Design for Interaction, Delft University of Technology, 2019

A new dine out experience for visually impaired through a simple yet clever placemat. It takes away communication barriers by providing haptic guidance to the blind person and visual guidance to the waiter.

For the visually impaired, leaving home often means daring to face the unknown and coping with stressful circumstances on a daily basis. In certain situations, other people have difficulties interacting with them in an appropriate way or unintentionally complicate their condition. Both parties would appreciate more guidance to assure a successful communication.
PlaceMate is the result of a subtle but meaningful intervention in the dine out experience of visually impaired and blind people. It takes away communication barriers with the waiter by providing a common communication base. Thus it enables them to have a more expedient, straightforward interaction with the waiter.
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I conducted a casual observation to engange with the target group and to better understand their everyday life.

Engaging with blind people

Without predetermined categories in which to put the observation, the actions in the field could be captured freely and unbiased in form of descriptive notes, images and videos. A simple walk from home to the supermarket turned out to be a stresful journey. Based on the data behavioral mapping was undertaken and the participant's locations and actions in space over time recorded.


I avoid dining out, because I feel ashamed, when others can see me searching for the food on the table.

Visually impaired interviewee


The second cycle started with an observation in context. This gave the possibility to identify a target interaction for my design intervention. Prototypes were first tested in role plays, then evaluated with a target user, and eventually tested in context.
Participatory observation
In order to immerse myself into the dine out experience of blind people, I took a blind person to a restaurant.

Diving into the field of dining out, the first activity was a participatory observation, where the current situation was explored more in depth in order to reframe the Design Goal and Interaction Vision. Further research was focused on the interaction in the moment when the waiter serves the meal.
Pain points in the current situation
During the restaurant visit, the blind person faces a series of several peaks, where orientation is difficult and the stress level shows a drastic increase.

The blind person is relatively cautious in communicating and interacting with the waiter. The waiter on the other hand is normally not used to serve visually impaired and thus might behave reserved and insecure. That leads to uncertainty for the blind, since they don‘t fully catch the situation and face the unknown.

How can the blind person experience less unknown?

Communication Failure

How can the communication between both be improved?


How can the blind person become more self-determined?


What causes both feel insecure during the interaction?

For a blind person, the situation in a restaurant can be overwhelming.

Design Goal

Let blind people profit from a supportive communication with the waiter in a restaurant during the serving moment of the order.

Prototyping & Testing
A range of diverse prototypes were initially tested in stand-up roleplays, iterated and evaluated by a visually impaired and eventually tried in real context. The prototypes used haptic, audible and visual cues with and without technology.


Informed by previous prototyping and testing iterations the final concept was defined. User insights determined crucial features and considerations as well as functional requirements on the design.


Interaction. The final placemat appeared to be a true anchor and guide for the visually impaired user. So they know in which exact moment and where the waitress would put the order.


Experience. With the placemat the user shall profit from increased certainty and confidence within the serving moment, which also enhances the ease while eating afterwards.


Appearance. The concept is a flexible placemat, that can be rolled up and is brought to the restaurant by the blind person. It has a certain thickness to implement simple tactile markers.


Expression. The mat shall not be recognizable as a supportive tool for visually impaired. Shapes are simple for easy tactile identification and and a contemporary, functionalistic aethetic.


Material. The placemat shall be produced out of soft silicone rubber in order to ensure easy cleaning, flexibilty and durability. A dark color provides contrast to the tableware.

A simple yet clever placemat, that gives haptic guidance to the blind person and visual guidance to the waiter.

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© 2024 by Bastian Reichhardt