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Vita. Eat healthy, think less.

A UX case study.

This is a story about Frankie. She’s hardworking and wants to eat healthy. But when she opens the fridge after a long and stressful day at work, she stops, she stares … and decides to order a burger on Uber Eats.

This was for a class project at General Assembly with a fictional client.

Let me tell you about how we found Frankie, and how we plan to help her.

Chronic disease is the #1 killer in the West.

Vita, our client, is on a mission to build better lives by helping people adopt plant based diets. They achieve this by using behavioural science to successfully change people’s habits, improving overall health and reducing the their risk of chronic disease.

Vita’s vision is to inspire and enable people everywhere to live free of chronic disease.

70-90% of chronic disease cases are preventable — through diet! Vita has developed a successful 12-week program to get people hooked on plants. Their current problem? Barrier to entry. The program is #IRL and if they want to reach their goal of transforming 100 million lives by 2023, it’s time to move digital.

Project Kickoff — How might we help Vita change the world, one broccoli at a time?

The project kicked off with a robust group discussion around our initial thoughts, ideas and assumptions about plant based diets and health to get the team on the same page. This would provide the framework to direct our research. We sought to understand people’s motivations for wanting to eat healthy, their experiences with diets and nutrition, how they stay informed and what their biggest influences are.

The Team

Meet the Vita Locas, aka the dream team. UI ninja — Kiran, Curious and research loving visual designer, Michele — curious, research loving visual designer, Jason — high school grad destined for great things and myself — research champion.

We revelled in deep and thoughtful discussion and couldn’t wait to share our interview insights, research findings, thoughts and ideas. As this project occurred during Covid-19 isolation, we had the extra challenge of working remotely. We overcame this by meeting daily on Zoom for stand ups, using Miro to whiteboard and collaborate and Invision Freehand and Figma to prototype. Decisions were made democratically with Kiran, the project manager, guiding the way.

My Role

  • Research champion
  • Interviews & Surveys
  • Synthesising insights
  • Generating personas
  • Defining problem statement
  • Sketching and ideation
  • Creating user flows & site map
  • Usability testing
  • Copy writing

What we needed to discover and how we planned to find it.

This project was research heavy. As it should be. There was a lot to learn in a short space of time. In addition to the qualitative research methods used to build empathy with our users, we needed to understand the market we would be competing in and learn a little something about nutrition and habit change.

The Approach

Who did we interview?

Potential Users. People who want to make healthier eating choices.

Why? To discover their motivations, thoughts on health and nutrition and pain points.

Converts. People who had already improved their habits.

Why? To understand what they found difficult, their motivations and any pain points they experience.

Subject Matter Experts. People with a variety of expertises who could share their insights into motivating people to change their habits for the better.

Why? They know what’s up!

Why did we survey?

The first qualitative survey would supplement our interview findings. The second quantitative survey would further validate our interview insights.

What else did we look into?

Brushing up on habit change methods.

Yes, this was going to be a health and nutrition app, but it was more. The app needed to help people change their habits. Luckily for us, our experts guided us to the best theories and techniques that would help us incorporate this crucial element into our design.

What are other apps doing?

While I was knee deep in interviews, my teammates explored the nutrition and health industry and habit change apps.

Where would the Vita app have the most impact? To uncover this, we looked at existing nutrition and habit change apps and found that the sweet spot for Vita would lie somewhere between chronic disease prevention, nutrition information and tracking goals.

So much data! 🤯

At this point, we were on track with our project plan. We had finished our research on time and felt like we got this.


We affinity mapped over 1000 post it note insights on Miro.

After synthesising our research, we attempted to place our insights into an empathy map but found it difficult to place them into sees, think, feels, says… (we later found out we weren’t doing it correctly, you live and you learn right?). Though the empathy map hadn’t 100% clarified what we wanted it to, for the sake of time boxing, we moved on to define the persona.

Meet Dylan, she wants to eat healthy but needs it to be convenient.

The team diverged to write problem statements on our own, with the intent to regroup in the morning to discuss what we had come up with and begin ideating.

BUT WAIT! Have we actually found a persona?

With only 10 user interviews, the behaviours, frustrations, needs and goals of the persona had been cherry picked from different interviews, we hadn’t comprehensively mashed up the insights to create a well rounded, solid persona. With each of the persona’s characteristics, I could visualise a different interviewee. It lacked depth and felt superficial — how could we begin design a solution for a user we didn’t fully understand?

The Tough Call

I brought this up with the team who were all eager to move onto ideation. Being the bearer of bad news isn’t easy and they didn’t agree… initially. They were frustrated that we somehow hadn’t been on the same page.

How had this happened?

We had cast the net so wide when recruiting interviewees that when it came time to create the persona there were only about 5 people we were basing it off of.

We needed to understand who we were solving for and what their needs are. The design process isn’t about ticking boxes.

After a lengthy debate we decided to do more interviews. This time with specific criteria. Participants needed to have a demanding job, be highly driven and be trying to build better habits but struggling to do so.

A bazillion interviews later…

Well, almost. We found our persona. Taking the time to interview more people actually helped reveal another persona from our research. We had our converts who were in control, we’d solidified the needs control group but had also found wants control.

Needs Control people have experience with different diets, having tried many before without lasting results. They enjoy cooking, find it relaxing, but there’s not much time to dedicate to it on weeknights. They are highly routined, work for a demanding job and live by their calendar. They are driven by results, if they’re putting in the work, they want to see outcomes. Eating healthier is on their mind but good intentions often go out the window after a stressful day at work. Through our secondary research and expert interviews we had learned this was called decision fatigue.

Meet Frankie, here’s her problem.

We weren’t trying to solve all of Frankie’s ills, we just needed to help her make healthier choices when she feels stressed and tired at the end of the day.

Let’s help a tired Frankie make healthier choices.

How might we help Frankie when she comes home after a long day at work, opens the fridge… and the last thing she wants to do is make another decision. What does she do? She orders burger on Uber Eats.

Now that we understood the problem, it was time to brainstorm.

Crazy 8's

We focused on two How Might We statements for our brainstorming sessions. We balanced a the broad ‘How might we help Frankie combat decision fatigue?’ with a the more focused ‘How might we show Frankie her cumulative results?’.

Here’s how we used habit change techniques to guide our persona on her path to healthier eating.

  • The Cue Reward Habit Loop would help Frankie understand the cues and triggers that lead to poor choices, a mindful approach to habit change.
  • Incorporating accountability by checking in with her would keep her on the right track.
  • Pre-planning meals that synced to her calendar would help incorporate healthy eating into Frankie’s routine and remove the decision making from her journey.
  • Sending push notifications on Frankie’s route home from work to check in on mood would help her track how her mood effects her health.
  • Celebrating when healthy choices are made and reassuring her that it’s okay when she slips would help create a long lasting, positive relationship with food.
  • Charting Frankie’s mood and healthy choices would allow her to see how her mood effects her decision making.
  • Adding a journal to add notes would encourage the mindful approach.
  • Understanding why she wants to eat healthy would help remind her why she’s doing this.

Check out how used these techniques to help Frankie.

We created the lofi prototype in Invision Freehand rather than paper sketches so we could create it collaboratively.

We put it to the test and…drum roll please! The users tore apart the design.

  • They didn’t understand the concept.
  • They thought notifications would be annoying.
  • They didn’t understand why the journal was there and said they wouldn’t use it.
  • The major issue uncovered… where did the meals come from?

Time to pivot.

Two weeks is not a lot of time to complete the end to end design process. Users had expressed their concern… if the app wanted them to enter meals, where were those meals coming from?

Why had the design been so poorly received?

We realised that we had been sucked into a research wormhole that led us to create a solution based in habit change techniques and we had lost sight of what Frankie actually needed.

Okay, so here’s what Frankie actually needs.

She doesn’t want to make any decisions. She wants to eat healthy, but she’s tired. We know she’s routined and lives off her calendar. She doesn’t want to take the time to browse recipes to put into an app.

From the usability test results, we understood that the app should provide healthy recipes. The abundance of information on the internet about nutrition can be conflicting, confusing and can take time. Frankie doesn’t have the time or energy to sift through recipes online. The Vita app needed to be a source of nutrition truth.

Frankie needs to trust that the recipes she sees on the app are good for her and suit her needs and tastes. A concise but impactful onboarding process would enable the app suggest tailored recipes that Frankie could trust were healthy. Though Vita promotes a plant based diet, we know not everyone is ready to take such drastic leap. It’s important that the app champion plant based but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be. Our research told us that people just want a healthy diet that works with their body.

The final result

To help Vita promote plant based but offer users flexibility, we created a recipe rating system.

  • 1 Vita point = a nutritious meal that may have some animal products and not the widest variety of veggies.
  • 2 Vita points = no animal products, a good variety of veggies but with some other refined grain like rice or pasta.
  • 3 Vita points =a fully plant based meal with 5+ vegetables.

The goal is to reach 20 points per week. 3 meals a day x 7 = 21 meals per week. Frankie’s meals wouldn’t all need to be 3 points to hit the target but she’d need to be eating mostly plant based meals to hit her weekly goal. Because Frankie is results driven, the app needs to show her her progress. Meal points add to the weekly progress bar and when she reaches the weekly goal she collects a veggie badge. A bit of gamification never hurt anyone. The accumulation of veggie badges would help her keep track of her progress.

Frankie can browse recipes and add them to her planner. The recipes for the week populate a shopping list, significantly cutting down Frankie’s weekly decision making while assuring her that she’s eating healthy.

The dashboard shows Frankie her meals for the week, her shopping list, her Vita points progress bar and her reason for eating healthy.

Usability test results.

  • Users liked the design and found on onboarding process straightforward and useful. However, they would like to select more than one reason why they choose the eat healthy.
  • It was unclear how the shopping list was populated.
  • Users thought the Vita points and badges were fun and would keep them motivated but would like more clarification on how they work and what their purpose is.
  • The monthly planner should indicate which days have or haven’t been planned.
  • Users usually eat the same breakfast and may eat lunch at work, this app would bring the most value for dinners.

Here’s what we learned.

Team work makes the dream work. With our diverse backgrounds, everyone brought something to the table.

Crazy 8’s brainstorming isn’t enough. As fun as it is, it has to lead somewhere. We didn’t see a co-designing session all the way through and designed a solution that users ultimately disliked, based in how we thought habit change techniques would help them, not what they actually needed.

If your initial prototype doesn’t meet the mark, go back to ideation.

Trust the process, it’s there for a reason! As amazing as it is to have a high fidelity prototype, that’s not the goal. A design sprint can last two weeks. Creating an end to end solution though… it takes a bit longer.

Want to learn more?

Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research — Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!



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