View a demo video of this prototype. Password: meal
A large amount of food is thrown away daily while many people live in poverty without access to nutritious food.
Design a mobile application that brings the community together to reduce food waste and help those in need. The app will match food donors with volunteers in their local areas to redistribute the food in a timely, safe, and useful way.
Hunger and poverty affect far too great a portion of the population. The U.S. Houhsehold Food Secuiry said in 2014 that more than 48.1 million people are struggling against hunger. In the U.S., hunger is not caused by lack of food but rather the continual prevalence of poverty.
While this is going on, it seems unbelievable that 40% of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that more than 20 pounds of food per person each month is thrown out. The food tossed away ends up in a landfill while only about 3% is composted.
This leads to a food paradox. With the increase of people living in poverty, the modern society has evolved into a wasteful creature. These problems have motivated people to start thinking about what goes wrong in the process from farm to fork.
Research findings & analysis
I needed to gain a deeper understanding of the issue to inform my recommendations for a new app. I especially wanted to understand the difficulties that North American food banks face in their day-to-day operations.(I decided to focus on food banks because they offered a key central point in the food transfer and donation process.)
I interviewed food bank volunteers, a manager, a farmer and restaurant staff. I also read news and reports online, and gathered additional data.
Key findings included:
The abundance of food available in the U.S. is directly contributing to the amount of waste. Food gets wasted everywhere: in the retail sector, at restaurants, and in the home. In order to increase sales, supermarkets throw away food that is misshapen and restaurants offer buffet-style eating. At the end of the day, more food is wasted than consumed — and fruits and vegetables are hit the hardest.
“About 50% of people would call food banks and ask for volunteers to go and pick up the food.” — Food Bank Manager
The top barriers preventing food donations are:
- Transportation constraints
- On-site storage & refrigeration at places where food is donated
- Liability concerns
Some restaurants, lacking the knowledge or resources of how to store or transport food, throw unused food away. Staff in the restaurants are encouraged to take food home but they don’t feel comfortable to give away food to strangers in fear of liability issues.
“Based on what I earn, what I can eat is a bit limited” — dish washer
People need nutritious food, but it’s difficult for food banks to obtain. Many don’t earn enough money to meet the basic nutritional requirements and some just eat to get through their daily life and struggle to make ends meet. Eating nutritiously costs more money and seems to be a luxury for certain people.
Food banks accept mostly canned food rather than dealing with a huge amount of perishables, although some do sometimes accept fruits and veggies. Supermarkets and grocery stores sometimes send perishables to food banks in the morning and these foods only last for one day before they expire.
For this reason, it’s critical to find a way to efficiently use and channel donated food.
Some food recipients feel embarrassed when going to organizations to take food. The staff organizations try to be helpful and friendly as much as they can to support them.
DignityMeal is a place that provides free food in the evening for people who need help. It also opens in the morning to receive and help transport food, take orders, and make it run to help the local community with volunteers.
I’d like to make DignityMeal a central location where donors can provide unused food, where volunteers can then transport it quickly and efficiently, and where others will then prepare and serve it those in need.
The app will bridge the gap between donors and volunteers — bringing them onto the same platform so they can bond together to assist their communities.
Note: “Food” in this instance refers to any food that is not opened, not used nor cooked; in other words, food that would otherwise be dumped.
In designing the app, I sought to achieve several objectives:
- Provide many audience types with ways they can help (collect unused food, pick up/transfer food, volunteer, distribute, donate)
- Create a network that remove feelings of isolation and helplessness, bringing the community together
- Provide an easy, intuitive user experience that will serve a broad range of users
Brand & Identity
I wanted to use various colors to represent the energy and vibrance of the DignityMeal organization.
Purple, often associated with dignity, is embedded throughout the app. Yellow represents cooperation and food, while green here shows a healthy diet. Both green and red serve as action buttons depending on the screen to which they apply.
Different colors represent the various roles we play in our life. Whether we can help out in one way or many, any support is appreciated.
The homepage dashboard offers users several ways to take action: Food collection, Lunch pickup, Pay it Forward, Donate your time, Community (feed), and Dignity Meal news.
But what is the best way to lay out this information? I used a simple sketch prototype to test user reaction on a list-based and square-based model. Users responded well to both, with slightly more favoring the list approach, but there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for either option.
Out of curiosity, I tried a third option — presenting the functions in a half circle. Users responded very positively to this new approach, stating that it felt more freeing and avoid a “to-do” list mentality. I decided to go with this layout in the final app design.
The homepage dashboard offers several buttons that are not in prioritized order: Food collection, Lunch pickup, Pay it Forward, Donate your time, Community (feed), and Dignity Meal news.
The food collection feature allows restaurants and stores that want to donate their food to schedule pickups. Users will select their food category and then select “tell the nearest volunteer” which will ultimately lead to an arranged pickup.
When the user logs onto the main dashboard page, s/he can tap the food collection button which advances to the next page for scheduling. Users have the ability to prioritize food — so that perishable items are dealt with as soon as possible. The system indicates how many volunteers are available and suggests an ideal match. By clicking the profile photo, restaurant and store managers can send a request to the volunteer to pick up the food.
Pay it forward:
DignityMeal accepts money donations and uses these donations to better plan for the coming weeks and months. Users can view specific causes or campaigns and select one for their donation. DignityMeal can set target goals for specific fundraising efforts so that users see updated progress.
In order to help keep its daily operations running, DignityMeal also offer pay-what-you-can lunch orders. Local residents can order food online and pay it for ahead of time or on-site.
DignityMeal tries its best to keep meals healthy and balanced. Since available food varies from donation to donation, users can review available meals and then click on icon to see a list of ingredients.
Donate your time:
When a user clicks on a selected date, the app shows volunteers who have already signed up; this allows the user to easily skip over shifts with sufficient manpower and concentrate on the ones that need the most help.
Volunteers can select multiple shifts in a day and the colored circle with dots on it serve as a notice for a morning or an evening shift. By tapping the green check again, you are able to cancel the shift if necessary.
When restaurants and food organizations put out a request to ship away food, nearby volunteers who have signed up with will get a notification asking if they are free. They will accept, and then drive to the organization to pick up the food.
In the community feed, users can give and receive food or other items that DignityMeal is unable to accept. This is a chance for the community members to offer help to one another, trade items, or give items away.
The “help” section in particular will allow users with extra time to find volunteers opportunities. Users can simply view information and enter into the event. By tapping the “join” button, you are in!
The slider at the bottom highlights areas that could use significant help. It also rotates through the latest messages stored in the DignityMeal news section. DignityMeal could choose to highlight upcoming events or trends in particular foods that are most needed.
User testing feedback
I tested the design and app functionality with a batch of users — some whom had seen the paper sketches and others who were new to the concept. Some feedback for future improvements included tweaking the design to help users quickly search and find what they were seeking.
“The icons and functions are quite intuitive.”
“I can feel the energy it creates onto this revised version. The interface is fresh and easier to understand.”
“I like the Community feed concept.”
“It’s quite convenient that I can do a quick check for how many volunteers are helping out at a certain day without calling to ask.”
I enjoyed working on this project because I feel I have social responsibility to make the community a better place. This app provides one solution to the global hunger problem — by bringing together a community of people that will work with one another to help those in need.
The greatest challenge about this project was designing an app that could serve anyone who wanted to help — regardless of their age or job title. I found many mobile apps in the marketplace that provided great information but fell short in offering an intuitive user experience for a variety of audiences.
On this function-driven app, I relied heavily on user testing to ensure that the design met their needs. Based on user testing observation and feedback, I revised my design to make the functions more self-explanatory. I wanted users to be able to quickly and easily achieve their tasks — so that they would be encouraged to continue assisting in the future.
Wasted food and hunger are the paradoxes that we will need to solve. Everybody is able to contribute something, even if they feel it is trivial. We must not take for granted for what we have — and we must do what we can to help out those in need. By making it easy for people to help and keeping the momentum going, we can ultimately make our neighbors happier and healthier — and create a better environment for everyone.