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Product Design

Hydra: POS

Hail Hydra

Horizon Software wanted to create a new POS system for their customers. There was one in place but it was in need of a massive update. The temporary name given was "Hydra," which became a joke among the Director and I since the product and leadership team wanted to see it expand to more markets and do more than it was intended to. Like the Hydra from Greek mythology, every time a head is cut off, 2 more grow in it's place. The product originally was for the K-12 Education market, then Senior Living facilities, the higher education market, then this feature, then that feature!

Hydra was a POS system for K-12 Education, Higher Education, and Senior Living. Within those markets there would be 3 variations of Hydra: Table Service, Quick Service/Cashier, and Convenient Store

TLDR; I harassed every waiter I had for months to get a better understanding of POS systems. The project kept growing bigger and bigger only to get scrapped for focusing our efforts on a huge backlog.

Horizon Software International, LLC
4 months
Tools Used
Sketch, Photoshop, Sketch Cloud, Whimsical

Product Vision: Hydra is the solution of choice for K12, Higher Education, and Senior Living markets where simple and quick ordering takes place in conjunction with our company's commerce and nutritional platforms that provide detailed information of our patrons resulting in meaningful experiences.

Discovery & Research

I was out to dinner with my mom and the restaurant was packed. The only 2 seats in the entire place were at the far end of the bar near the kitchen, the bathrooms, and the POS systems. As a regular, I happened to know the staff pretty well and even went to school with some of the servers. One of my friends, Sebastian, came up to say hello and started using the POS system. I looked over his shoulder and examined every button, menu option, color, but it was tricky to understand. I asked him a few questions about the system and he gave me a little tutorial after the restaurant died down. He expressed what each color meant and how much better it is than the previous POS system they used.

At every restaurant over the next several months, I would ask the waiter or waitress what POS system they were using. If they weren't busy, I would ask if I could take a peek at the system and conduct the world's quickest, impromptu interviews. Asking things like: What do you like about this software? What do you dislike? Do you have any workarounds for something the POS cannot do? I would write down the name of the system and analyze the products. I would visit friends in the industry and ask them about the system they were using.

I conducted a competitive audit of the various POS systems found on my restaurant adventures. It's one thing to view a demo, but it's completely different to interact with them, see people's painpoints and workarounds. There are tons of POS products out there, so I picked the most popular, high rated, and crowd favorites to dive deeper into.

Diving deeper into the market demand, there was 200 pages of research conducted that covered the K-12 Education market. This was conducted for first POS system they developed, Solana. It covered details about:

  • Big VS small schools and how they differ in logistics
  • Free and Reduced lunch
  • Lunch line duration, cutting, design
  • Staff and guest lunches
  • POS small buttons and staff issues
  • and A LOT more that would help make the product useful

Expanding the Scope

Expanding the product to fit the Senior Living and Higher Ed markets, we needed to rethink the design so it would be broad enough for various uses. We decided on 3 different styles: 

  • Table Service
  • Quick Service/Cashier
  • Convenient Store

Each of the markets would be able to utilize at least 2 of the POS styles:

  • Senior Living - Dining (table service), Bistro [QSR, Dining Room, Bistro, Front Desk]
  • K12 - Merch, Cafeteria [Career and Tech Ed, Merchandise stores, Day care]
  • Higher Ed - Dining, Merch [Dining Hall, Coffee Carts, Kiosks]

We decided to put our efforts toward creating the Retail piece since the company did not have a similar product.

Personas & Journeys

To gain a better understanding of who we were building for, we created personas and journeys. This allows us to anticipate what users may encounter on a day-to-day basis and how Hydra can help with their jobs.



Accessibility, Food Nutrition, and Safety are CBORD and Horizon's primary concerns. With customers being primarily in healthcare and education, it's important for SaaS products to be helpful. MVP features include:

  • Allergies and food restriction
  • Patron alerts
  • Patron search and information
  • Payment and cash register functions (card, cash, split check, etc.)
  • Corrective features (cancel item, refund, etc)
  • Item search
  • Meal plans and restrictions
  • Live account balances
  • POS system must be basic and cheap as location is not revenue centric
  • Multiple payments Cash, CC, meal plans
  • Knowledge of the customers information is key
  • Integration with other CBORD\Horizon products
  • Transaction Speed
  • Eligibility payment
  • Allergy information

To remain as consistent as possible (and to make the devs life a little easier), we tried to keep all 3 versions of the POS similar. The Cashier and Retail version would have the same layout. The only difference is in Table Service version that would have "Restaurant Layout" enabled so hosts can change the floor as need to assign servers, merge tables, or rearrange for a large party.


One of many iterations of the Aqua Design System

When Hydra was kicking off, the Design Team began to create a design system, Aqua Design System (ADS). There were many iterations of components, colors, and use cases. It was challenging to create from scratch while simultaneously implementing a design system.

Design reviews always consisted of someone saying, "that's not in the ADS." Some components had not been created, or considered. There was back and forth and discussions without direction. Since the ADS was always changing, I had to keep going back to change components, resize, try different combinations, and even create new components.

Hydra was a building block in the building the ADS. It helped keep minds open about what products could do, what we had no considered, and the future of uniform product at the company.


K-12 Retail screen with a queue feature to show students in line

While keeping similar design conventions to what POS systems, we designed the item buttons to be on the right hand side given most people are right handed and will spend majority of the time on that side of the screen. Originally on the left, we considered this might be tiresome or uncomfortable after too long.


Majority of the users for the would be kitchen staff for K-12, or residents and employees of Senior Living facilities. The people who work in these roles typically are older with low vision. Large, dark text contrasting against a white background is optimal for a wide array of vision disabilities. Large buttons and touch targets help users by giving them enough space with or without motor difficulties.

School and ID pictures are key in fast moving lines. It's easy to verify who is on the other side. Up front allergies, restrictions, and sensitivities help staff spot potentially threatening items.

Reflection and the Future of Hydra

While creating the POS. Hydra ended up getting pushed back indefinitely. Our backlog was too vast to take on something new. More profitable products and markets became the focus.

In the Fall of 2020, when schools started to reopen with Covid-19 still spreading, Hydra had solutions for lunch time that would help staff and students to remain healthy. With a mass-classroom ordering system, I would have loved to see how it could help impact schools and universities enhanced safety measures.

Honestly, I never thought my restaurant experience would land me a design job. I debated removing it from my resume, but then my resume could fit on a post-it note. I'm glad I didn't; it allowed me to work on Hydra. Nothing humbles your ass quite like working in a restaurant. Although the product got scrapped, I am so grateful to everyone who took time out of their busy "Taco Tuesday's " and "Bottomless Mimosa Sunday's" to help out and allow me to poke around their POS systems.


Latest works