Make It Feel Inclusive? - Exploring Our Touchpoints

1. American Eagle Phone App

2. Local Display

3. Global Display(Content, notes, MPOS)

-Add-on to existing American eagle app.

-Allow you to play a larger role in the system

-Both drive home the same values in and out of you’re community


American Eagle Phone App:

How do you create a sense of belonging in an Inclusive brand?

  • One thing you can do is allow the members of a community to give back/add to the community
  • Voting enters you into a contest to be showcased & interviewed on other people’s AEO app to represent your city
  • Celebrating individuals of the community makes customers feel recognized and percieve authenticity.
  • After many people answer the city style questionnaire, AEO builds up data on the top sellers/styles of your city


Local/Regional City Display:

If a customer goes in the store (that filled out the questionnaire) and the outfit they voted for is picked, they can potentially see their input affecting their local store, or know that these styles are representative of their city, feeding back into regional pride and individuality. If a customer has not filled out the questionnaire, there is info encouraging to give their input on the AEO App

Global Display:

This display does something similar to the stories shown on the AEO app. You can browse through people who were chosen from different areas. You can explore content about other people in the global AEO community. What are outfits in New York City like? San Fransisco? Chicago? See what individuals perspectives might look like within the global AEO community - different or similar.

The way we’ve divided things up by regional and individual people, it gives people this sense that they are part of this community, but they are also celebrated as an individual in Pittsburgh.

MPOS Checkout (within Global Display)

Eileens horror story illustrates why this solution is a great mediator.

Complexities of the MPOS theoretically will work 100% of the time, but because of the customer-associate interaction, there were some trust issues which served as blockers to the MPOS, resulting in a failed integration.

By adding in the MPOS into our system in this manner, we can reduce the complexities and issues of the MPOS (where am I supposed to go, how am I supposed to get the attention of the associate,  do I just stand there while I wait for them to check me out? Gives them a surface to place things down/hide things, mental wait time is reduced.) , while allowing natural curiosity and distraction, relieve hiccups in the system, or allow for a larger margin of error.

The button on the international display, allows the person to call the associate. Normally, when you call the associate with the existing MPOS, there is a dead space where no one knows what is going on. The button signals to the associate you are ready, and instead of just waiting around with uncertainty, you can write a note to another customer, or be scrolling through new content, being entertained pretty much. This breaks down the psychological and mental wait time that customers experience, because you’re shifting your attention to something interesting and engaging vs staring at them scan your clothes. (Reset the mental clock)

Makes it feel more comfortable for customers because its a customer initiated interaction, not a associate initiated interaction. (Like the help button in the fitting rooms)

Jean Notes - Connecting Customers to Other Customers):

When we were talking about connecting customer to customer, this drives that bit of authenticity home with a handwritten note, included in each pair of jeans (AEO's flagship product). This little moment of delight, should put a smile on the customer's face, strengthening the connection between them, their city, AEO, and other customers.

With Project Live Your Life, and American Eagle Outfitters's commitment to fairness and equality, the brand has taken a clear stance on inclusive brand values. The purpose of #WeAreAEO is to make these beliefs more tangible to customers by celebrating our similarities and the differences that make us individuals.

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Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.

-bill moyers