We received a prompt from Sapient Nitro, a marketing and consulting agency, for our design sprint class. The theme was to investigate and design for healthy eating.
Conducting + Documenting Interviews
Ideation / Rationale building
We quickly set up interviews with 3 individuals. I conducted and documented two of the interviews with Stephy, who arranged them.
Both of the father's I interviewed had a wife and at least 2 children. Their households looked at dietary information when shopping, and thought they had fairly good awareness about what was healthy, but had drastically different habits and satisfaction.
Our interview with our first participant, Elan, revealed a host of good behaviors. We interviewed him at his home, but he was not comfortable with letting us inspect his kitchen. It became clear during our interview that his family had great dining habits. We weren't sure what to do since we were looking for “a problem” to solve. Our second interview with Ed revealed a lot of challenges for a household where both parents worked. We accompanied him getting breakfast at Taco Bell on his way to work.
During this time I was reading the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. While we were well accustomed to looking for a problems as UX designers, Switch's second chapter suggests looking for “bright spots” to balance out exhaustively learning about a complex problem. These success stories often have some aspect that can be adopted to make inroads on resilient problems or habits. With this in mind, we started looking at Elan's family as source of inspiration for what Ed's family could do.
- Bad diets causing heart disease are attributed for the early death of family relations back in Singapore, Elan's home country. Staying alive for his family and teaching healthy standards to his children have been powerful motivations for him and his wife.
- They don't typically buy organic because it's too expensive, but they have built relationships with local food producers to buy milk and other produce.
- Elan's wife is a homemaker and has time to plan meals out: “My wife loves to experiment with food. We like trying new meals and we try our best to plan so that we buy the right things when we shop.”
- “If I don’t plan ahead I’m more likely to throw something together. And it may not be very good.”
- “If my wife says make this and this, then I like that versus me having to figure it out on my own. If I have a sea of options, then that can paralyze me. If I have someone or something that bottom lines it for me, just do this, then that helps me a lot.”
- Even with a recipe, the right ingredients are often not on hand when there's time or energy to prepare a healthy meal.
- The kids’ schedules make planning meals ahead of time more time consuming.
- Ed had used calorie counting apps before, but eventually stopped because he had either, or had developed an improved sense of what his caloric intake was.
- Both of Ed's parents died relatively early from heart disease.
Key research Insights
- Even though both families looked at dietary information when shopping and the fathers were concerned with their family's history of heart issues, they had different tolerances, priorities for what to avoid (i.e. avoiding processed foods versus Low–fat/Low–Calorie)
- The will and awareness to do more (healthy) home cooking exists, but without one parent consistently taking responsibility for planning, the necessary conditions (purchasing, being stocked at dinner time, having cooking instructions) might never align.
- For Elan's wife, variety and experimentation ensured she could practice food preparation and gain mastery without it becoming a stale activity.
- South beach, paleo, low carb, low sugar, low fat… Our team was generally aware that diets and trends came and went.
- Tracking purchases, inventory, or calories could be tedious and easy to drop.
- Likewise, the design should aim prioritizing supporting the household over encouraging extended engagement or micromanagement.
- Cooking at home saves money.
- Cooking is a skill that can be improved and promotes greater interest and awareness about food.
We determined that helping a family be prepared to cook was more viable than prioritizing ingredients or particular diets. Too much choice could be overwhelming.
Two exemplars—unrelated to food—that I brought to the team's attention for inspiration were based around offering limited, rotating selection of high–quality choices.
Wallcat is a browser plugin and app that automatically changes a background or image to a new high–resolution wallpaper every day. A user can switch between one of four channels (”Structure”, "Fresh Air”, “Gradients”, and “Northern Perspective”), but is otherwise unable to rewind or fast forward to a different image.
Not knowing what's coming up and having limited control increases novelty at cost of optimization or prolonged tinkering, which was relevant for a time–strapped family.
MUBI is a movie streaming site that specializes in international, arthouse, and classic films. At any given day only 30 films are available. Every day, one film is rotated out, and a new one is added. Instead of giving a different selection to each subscriber, the same selection is offered to everyone.
The core of our design was to expose people to a limited, weekly choice of meal themes and help them prepare for their grocery trip by exporting the necessary ingredients to a list, note, or reminder app of their choice.
By starting with one meal a week, and gradually letting a person collect recipes as they complete them (rather than overwhelming them with entire libraries or plans) a a household can experiment early on. As they complete and collect more recipes, they can quickly create a shopping list with ingredients for many meals.
Reminders based on vicinity to a grocery store or day of the week prompt a person to think about the meal they are planning and to be ready to make a healthy meal before it's time to cook.
Leaving the shopping list interactions to another app meets the user at their habits and ensures that the apps do what they specialize in.
- Encourage a routine of healthy planning and shopping for a healthy meal.
- Curates healthy meals that are hard to find.
- Makes planning easier without taking over a family's current process.
- Gives a families a direction for their healthy eating.
- Define what healthy is.
- Dictate what you should eat.
- Plan every meal for you.
In retrospect, I agree there may be ways to balance a high degree of curation with less restrictive measures. On this particular design, that could mean letting a person add up to X meals for a shopping trip, or changing the frequency of meal updates from once a week to once a day. For a five day sprint, I think the core idea is solid as a foundation for a lot of other refinement and testing.
I am predisposed towards solutions that discourage endless scrolling or exploration by offering fewer, better options because I myself have a hard time choosing from too wide a range. In the future I would like to continue exploring this balance between choice and guidance while leveraging existing resources. I see machine learning and data–informed design as intriguing, but still dependent on a degree of human who can contextualize and find exemplars that might escape the notice of data trends.
Our panel liked using existing reminder/list apps, but found the general concept overly restrictive. While our research indicated choice was overwhelming when people didn't have time to plan, there were likely ways we could empower and help people explore without being as restrictive.