P3 Case Study: Dine The Distance

Overview

The project we were given was called “Dining Passport”. We were to create a mobile app that would guide the user to various hand-picked restaurants around the city of Vancouver, providing a curated experience highlighting the growing reputation of the city’s finest restaurants, chefs and rapidly developing local foodie culture in general.

The “dining passport” concept presented an opportunity to devise an incentivization strategy whereby choosing a restaurant, making a reservation and completing a meal there, would yield a unique digital stamp for the user. In this use case, that stamp would be collected — digitally representing an experience recorded as a lasting memento for the user to show friends as a measure of accomplishment and completion.

Context and Challenge

The world of the “foodie” needed to be understood. It is indeed a world of great depth and appreciation, but also of some swagger and “instabragging”. Refined tastes are usually the products of a dogged pursuit of deciphering true quality, craftsmanship and delicacy in food preparation excellence. Where do we begin?

In our research, the process begins with the very term “foodie”. Coined in the humorous paperback The Official Foodie Handbook by Barr and Levy (1984), they defined foodies in this trite way: “A Foodie is a person who is very, very, very interested in food. Foodies are the ones talking about food in any gathering — salivating over restaurants, recipes, radicchio.”

Ok. But all humour aside, it’s the soul of the foodie we want.

From a book by Eve Turow called Why Are Millenials So Obsessed With Food? we are able to delve into the depth of our user, looking into the mind and the heart aspects of the subject. Inside a foodie’s mind lies: identity, involvement and social worlds. These three point towards the projection of self as an active participant who has developed tastes, who inhabits spaces and patterns their social behaviour around food identifiers (ie. Kale, and what loving kale means to those who eat it, talk about it, and know about it. Kale becomes an identifier of a persons education, knowledge and in some sense, income).

As far as the heart is concerned, there lies: love, anxiety and desire. Foodies love food. Anxiety stems from an interesting notion that the motivation to share food experiences revolves around control.

We live in a time where we’re really not in control of very much. You can’t get a job, you can’t get a date without branding yourself properly on whatever app you’re using. You don’t really understand how the Internet works or how your phone works, but food is something you can break down. You can understand it, so you can have control over the final product.

Then desire. Look into the face of your cherished favourite food item. Feel that. Feel it intently. Now add an empty stomach. That’s desire.

So far, we get a glimpse of what makes a foodie tick. But how do we connect that with the action of collecting those dining experiences? What’s that about? And as we do a little more research in the details, a grounding idea springs forth:

“Foodies ‘collect’ food experiences and visits to celebrated restaurants, much as tourists collect souvenirs.”
— Barr & Levy

But why? It was due to the distinction made between “gourmet” and “foodie”. Foodies were described as children of the consumerist age, usually younger couples from the ambitious middle classes, who pronounced judgement on food they had eaten in a restaurant, and attempted to replicate at home. Oh, so they wanted to take those restaurant experiences and try to replicate them at home. Et, voila.

An app is born.

So what does a foodie look like?

Persona

He’s a foodie, dude.

This guy. He’s 30. He’s a baker. He’s adventurous, social, perceptive, has a keen sense of detail, and he loves bacon. Loves. Bacon. And his name is Ajay.

So what kind of a situation can we imagine this guy using a dining passport app? Well, in exactly in this way:

Scenario

Ajay is going about his usual day, when he receives a notification on his phone that his friend has just completed the Yaletown Challenge on a dining app. As Ajay finds out more about this challenge, he sees an opportunity to participate with his friends on experiencing the best and newest food establishments the city has to offer. He dives in.

We can see the allure that an app like this would have for Ajay, but what about the restaurants themselves? What would they get out of it?

Interviews with some local restaurant owners yielded the following:

Business Goals

  1. Build and promote a loyal, regular customer base.
  2. Participate in an exclusive curated digital platform that enhances the boutique quality of the restaurant brands.
  3. Increase brand exposure in the digital sharespace of local and out-of-town users.

Interviews with various users helped us narrow down their main focus:

User Goals

  1. Enjoy the best of local dining experiences.
  2. Engage in a unique, memorable, fun dining activity.
  3. Share user experiences with other inhabitants of their social worlds.

Process and Insight

We started with developing the MVP of the dining passport app. We knew we wanted the basic features of browsing restaurant listings and making reservations, but the stamp collecting feature had to be incentivized in a way that would create some delight and would have a social engagement component.

We came up with a gamification strategy where we would break the city down into the major neighbourhoods. We would categorize groups of restaurants based on where they were located. We selected reputable dining establishments from Vancouver Magazine’sBest Of” section, and we would add other common filters such as: fine dining, casual, ethnic, etc.

The location categories lent themselves to a circuit concept where the user would start with one restaurant, collect a digital stamp, then move on to another along the journey, to complete the conquest of that area. Hence, the Yaletown Challenge.

And, another interesting feature would be, by enabling the location function on the phone while the user is in a relevant neighbourhood, the locations of the participating restaurants would reveal themselves in the map view on the app.

Information Architecture

The user’s interactions would flow from the hierarchical triumvirate of:

  1. Explore
  2. Collect
  3. Connect
Rough sketch of UI

The entire action flow of the app is based squarely on the three main features of: explore, collect, connect. Explore entails the user’s ability to browse and see all the restaurants that have been curated for participation. Collect is the big get for the user once he completes a dining experience. Connect enables the user to brag to friends and share that he has had all these mouth-watering dishes from fantastic foodie-centric local eateries.

(Anthony Bourdain was once asked why he posts his food on social media. His replied, “to share the experience with friends, to develop my brand as a food writer and maybe, if I’m being honest with myself, to show off.”)

Wireframes

User Testing

The testing of the wireframes yielded clear responses regarding the function and the fun factor of the user goal. The IA led to an easy to understand user flow and the purpose of the app was equally easily gathered.

Prototype

The decision behind the main colour scheme of black and gold was an instinctual one. We wanted to create a “classy” mood, giving a sense of tastefulness and refinement, but at the same time balancing that with the fun aspect of the gamified quality of the competitive stamp collection. The gold hinting at a certain treasure quality of the game incentive.

Challenge Accepted

The user who identifies himself as a foodie, is indeed, a foodie.

“Foodies cannot be solely identified by looking at them, nor by studying their 
behaviour — although important clues will be presented. Foodies identify themselves, and anyone can claim to be one.” — Watson, et al.(2008)

This posed an interesting limitation on finding out the primary user, for this project. But since the foodie title is so deeply democratic and self-defined, we were comfortable in focusing the app functionality to the three features: explore, collect and connect — which became a mantra for the app, and it also helped congeal the purpose of the app with its identity. Much as an egg, and its useful purpose in a cake.

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