Food Time!

Reducing food waste in the home

Product Designer - Research, Wireframing, UI Design, Prototyping, Usability Testing | 100+ hours
Did you know that 76 billion pounds of food are wasted every year in the United States, coming from households alone?
It’s a problem. A big one. And it has a lot to do with the relationship that people have with the food they have at home—a relationship that could use some work.
So, what do I mean when I say a relationship that could use some work?

According to my research on domestic food waste and user interviews I conducted:

"Out of sight, out of mind...out of time."

When people don’t see a food item, they forget about it—right up until they discover it again much too late where it usually goes straight into the trash.

“I got this bit of jam left... but no bread or peanut butter.”

What happens when users have a small amount of an ingredient left and don’t know what to do with it? Like that jelly bit at the bottom of the jam jar. It would be enough for a sandwich...if they had bread and peanut butter.

What usually happens with leftover ingredients is, they end up getting tossed out.

“The date on this says to eat it by yesterday, but I forgot to. Can't eat it now.”

The interpretation of date labels varied among users. Some users don’t abide by those date labels and smell/taste check instead. However, the interpretation that contributes the most to food waste is: Holding steadfast by the date label on the food, no matter what, which usually ends with the food prematurely going into the trash.

Here’s how I handled these issues.
Food tracking, setting dates, and getting reminder alerts

Users can add food items they have into the app—groceries, ingredients, leftovers—and have it accessible at any time, whether they’re at home standing in front of the pantry, or at the grocery store trying to remember if they were out of milk or not.

Users can set a “consume by” date for each food. Because users have different interpretations of date labels printed on foods and because foods like fruits and vegetables don’t usually have date labels, this date depends on user and their own system of “still good to eat” time periods.

In addition, users can turn on alerts for foods they want to be reminded to eat.

Recipes using food available at home

To tackle the problem of having extra or leftover foods and not knowing what to do with them, recipes are the way to go. But instead of providing the millions of recipes out there, this feature finds recipes that would use the food you already have.

That bit of jam you have left? Well, you don’t have to stop at just PB&J. You can mix it in with your yogurt or cereal, or use it to top off pancakes and desserts!

Here’s a glance at some of the work I did.
Empathizing was key

I knew I needed to make sure I was designing for the right user. Because I felt like I was one of the users, one of my biggest hurdles was removing myself from the problem.

Focusing on problems that other people actually had was important, and empathizing helped immensely. Even just going through empathy mapping and creating a persona helped me push past my own problems.

Rapid ideation, for the win

It was important for me to find the best ways to tackle the pain points that users were having. Crazy Eights brought out not just one good idea, but a second equally good idea that I couldn’t resist going forward with.

And from there, rapid storyboarding was the way to go, as it was imperative to make it as easy as possible for the user to reach the end goal—reduce throwing out food.

Wireframing, designing, iterating...and testing, testing, testing

Copy was important to users, especially when it came to the terms that indicate when a food will expire or go bad.

Terms like "expiring foods" were thrown out after testing the first time—not flexible enough and too similar to hard date labels. "Last day to eat or use"—too confusing.

A lot of time was spent deliberating on words, but it proved to be well spent after getting much better feedback later on.

The recipe searching was tricky at first, but in the end, it was the most satisfying to design.

The goal of the feature was for users to easily search for recipes with food and ingredients they’ve added to the app. My first iteration was a flop, with no users being able to complete the recipe search task. But this is why I love testing as early and as much as possible.

Gathering everyone’s insights and frustrations in that first round, I changed the flow completely. By the second round of testing, 100% of all users were able to easily complete the task.

And? Making it look and feel AWESOME
Curious to see how it turned out? Try it out below.
Looking back...

One of the ideas I had originally had while I was ideating was having a way to recommend users on how they should interpret date labels and how they can determine if a food is still safe to eat, despite what the labels may say. However, I quickly realized that to pursue that, I’d have to find a health/food expert in order to safely recommend that kind of information. Maybe someday in the future, I’ll have the resources to pursue this!

Looking back, this project was not only fun, but it made me push my limits in both the ease of use and the visual aesthetics. While it was initially a struggle to remove myself from being one of my users, the end product was entirely worth it.

Let’s take a look at other work I’ve done.

Easing social connections in Spotify

I designed a Spotify feature that helps build and boost connections between friends and family by easing the emotions of sharing.

Read case study