Mitigating the American food desert problem
Oasis Food Desert App
My team was tasked with creating a design solution to address the American food desert problem in the form of a food truck app.
Research, Interviews, UI Design, IxD
So, what is a food desert?
Defined by the CDC as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet,” food deserts affect roughly 54.4 million people or 17.7% of the US population who either live more than 1/2 mile from the nearest provider of whole foods in urban areas or 10 or more miles in rural ones.
Why is this a problem?
Although food may still be available in food deserts, it is often “processed” and high in sugars and fats, which is known to lead to increased cases of obesity and a multitude of health issues like cardiovascular disease & obesity. Populations that live within food deserts have been statistically found to have a shorter life expectancy than those that have ample access to whole foods.
We recognized at the beginning that solving such a complex national problem which affects millions of people is a tall order, so it was essential for us to have realistic, obtainable goals with our short window of 6 weeks. We set out to accomplish the following for our target users:
Better awareness of healthier eating options
Easier access to healthy food
New and improved healthy eating habits
The Design Thinking Process
Our overall approach to a process was to apply a Design Thinking framework, breaking the project into 5 phases:
From this 5 phase structure, we created a plan that would allow us to track our progress and ultimately deliver a minimum viable product within 6 weeks. We divided the tasks among our team of four and collaborated on key steps, holding daily tag-ups via Zoom to share progress and work through any roadblocks that any of us encountered.
We knew that for us to design any sort of solution to the problem, we first had to be able to understand and empathize with our users. This required primary research tactics to gather qualitative data from user interviews. Our interview questions focused on outlining supply and accessibility issues, as well as consumer behaviors and attitudes.
Over the course of a week, we conducted 8 30-minute user interviews with people currently living in food deserts, giving us an intimate look at the lives of those affected by the problem.
Our questions set out to answer the following:
Barriers and Access to Healthy Food
1. What is the relationship between food access and food consumption in food deserts?
2. What barriers exist to accessing healthy food for people residing in food deserts?
1. What are the food consumption habits of people living in food deserts?
2. What are the food spending habits of people living in food deserts?
Attitudes and Influences
1. How do people in food deserts define healthy eating?
2. What do they need and want in order to be healthy by their own definition?
3. What motivates people to try new foods?
After the interviews, we conducted a closed card sorting exercise to group our findings into pre-selected categories. Here are the patterns that emerged.
Healthy food options are expensive and inconvenient to access
Proper preparation of whole foods-based meals is impeded by work schedules and limited free time; thus, convenience took priority over health benefits
The collective definition of healthy eating is the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as protein
Food choices are driven by cravings and emotions
Eating with one’s family is still preferred when it’s an option
People become educated about food primarily from their friends and family, as well as from online articles and documentaries
Transportation limitations provide one of the biggest impediments to grocery stores or specific foods accessibility
Personal safety is a major consideration for people without cars when deciding when and where to buy food, based on both times of day and their location
In addition to the general findings and conclusions, we were able to distill our interviewees into two primary groups based on overlapping comments and patterns of experience. For the purposes of the study, these two groups were given distinctive characteristics and labeled with personas:
Charlotte & Ted.
does not own a car
is not within walking distance of a grocery store
does all of the household grocery shopping
no real walkable healthy food options near home or work
completes shopping on the way to and from other tasks
food choices heavily influenced by moods
owns a car
does 90% of the household grocery shopping
has a family of 4 and typically cannot afford healthy food
prioritizes cost over quality
he and his wife both work full-time and have limited time for grocery shopping
only tries new things when introduced by friends or family
Customer Journey Maps
Developing Customer Journey Maps allowed us to highlight opportunities based on potential pain points users might have during the transition from non-user to user advocate.
To provide a benchmark for beginning the ideation phase, my team graphed out user insights, their needs, and How Might We questions from the research, to pinpoint our primary design solutions in response to specific questions.....
After deliberating on the 3 primary categories that came into focus during the research phase (barriers and access to healthy food, existing consumption habits, and attitudes and influences, we concluded that the following features should be incorporated into the final design to address the primary frustrations, goals, and motivations expressed by our users:
Meal & Grocery Delivery Options
Quick & Simple Checkout Process
Rewards Loyalty System
Appealing Food Visualization
Why These Features?
We built a grayscale version to represent the primary look and feel that the app would become. After considering both the users and key features of the app, we were particular about which element should go on each page.
The prototype went through multiple iterations and improvements based on user feedback retrieved through usability testing with the original goal of keeping a simple, user-friendly layout in mind. The app was designed in Adobe XD using a basic style guide to highlight our typeface and colors. We also built several micro-interactions into the functionality of the app to make using it fun and engaging.
Usability testing was conducted with fidelity at every level of the prototype to help flush out bottlenecks and to improve upon any confusing or unnecessary elements. The following feedback we received allowed us to simplify and streamline the user flow:
Quick launch buttons are not useful when filtering on more than one option (should remove)
Cart & Order page should be consolidated into one Checkout page
Multiple payment options needed at checkout
Tip option needed at checkout
Rewards goal should be 10 and not 5 – like punch cards found at retail stores
After usability testing for the final time, we were able to make some minor final tweaks in XD to make our app production-ready.
What Went Well
our team hit our 6-week target and delivered a quality, fully functioning MVP
we collaborated effectively and spent an optimal amount of time working towards our goals (despite being separated by different time zones)
What Required Improvement
compromising on final design & decision-making as a team (understanding everyone’s unique approach to design)
better communication among/with teammates on research expectations
partner with local grocery store chains and food truck owner/operators to develop a business plan on how to collaborate on meal/grocery deliveries and subscription services
• enlist nationwide food photogs to supply menu item images