UX/UI Designer, Writer.
Figma, FigJam, InVision, Microsoft Office
With Wastecut, users can learn more about the average shelf life of different items, access storage tips and recipes, and receive support with quick and easy meal planning—all in an effort to reduce their food waste.View Prototype
The wasteful fate of our groceries.
We've all done it. We buy food with the intention of cooking at home rather than ordering takeout, only to leave our groceries in the fridge where they'll eventually meet a wasteful fate. A week has passed, and we've completely forgotten about our groceries (shocker). Our spinach is wilting and our bananas have browned. But, instead of channelling our inner Chef Ramsey and incorporating a sad box of spinach and browned bananas into what can only sound like a delicious meal, we decide to toss them out, vowing that the next time will be different.
But, it isn't.
Why do we waste so much food?
In answering the question on everyone's mind, we looked to our own experiences. And what we found was a mirror image of our own reality. Out of our team of four, not one of us found this anecdote to be surprising. After all, we've all shared in this very experience—throwing out food that could have been consumed, but went bad or was forgotten about (or perhaps, a combination of the two).
But, to avoid our own biases, we turned to social media and conducted a listening test to see if others had shared a similar experience. And, with a quick search, it appeared that we weren't alone.
Is food waste an unavoidable part of everyday life?
Unfortunately, the process of buying and tossing away our groceries has become so common—so much that we've become accustomed to it, repeating the cycle over and over again without hardly giving it a second thought.
And, when we look at the facts and figures, we can see a similar picture being painted. Globally speaking, we waste about 1.4 billion tonnes of food each year. Breaking this number down further, we can see the massive scale of food waste located in America. Discarding around 30-40% of the total food supply, the country ranks high on the list, wasting about 40 billion tonnes of food a year.
Focusing on the American individual.
Now, I know what you're thinking—what do all these numbers mean? Well, to put it simply, it means that the Average American wastes about 219 pounds of food, or roughly 650 average-sized apples.
Worse, analyzing the sources of waste, we see that individual residences account for 43% of this total, ranking first on the list. Next, we have restaurants and grocery stores (which you would think would be number one), at 40% of all food waste.
So, how can we save more apples?
To figure this out, we embarked on a two-week collaborative project with a team of four UX Designers, including myself. And to support us in our design sprint, the BrainStation education team instructed us with the following challenge:
How might we help individuals or organizations reduce their food waste using digital technology?
Where do we start?
With two weeks to find a solution, we were met with a few constraints, such as time and resources. And even though the broad and varied problem space of food waste called for a revolutionary solution, we knew our efforts would be more effective if they were focused on a single facet of the wider issue.
So, we began conducting some research, identifying a few major issues faced by those within the problem space, and an intervention that could emerge as the solution to those very concerns. To start, we analyzed our own experiences, hoping to identify some existing presumptions and predictions.
Do we waste food simply because we just don't know better?
While trying to understand the root cause of the issue, we came across a number of assumptions that we had. But, before allowing them to guide our solutions, we had to address them, determining whether they were grounded in reality or were merely conjecture.
Our initial assumption, an idea shared by all four of us, was that the majority of our food waste was caused by a lack of knowledge regarding storage methods. Most of the time, we simply didn't know any better, and before we knew it, it was too late. Three of the four of us thought the lack of cooking was to blame. Even though we bought a ton of groceries to later incorporate into home-cooked meals, we fell into the takeout trap—neglecting our groceries and leaving them to rot.
Well, let's ask the audience.
To see if we were correct in some of our assumptions, we conducted five interviews with individuals with first-hand experience with the problem space. Targeting single households living in America, we used platforms like Facebook and Slack to find a few candidates.
Opening up these discussions, we came across a number of discoveries and insights pertaining to the underlying causes of food waste. For some, the problem was found in storage, while for others, it was pure laziness. Whatever the reason, inefficiency emerged as the common trend.
The need for support.
But, why did the process lack efficiency? Looking into the reasons behind their food waste, we found that the majority of our users' worries centred on support and education. Oftentimes, their food waste was brought on by a lack of awareness, education, and occasionally, forgetfulness. Simply put, our users didn't know how to store their groceries or use them, so inevitably, they went bad.
Despite the source, our users made it clear to us that they needed support, whether it was to let them know when their food was about to go bad or to show them how to prepare meals using the ingredients they already had.
The key issues and areas of improvement.
With these new-found insights, we now have a better idea of where we can go. And some of these concepts mirror a few of our initial assumptions.
Much like ourselves, our participants struggled to avoid food waste due to issues of storage practices, meal preparation, and simply, forgetfulness. They were unsure how to purchase or store their groceries to extend their shelf life, keep track of expiration dates, and incorporate them in recipes that didn't take a lot of time or effort.
So, what can we do?
To address some of our users' concerns, we can direct our efforts toward developing a supportive resource that can assist them in reducing food waste through better consumption patterns and improved meal preparation and storage techniques.
In order to do that, however, we must first revisit our initial how might we statement. Initially, we were given a broad problem space, one that needed to be narrowed down. Now, having done our research, we have that opportunity.
Choosing to focus our design efforts on the household level, we have excluded the organization—highlighting the food waste caused by the individual consumer. Additionally, we included words such as "empower," and "educate" as we felt that those sentiments were strong contributors to food waste.
Revising our original design challenge to...
How might we empower and educate individuals about food storage and meal optimization techniques in order to reduce food waste caused by the loss of expired/near-to-expiration foods?
Having a better understanding of our users' needs and pain points, we can now synthesize our insights into a fictional representation of our user, also known as our persona. This character, representative of the very real traits of our users, will help us in breaking down the design task at hand. Capturing only the most important and valuable information, it will also serve as our guide as we move into ideation.
So, please welcome Eli Williams, an editor at a Los Angeles-based fashion magazine who is looking to reduce his food waste by cooking more, and ordering out less.
Eli needs some help. Like fast.
Looking at Eli's experience, we can identify a few pain points that he faces—pain points that we can turn into opportunities for our designs to serve users, just like himself.
For Eli, we know that his busy schedule is what limits him. As an editor for a fashion magazine, he often has to put in extra hours, which causes him to forget about the groceries in his fridge. Instead, he decides to order in, leaving his food to expire and eventually, be thrown away.
So, how can we help him?
Now, with a better idea of where Eli's concerns lie, we can begin defining the functionality of our products. Here, we can shift our focus to more concrete, tangible tasks, exploring Eli's goals and figuring out ways to address them.
To begin, we can put ourselves in Eli's shoes, considering some of his experiences and challenges. More than anything, we can see that Eli is concerned with:
• Reducing his food waste by ordering less, and cooking more.
• Optimizing his time with quick recipes and meal preparation.
• Lowering his costs by avoiding expensive delivery fees and wasted groceries.
A task flow focused on support.
So, to address Eli's concerns about optimizing his groceries and reducing his costs, we can focus on a solution that provides our users with the support they need to curtail their individual waste.
In the task flow diagram below, users can view their pantry, determine which food is about to spoil, and receive quick and simple recipe recommendations, customized to the ingredients they have in their fridge. Here, you might find individuals like Eli who want to cut back on their food waste but need a little extra encouragement from reminders and recipes.
Let's begin ideating.
Though it's exciting to jump right into ideation, we first need to discuss some of the features we want to emphasize, as a group.
Most importantly, we know that we want to create a resource that could support users, like Eli, in documenting their purchases, notifying them of approaching expiration dates, and even suggesting a few simple recipes based on their pantry. So, as we sketch, it's important to keep these ideas in mind.
And emphasize a few features.
After a group voting session, we came to the realization that we wanted to emphasize three functions: education, motivation, and support.
We want to educate our users about some of the best practices surrounding their food storage. We want to motivate them to reduce their individual waste. And lastly, we want to support them in documenting their purchases, so food no longer has to be wasted.
Translating our sketches into solutions.
With the help of our sketches, we can now begin building the framework for our digital screens in order to create a tangible, interactive product that caters to Eli's needs and interests.
Given our primary functions of education, motivation, and documentation, we created all-in-one mobile app that supports users in reducing their individual food waste through features such as expiration alerts, pantry updates, and recipe recommendations.
And ta-da... a high-fidelity product.
Taking our sketches and low-fidelity elements to the next level, we created a high-fidelity version of product. Alongside Keyvan Shafiei, I was responsible for this stage of the project.
Introducing... WasteCut. An iOS native App, WasteCut emphasizes the importance of support and education, empowering users, like Eli, to reduce their individual food waste through better food storage and meal optimization techniques.
Wanna see the finished product? Head on over to the prototype below.
What did we learn?
I want to start by saying that this was the very first design project I ever undertook. Prior to enrolling in my course at BrainStation, I never gave design much thought. As a writer, I usually delegated design work to others, whether it was a header for an article or an illustration to accompany an interview quote.
In fact, the most I had ever designed before this was a Canva graphic or a few wireframes for my internship as a Communications Analyst at RBC. And, I wasn't the only one. Talking to my team, I came to learn that my entire team of four had started this project, pretty much from scratch.
So you can only assume that we learned A LOT. But, here are some of our favourite lessons.
1. Just start. Trust me.
It can be hard to jump into a project. Especially when you have a ton of questions on how to approach the challenge. For us, we were guilty of falling into that trap. For three days, we discussed the problem space extensively, going back and forth.
But eventually, time caught up with us. Wasting about 3 days in just the brainstorming process, we needed to learn how to be more efficient with our time. And this lesson will always be one that's remembered by us.
2. Remind yourself of the goal.
During a design sprint, it's only natural to get stuck. And in our group, this happened quite a bit, especially in the early stages of brainstorming. At times, it felt like we were going in circles. But, having a specific plan of action and a few outlined goals helped us get through this.
Whenever we felt stuck, we were able to refer back to our objectives and ask how our current process could help us in achieving our long-term goals. Early on, we added this seemingly unimportant step, but it turned out to be a great tool for keeping us on task and saved us on numerous occasions.
Where do we go from here?
In the future, we hope to conduct a few rounds of usability tests to determine where WasteCut can improve. As important as it is to create a beautiful product that meets the needs of our users, we also need to know if it works as intended.
Once we reach a stage of intuitiveness and simplicity, we can expand the app's features and functionalities—incorporating a learning centre where users like Eli can ask questions and receive support.
Check out my other projects.