Dignity Meals is a small Chicago based startup dedicated to ending world hunger once-and-for-all through the power of community while leveraging the sharing economy.
Scope & Focus
Design an intuitive, easy-to-use mobile application that matches food donors with volunteers in their local areas to redistribute wasted food to needy families.
- In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.
- In the USA, about 40% of all edible food is wasted. That’s 20 pounds of food wasted per person per month. (NRDC)
- About three cents of every dollar consumers spend on food away from home ends up in the trash. (NPR)
- Food waste from restaurants makes up 15 percent of all the food that ends up in landfills. (NPR)
- 42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children. (Feeding America)
- 13 percent of households (15.8 million households) were food insecure. (Feeding America)
- 5 percent of households (6.3 million households) experienced very low food security. (Feeding America)
- Households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 17 percent compared to 11 percent. (Feeding America)
- Households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (17%), especially households with children headed by single women (30%) or single men (22%), Black non-Hispanic households (22%) and Hispanic households (19%). (Feeding America)
About 40 percent of all food in the United States gets tossed out or left to rot each year. By one count, Americans are…www.washingtonpost.com
An activist has made it so in France. Could he take his campaign global? For us to continue writing great stories, we…www.theatlantic.com
Despite the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that protects donors from liability as long as the food was donated in good faith, potential donors are reluctant to donate for various reasons ranging from liability to being unaware of such laws that protect them. There is also the aspect of potential donors not knowing to whom or how to donate.
Role & Responsibilities
- User research
- Competitive research
- Product/UX strategy
- Interaction design
- UI design
- Pencil & paper
Constraints: Project was to be completed in 80 hours & 4 weeks.
User Research — Validating the Problem
There are two main users of this app: food donors and recipients. Within these groups, there are various subcategories such as restaurants and supermarkets for donors and individuals and food pantries as recipients. I interviewed 4 people, 2 representing each group.
Sample questions for donors:
- What are your thoughts on donating surplus food?
- What type of incentive would you need to be motivated to donate leftovers? (emotional, monetary, recognition, etc.)
- What concerns do you have about donating food?
- What factors would prevent you from donating food?
Sample questions for charities:
- How do you receive food and other supplies? Buy, donations, etc.?
- What types of food donations would you be open to?
- What is the most needed food item? What is most desired?
- Who would be your ideal food donor?
During an interview with a restaurateur, it came to light that many restaurants are dealing with their food excess with what they call “family meals.” Family meals are created with excess food to feed restaurant staff. Many restaurants choose to go this route because it is a more efficient way to manage excess food as well as low risk of liability. It would be most ideal if the restaurant could build a relationship with a charity, but this would come only after much vetting on both sides. After this interview, I came to conclusion that Dignity Meals should initially focus on building a reputation and relationships between individuals and charities before including restaurants and enterprise donors.
During my interviews with the charities, I found that their needs are by-and-by being met. The food purchasers are very knowledgeable and wise in their purchases and distribution. Because the two places I interviewed are privately-funded, they generally do not have any issues with food shortages. However, they are in need of donations because it helps them stretch the dollar and serve better food to their patrons. When asked what their ideal donation was, both charities responded — items from their wish list. Because every charity has different requirements as to what they can or cannot accept, I determined that it is important for donors to know exactly what type of food they can donate to which charity. One charity interestingly noted that though they have never faced shortage, another charity nearby has had to reach out to them for more items. She feels this is due to their lack of online presence. She noted that the community is more aware of their presence because they have an online footprint, whereas the other charity is not online. I determined 2 main goals for the charities:
- Give them an online presence
- Make their wish list widely available.
In addition to these interviews, I sent out a survey regarding charitable donations, food and otherwise. Interestingly, the survey results showed that though people do not generally donate food, they may consider doing so depending on specific factors such as proximity, personal conviction/relationships, and reputation of the charity.
I identified 5 apps that had a similar business model/goal to Dignity Meals. I determined which features would work best in the Dignity Meals app, as well as which features would not work or be put in the roadmap for later implementation.
City Harvest has the largest scale operation, serving 500 soup kitchens and pantries in 5 New York City boroughs. They are a non-profit and are run largely with the help of volunteers. They have large trucks (paid transporters) throughout the city to pick-up food from restaurants and organizations. This is a mostly offline operation, and they do not depend on any apps.
Copia is a fairly new app created in San Francisco. They are for-profit and pay their food transporters market wage. They charge volume-based fees. As far as technology goes, Copia is a great example of technology at work for a cause. Dignity Meals would like to eventually follow Copia’s for-profit model.
The above two are cases that serve as standards Dignity Meals would like to attain. To start, I proposed Dignity Meals first aim to get the word out and encourage individuals to donate to their local charities and build relationships. This first step would allow the team to iterate on the app and grow it into a scalable product that can pull in larger organizations and eventually adopt a for-profit model.
From the research, I determined two personas — one for the individual and the other for the charity. The goals for the individual were to learn more about food donation and connect with local charities. The goals for the charity were to build an online presence and have their wishlist needs met.
Individual Donor Pain Points
- Not knowing there are local food charities
- Not knowing if it’s safe to donate certain foods
Charity Pain Points
- People not receiving nutritious options
- Stretching the budget
I wanted to make sure the app was successful in fulfilling the main goal of excess food donation. Before approaching a larger scale, I felt that it was important to bolster each community charity. After the interviews, I felt this was best achieved by building relationships between individuals and their local charities.
As my survey results showed, people do not generally donate food due to various reasons. Education and awareness can help solve some of these issues. The second big issue to tackle was getting these charities publicity. The vision I had for Dignity Meals was to be a repository of charities. This would help individuals (and later corporations and supermarkets) identify their local charity and connect with them directly. The purpose was to build rapport between both parties. This would help the charities better plan for future food sourcing, and it would help individuals be more mindful of the excess food they were wasting.
I decided there be two separate sitemaps for the Dignity Meals app because the donors and charities would have different use cases. Also, because the charities are less technologically-savvy, the app would be a simplified version of the donor app and focus mainly on maintaining their profiles.
The two user flows are shown below. The blue line represents the individual donor. The donor would first download the app and open it. The app would then prompt the user to register for the first time. The registration process would take the donor through creating their profile and connecting with a few local charities.
An example donor story would be as follows:
Jacob has extra bread and cereal in his house that he won’t be eating before expiration. It seems a waste to throw away this food, so he Googles “what to do with leftover food?” The first search result is the Dignity Meals homepage. The homepage explains the vision of Dignity Meals and prompts Jacob to download the app. Jacob clicks the app download button which leads him to the Google Play store to download the Dignity Meals app. He opens the app on his phone and goes through the registration process. He does a search for local food charities in his area and finds a few. He looks at their profiles and types of food they are able to receive. He chooses the nearest soup kitchen and fills out the “Donate Food” form. The form gets transmitted to the soup kitchen. The soup kitchen receives a notification of Jacob’s donation and accepts. Jacob now has confirmation that his donation has been accepted and will drop off the food the next day.
Dignity Meals will help people understand what types of food can and cannot be donated at which food charities. It will also help charities keep a timely inventory of all their food donations.
I sketched out wireframes of each flow for the donors and charities. I focused on the main goals of donation for the donors and profile building for the charities.
These were then translated into low-mid fidelity wireframes in Sketch.
Usability Testing in Invision
I conducted usability testing using Invision. The below were four main issues with the app:
- Navigation and location not obvious
- The purpose of adding a charity and action not obvious
- After donating, no back button and no navigation “back” or out of the donate page
- Steps between register and donate not clear
In addition to the above, I started to wonder if it was better for people to register at a later time when they were actually ready to donate. Would this help with user retention? Would it be at the risk of “call-to-action”? Something to consider…
While determining the UI design of Dignity Meals, I wanted to keep the user interface bright and welcoming. I felt that many charitable apps, though functional, always compromised on the interface. I wanted both donors and charities be welcomed into the app with bright colors as additional encouragement for the good work they are doing.
Taking into account the feedback I received from the usability tests, I designed the UI for each of the screens.
Charities are focused on running day-to-day operations. The visual design should be simple and intuitive. Their main call-to-action should be responding to donation submissions and updating their profiles.
For individual donors, education and donations were the two main goals I wanted to tackle. Therefore, on the homepage, there is a large call-to-action to “Donate Now” as well as a few highlighted blog posts regarding hunger and success stories. I aimed to be as succinct as possible in the Donate Food form so that donors did not become discouraged from donating food simply because the form was too long. I decided on the most important information that a charity would need to be able to comfortably make a decision to accept or deny a food donation.
The charity (org) profile was designed to give the charities a robust profile that would build on the work they were doing as well as the reputation they may have built for themselves. Since the wishlist was a key goal, I wanted to make sure it was a main part of their profile and not hidden away in a submenu.
Dignity Meals was a great hypothetical problem to solve for. It was not so much my discussions with potential donors, but rather the conversations I had with the charities that helped me build empathy and drive for the cause and problem. I met and spoke with people who are passionate about serving their community and making sure no one goes hungry. I wanted to build an app that gave a platform to these organizations and increase their visibility.
Had I more time, I would have explored other ways of supporting these organizations such as volunteering. There are a handful of visual details that I would have liked to go through more iterations. Also, I would revisit the search functionality to explore searching on a map, search results view, filters, etc.
I believe the overall goals of connecting individuals to charities, giving charities an online presence and making their wishlists known have been met.
Many thanks to my mentor Lauren Connolly, Matt Farley, and interviewees.