Duration
80 hours in 4 weeks (Spring 2020)


Overview
Evergood is on a mission to helps households save money and reduce their household's food waste levels by more efficiently planning meals and organizing their grocery lists.

ROLE
Product Designer


SKILLS
User Research
Brand Design
UI/UX Design

The challenge

Each day, 150,000 tons of food is thrown away in the United States, equivalent to about one-third of the number of calories the average American consumes in a day. Households are the biggest offender of food waste, wasting over 76 billion pounds of food each year, and 2/3 of that amount is due to food spoilage.

What happens before the food spoils? The household buys the food products. Prior to buying those products, they've generally either planned—or haven't planned—their meals for the upcoming days. Often times, the lack of planning leads to excess food that ends up being avoided or unused, and ultimately spoils in the back of the fridge or pantry, which leads households to throw away the spoiled food, therefore also throwing away money spent. Thinking about the global COVID-19 pandemic and how that has encouraged many households to "stock up" without necessarily knowing what they would be using their ingredients for, a concern of mine would be what happens to all of the spoiled food that families weren't able to use up quickly enough.

The solution

Design a mobile app that allows household members to plan their upcoming meals and collaboratively organize their purchasing so that they only purchase what they need. By wasting less food, households are also wasting less money.

01. Research

What's the story?

I live in a household that tries to use up every scrap of everything, making stocks out of veggie trimmings and aiming for an empty fridge at the end of each week. Yet even in this household, we find ourselves throwing away things here and there. I wanted to discover what other households were doing.

Knowing that "solving the global issue of food waste" is biting a little more off than can be solved with a mobile app design, I wanted to understand different types of habits that have proven to be most effective for reducing the amount of leftover food at the end of the week. Additionally, my hope was to understand what might motivate someone to reduce the amount of food they waste. Why would they care?

View the research plan

To get started, I conducted a competitive analysis of direct and indirect competitors and their feature offerings. Initially, my thought was that some kind of pantry or fridge "inventory" tracker would be the most beneficial to a user, so I looked at apps that helped households organize what they already have at home.

View the competitive analysis

While these products seem to be solving for a specific need, they also seemed very manual in terms of how users engage with their UI, and retention seemed fairly low for most of these inventory and food organization apps. I have to admit, manually adding and removing items each time I've used something up from a database-oriented inventory doesn't necessarily sound like something I personally would be able to keep up with.

To help me understand what kind of kitchen and planning habits people already practice (or don't practice), I conducted several interviews via phone in hopes that I would hear from some folks about their journey to nailing down their own strategies that help them waste less food. I also wanted to hear from others who either don't acknowledge food waste being an issue or are mindful of the amount of food they throw away but don't know what to do about it.

Some of the questions I asked were:

Participants who were especially mindful about their food waste levels said they learned these habits through their upbringing, from their roommates, or from working in the food service industry. As a former server myself, I recall the kitchens I worked with making sure nothing was put to waste - that's money down the drain!

"I think it goes back to my upbringing. My parents were Depression-era parents; they raised me not to waste food, and to make the best use of anything we had around the house rather than buying something new."

View the research findings

The most surprising part about this research process was how financially-motivated people are to reduce their food waste levels. I don't think the word "landfill" came up once. My assumption was that people wanted to reduce the amount food they throw away because they know where that trash ends up, but it turns out they want to waste less food so they have more money to spend on other things.

Additionally, the meal planning and grocery list organization process is pretty disjointed. People have their favorite recipes either saved to Pinterest, a Google doc, or photocopied and in an old binder. Their grocery lists are nonexistent, or scribbled on paper, or using Notes or another list app.

With those insights, and a better understanding of what motivates people to reduce the amount of food they waste, I started defining the product.

02. DEFINE

Making a list, checking it twice

My research led me in a different direction than I anticipated at the beginning of the project. It seemed as though some kind of "inventory" product that would allow users to keep track of what they already have in their home would be effective, so that they could use those ingredients more efficiently. This would allow them to use up those ingredients before they expire by receiving notifications of upcoming expired foods.

While that could be worthwhile, I started thinking more about what happens before they purchase those products to begin with. It seems as though that's where the behavior lies that leads to food waste - buying products that may not have a specific purpose in the upcoming days' worth of meals. Rewinding a bit, I conducted an additional competitive analysis on mobile apps that help users meal plan and organize their grocery lists so that I could assess what types of features exist on those platforms before getting too deep in defining my own product.

To hone in on this new direction, I created two personas, each of which embody an individual who is mindful about how much food they waste, but their motivations are a bit different.

These personas encompass members of two different households: Lisa, who has a young family and wants to stretch their dollars further, and Aaron, a young professional who is adjusting to his mid-20s life and is learning to cook for himself.

As a family of four, including two children, Lisa wants to know exactly how much she's spending on food so she can accurately keep a budget together. She wants to plan cheaper meals that include ingredients that have a long shelf life and won't spoil the day after purchasing.

On the other hand, Aaron is new to cooking and budgeting altogether. He only has to financially take care of himself, but he grew up in a financially conservative household and doesn't like throwing away food at the end of each week, since that means he's also throwing away money.

As I move forward with defining the Evergood product and its feature set, I wanted to make sure I wasn't creating noise in the app store with a product like this. This idea was born to do something good in the world (reduce household food waste, and by doing so, save its users money).

In my interviews, it was evident that the current processes for keeping track of grocery lists and planning meals for the week is very disjointed. There are multiple varieties of mobile apps that focus on what has happened after a household purchases groceries, to keep track of those items, but not as many to effectively help them before they set foot in a grocery store.

With the product taking shape and having its own set of feature requirements, I developed a sitemap to organize the navigation and screens necessary to build a minimum viable product for Evergood.  

I developed three task flows based on the needs of my two personas. While Task 1 isn't a feature a user would use frequently, it allows them to share their grocery list with a roommate or spouse so that others can add items to their household's grocery list. Task 2 and Task 3 would be more frequently-used, allowing the user to find a recipe based on specific ingredients, and adding to an upcoming week's meal plan, respectively.

With the task flows solidified, I created a UI requirements document to highlight the different screens, features, and interactions that would need to exist within this new feature set.

View the UI requirements

So, how does this product generate revenue? 

I'm glad you asked! Some of the collaborative features will live behind a paywall, such as the ability to share a list with another user and the ability to share a recipe. Based on competitors, this paywall will likely come in the form of a monthly subscription fee, making this business model of the freemium variety. Core features such as the ability to create a grocery list, search for recipes, and add them to the meal plan will be available on the free version.

In addition to the recurring fee, Evergood will also generate revenue from digital ads and sponsored content. Companies who want to promote their line of food products can do so by having their recipe promoted within the Explore tab.

However, there is a balance that needs to be struck with sponsored content so that the Evergood stays true to its users reducing their household food waste, and not buying more ingredients just because they saw a sponsored ad for ingredients that looked interesting.

Where do the recipes come from?

In addition to recipes being submitted in the form of paid ads, there are a plethora of free or low-cost APIs that can feed us the recipes we need (pun intended), such as:

Though setting up these APIs may require some lifting for the developers, it will ultimately pay off since it removes the need for any sort of in-house team working to produce content.

03. CREATE

Building something helpful

With a sitemap and a few task flows in tow, I began sketching multiple variations of a few screens to try and flush out some potential layout options. I referred to some of the competitors in this space, such as Mealime, Pinterest, Evernote, Google Keep, and Supercook to see how they'd organized grocery lists and meal planning options.

After reviewing and receiving feedback on the variations, I brought multiple screens to mid-fidelity so that I could start preparing for usability tests.

BRAND & IDENTITY

Running parallel to the mid-fidelity usability testing process, I started to develop the product's brand. After struggling with the name for a couple of weeks, Evergood was selected as the product name, encouraging the brand attributes of sustainability, light-heartedness, and positivity.

I developed multiple logo variations, trying to emphasize the brand attributes through the logo design, and landed on several concepts.

After going through a few review sessions and gathering feedback on the different concepts, I iterated on the chosen logo concept and added some finishing touches, ensuring I had also compiled an accompanying brand style tile.

View the brand style tile

With the brand elements assembled, I developed a UI kit, pulling components from the mid-fidelity wireframes and aligning them with the Evergood brand.

With mid-fidelity wireframes in place, I was almost ready to refine the wireframes and move them to high-fidelity screens.

04. TEST & ITERATE

Taking it out for a spin

To make sure Evergood's feature set was easy to use and made sense based on the product's goals, I conducted four remote usability tests so that I could observe how participants navigated through different screens within the app, and how they engaged (or didn't) with the app design.

View the usability test plan

The results of these usability tests were invaluable in guiding which features needed to be updated, re-organized, or highlighted. There was great feedback on some of the features and where they existed within the app, but some of the other features were only discovered by accident, which was certainly not the intention of the initial design. Oh, usability testing, how I love thee for uncovering things I may not see.

After synthesizing the results of the mid-fidelity usability tests, I brought the screens to high-fidelity and conducted another set of usability tests via Maze, using similar tasks as the first set of mid-fidelity tests. Six individuals participated in this second round of usability tests, and there was no overlap in participants between the second round and the first.

The feedback from this second round of testing primarily focused on minor UI updates and improvements. While people may not have used an app to create grocery lists or meal plans before, it's something most of us have done at some point in our lives, and it was interesting to see how this product did or didn't capture some of the details people include in their own household planning.

After further rounds of feedback and design iterations, I updated the prototype to reflect the MVP of Evergood's service offering.

Next steps

Now that the design is functional, I'll conduct additional testing and add some UI enhancements before working with the development team to ship the product. I'd also like to implement some kind of feature that offers positive reinforcement - gamification or something similar - to reward the user for planning their meals.

Because this feature set is a bit of a hybrid of existing apps that people already use (Pinterest, iOS Notes app), I would like to continue doing some additional usability testing. As I explore new features that can be added over time, it would be helpful to conduct focus groups or additional interviews with users of those competitors so that I can gain insights on how best to approach adding features.

Findings & Reflections

I knew going into this project that food waste is a larger issue than just within U.S. households, but it seemed like a straightforward target to market with a new product like Evergood. I wasn't necessarily needing to think about restaurants who throw away food, or supermarkets that toss spoiled products.

However, trying to solve an issue like this with only a mobile app design is tricky! There are so many moving parts and variables that lead to spoiled food, and there were definitely moments where it seemed like this product wouldn't end up being much help. But, keeping in mind that even one pound less of food spoilage per month, or year, does good for the world and for our wallets, I was reminded that taking a step back during a project like this is really helpful to see the bigger picture.

Also, designing an end-to-end mobile has so many fun and interesting intricacies that I didn't know existed! From operating system screens and notifications, to requirements to get the app into the app store, to general interaction and UI design elements, I really enjoyed building this product.

© charlie weber 2021