How to find the best dessert in Manhattan



Have you ever wonder where can buy the best dessert in New York City? There are all kinds of authentic dessert in New York City because of its largest multi-immigrants environment in the world. As a dessert lover, I would like to explore the relationship between dessert shop distributions and Manhattan context. In this project, I did research about New York ethnicity distribution and also map the data with the distributions of 6 types of dessert shops. In each dessert, I selected the top 30 highest rated shops in Manhattan based on Google review. Also, I conducted the Culture Probe as a UX test to discover how other dessert lovers perceive the relationship between themselves and desserts and also the relationship between Manhattan and desserts. The results of this project could create a clear route for dessert lovers to find out the best dessert shops in Manhattan and also propose the potential selling points for the dessert promotions. 


Desert Shops: I collected data about 6 kinds of high scores dessert shops from Google map which includes Chocolate, Ice Cream, Pie, Cheese Cake, Cupcake, and Waffle. I chose these 6 kinds of dessert because they are popular and have already become common desserts for people all around the world. Therefore, I would like to explore if is any rules for their shop distributions in Manhattan based on ethnicity or community neighborhood contexts.

Ethnicity: I made an ethnicity distribution map according to “COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST” IN NEW YORK CITY, and I overlapped the dessert shop distribution map made by Carto on it to create the index showing the relationship between races and dessert.

Culture Probe: I conducted a User Experience test called Culture Probe to collect how dessert lovers understand desserts under Manhattan context. Cultural probes is a technique used to inspire ideas in the design process, and it serves as a means of gathering inspirational data about people’s lives, values, and thoughts.


1. I created two groups of data sheets in the beginning: the first group includes 6 csv format sheets about 6 kinds of dessert shops and the second one is one sheet combining all of the dessert shops with rates. Then I imported these two group data to Carto separately to create two sets of interactive maps: one demonstrates the distribution of each dessert shops and the other one shows the distribution of all 6 dessert shops with their scores. For distribution of dessert types, I want to indicate the relationship between community neighborhoods and each dessert type. For the distribution of shop scores, I want to figure out the relationship between locality and high scores dessert shops.

2. I used Adobe Illustration to made a color-block map to demonstrate the ethnic distribution in Manhattan according to “COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST” IN NEW YORK CITY, and I overlapped exported image from the distribution of dessert types on it to show the relationship between races and dessert types.

3. I designed a package of culture probe to discover how dessert lovers understand the connections between Manhattan context with dessert types. From the test results, I can get inspiration about the impression of each dessert types from their subconsciousness. These inspirations could be cross-compared with the previous data to figure out the strongest features or misunderstanding of each dessert.


-Dessert Types

Based on the first data package, I used Carto to create an interactive map to show the distribution of 6 kinds of dessert: Cupcake, Cheesecake, Waffle, Pie, Chocolate, and Ice Cream. I selected the top 30 shops with high scores on Google map for each dessert and visualized them into different sizes. Therefore, audiences could distinguish each type of dessert by colors and estimate their scores by size from the following interactive map.

From the independent data, I found that the distribution of Cupcake, Cheesecake, Waffle, and Pie are almost uniform in Manhattan. Cupcake and Pie high scores shops are almost equally distributed from Lower Manhattan to the Upper Manhattan, and most Cheesecake and Waffle high scores shops are distributed between Lower Manhattan and Midtown, especially in Midtown. From these maps, we can see Cupcake and Pie are the most common dessert for all of the races residents around Manhattan.

Midtown Manhattan takes the most important proportion of the borough in Manhattan. The city’s most iconic buildings locate here which include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, the headquarters of the United Nations, Grand Central Terminal, and Rockefeller Center, as well as Broadway and Times Square. Therefore, the floating population here mostly are employees and tourists, and high-end Cheesecake and Waffle shops are popular for these kinds of the target group.

Distribution of Cupcake, Cheesecake, Waffle, and Pie Shops

From Chocolate database, I found that most high-quality chocolate shops are distributed from Delancey Street to 14th Street and from 34th Street to 53th Street. The neighborhood between Delancey Street to 14th Street includes two immigration towns, Chinatown and Little Italy. There are also many chocolate shops near the Diamond District,  which is one of the primary centers of the global diamond industry, as well as the premier center for jewelry shopping in the city. 

Community Neighborhood and Chocolate

From the ethnic map, I found that many high-end chocolate shops are usually concentrated near in the White community and the Asian community, such as Chinatown and Koreatown.

Ethnic and Chocolate

From Ice Cream database, most high-end ice cream shops are concentrated near East Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Lower East Side. In the late 1960s, many artists, musicians, students, and hippies began to move into East Village, and this neighborhood became a center of the counterculture in New York and is known as the birthplace and historical home of many artistic movements, including punk (Schoemer, 1990) rock and the Nuyorican (Nieves, 2005) literary movement. Also, Japanese street culture and a Japanese expatriate scene forms in the noodle shops and bars that line in this neighborhood.

Community Neighborhood and Ice Cream

From the ethnic map, I found high-quality Ice Cream shops also concentrated in Asian (Chinese) community and White (Italian, Iris and Polish Speakers) community, and some of them are close to Hispanic (Puerto Rican) Community which is near Asian community.

Ethnic and Ice Cream

– Ranking

Based on the second data package, I also used Carto to create an interactive map to show the distribution of all dessert shops with high scores, and I rand them from high to low scores from dark to light:

Then, I filtered the dessert shops which have scores higher than 4.5 and found that most of them are concentrated near East Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Lower East Side.

High Scores Dessert Shops


In conclusion, I found that Cupcake and Pie high scores shops are almost equally distributed from Lower Manhattan to the Upper Manhattan; most Cheesecake and Waffle high scores shops are distributed between Lower Manhattan and Midtown maybe because of the tourist’s industry; Chocolate shops focus in Asian and White community and also a high consumption Diamond District near jewelry shops; Ice Cream shops are concentrated near East Village which has strong artistic atmosphere and also Little Italy, Asian community (Chinatown and Japanese streets), and Lower East Side. Also, most high scores dessert shops are concentrated near East Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Lower East Side.


In culture probe, I invited two dessert lovers to complete 3 tasks. The purpose of this test is tried to gather inspirational data about people’s experience, impression, and thoughts related to desserts.


I design a package including 3 tasks for the participant in order to engage them with the dessert topic and also make them feel fun about the test. As design considerations, I select mint green, light pink, and bright orange as the color palette inspired by dessert colors. The culture probe package includes Introduction, Manhattan Map, Dessert Stickers, Moodboard, Simulation, and Retrieval.

Culture Probe Pack

Participants got the package like this so that they could open and use them in sequence:

Culture Probe Package

2. Process

1. In the first task, participants were required to past dessert stickers on the Manhattan map based on their impression about where has the most of each dessert shop and write down the reasons.

2. In the second task, participants were required to mark the features which could raise their eating and consumption desir on dessert pictures from Moodboard and explain why. The dessert pictures on Moodboard were selected specifically on different purposes, such as interior decoration for dessert shop and package design.

3. In the first part of the third task, participants were required to describe the process of how they search for a dessert in New York City. In the second part, they were required to describe their feelings which are through with the dessert?

User Test

3. Analysis

The two participants were selected because both of them are dessert lovers and one person who also makes dessert by themselves so that he has the experience to purchase the materials for baking in New York City. From the Map task, both of participants mentioned Cheese Cake and Chocolate are high-quality desserts which usually are sold in well-healed parts, and one recalled that he once bought high-end chocolate around East Village. Also, both of them pasted Ice Cream and Pie around Chinatown and Lower East Side because they thought Italy community has good quality ice cream and Asian loves ice cream. For Cupcake, one thought most shops should in the Asian community because of the delicate decoration, and the other one thought it is a kind of dessert which people like to post it on Instagram also because of decoration.

Task 1-Map

In the Moodboard task, both testers marked the raw materials and texture of the dessert and mentioned that the food materials and texture could induce a good appetite. Also, the combination of dessert and drinks and well-designed package could also raise their interests in desserts.

Task 2-Moodboard

In Simulation, they mentioned they will search dessert information on Apps firstly, such as Yelp and Instagram. Also, they will ask recommendations from friends or get ideas from coworkers. In Retrieval, both of them mentioned positive feelings like satisfied and happy, but desserts could also generate negative moods like guilty and more hungry for them.

Task 3-Retrieval and Simulation


Based on data research and user experience test, I found that there are strong features matching the data research and user experience, for example, participants thought high-end chocolate is usually sold in well-heeled areas and many shops are concentrated in Diamond District which owns many jewelry shops. Also, 2 participants pasted three kinds of dessert around Chinatown and Lower East Side which does match the most high-scores dessert shops are concentrated in this intersection. The information which matches with each other demonstrates the strongest truth features of desserts, which means people could be easily convinced by these characteristics.

In addition, from the culture probe, both participants are interested in raw material and food textures and also the combination between beverage and desserts can induce a better appetite. Therefore, I proposed the dessert shops could be promoted combing with the other food or restaurants in different neighborhoods, such as desserts in Chinatown could be promoted alone with Chinese bubble tea.


The research and user test reveal the relationship between desert types and Manhattan context and also got the inspiration from the user experience, and the analysis results could be the benefit for dessert lovers to explore dessert shop around New York City more and also contribute to the dessert business to promote their products. For example, both of testers mentioned they will do research about dessert on Apps firstly so that those kinds of social medial or recommendation Apps should be the strongest channel to advertise sweet products, and e features which were marked from Moodboard reveal the features should be highlighted from promotion pictures.


Schoemer, Karen (June 8, 1990). “In Rocking East Village, The Beat Never Stops”The New York Times.

Nieves, Santiago (May 13, 2005). “Another Nuyorican Icon Fades”New York Latino Journal. Archived