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Small Businesses in Detroit

Contextual Research

Qualitative Research | Quantitative Research

Team Project- MFA Integrated Design, College for Creative Studies

September-December 2019

Purpose of the Study

The city of Detroit has a complex Socio-economical history, which has seen various rises and falls. The crux of the project was to understand what forms of support is needed by the small businesses in Detroit, to join the current resurgence of the city. We began our research with established businesses in the city, that have been operational for more than 20 years. This helped us understand what is needed to sustain small businesses in Detroit. 

Qualitative Research

Objective of Interviews

Interviews were conducted with 4 historic businesses in Detroit. The objective of the interviews was to understand how these businesses survived the ebbs and flows of the city's economy. The cultural probes were used to understand the values and expectations of the customers. 

Methods and Tools

The methods used were observation, semi-structured interviews, and cultural probes for the customers. 

Cultural Probes such as a printed map of the city was used to understand how far the customers travel to visit these establishments. Some prompts cards like ‘Tell Us a Memory’ was used to understand the attachment that the customers felt towards these establishments. 

Businesses Interviewed

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Henry the Hatter
est 1893

Qualitative Research Insights

There is no real sense of business community amongst them. The businesses are detached from the new initiatives in the city
They share a personal relationship with their customers. They are customer-focused, offer quality products and services, and believe in hard work
They understand how to do business in Detroit. They love to share their experiences as business owners in the city

Quantitative Research


The objectives of quantitative research were to understand how small businesses in Detroit viewed success, to find out what kind of support they need to succeed, and to see if a mentorship program could be something that the businesses might be interested in.

The Survey

An online survey was sent out to eighty small businesses in Detroit and twenty responses were received. The responses were collected online and in-person by visiting the stores.

Some of the responses were offered by successful small businesses in the city like Chartreuse, Fisher Bakery, Sister Pie, Pure Detroit, and more. 

Age of Businesses

Under 5 yrs

Over 25 yrs

11-15 yrs

5-10 yrs

Types of Businesses

Cleaning Services


Professional Services


Some Businesses That Responded

Sister Pie

Quantitative Research Insights

The businesses want to network with other businesses even though they are not interested in a formal business association.
The businesses did not want to be part of a business mentorship program but felt that they had a lot to share.
Marketing was quoted as one of the most important needs that the businesses wanted support with.


Based on the findings from quantitative research, the design rules were formed. Ideation involved combining ideas within the team and building a prototype. The concept developed as a result was a virtual platform that allows networking with other businesses and customers as well. Map of businesses with their details, ratings, and reviews are some of the features available on the customers' end of the platform.


Validation with three users was conducted with a mockup of this platform. The feedback included some questions about data privacy and authority on deciding the rankings/ratings of the businesses. The second iteration of design would need to address these concerns.

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