Designlab App Project “Happy Eating”

Can an app help busy people select weeknight recipes?

Look for: UX skills including research design, user interviews, empathy and journey mapping, storyboards, writing problem/POV statements, ideation, landing page creation, and usability testing

Research Plan

I began with an interest in the challenges busy people, especially parents, have in cooking on weeknights. I also wanted to know if parents wanted help cooking with their kids. My initial research questions were:

  • What is the process of feeding the family on weekdays like for working parents and young children? Where are the main points of stress?
  • Do working parents cook with their children? If not, would they like to?
  • If they do cook with their children, what is the process like? What are the main challenges?

I planned to use interviews and competitive research to refine a product idea. My timeline included scheduling and conducting interviews within one week, which I did successfully.

User Interviews

I interviewed five friends, all mothers with young children, about their weeknight cooking habits, joys, and pain points. A few sample questions from the script include:

  • Tell me about last night’s dinner. What time did you get home? Your spouse? What did you make for dinner? Where was your child/children during this time? What were they doing?
  • Do you remember what happened the night before that?
  • What is a typical night like for your family in terms of making dinner?
  • How do you get your groceries? How do you decide what to buy?
  • What are the biggest challenges for you in making dinner for your family?
  • What do you enjoy about making dinner for your family?

Empathy Map

Based on my user interviews, I sorted statements into six categories: Pains, Gains, Doing, Thinking and Feeling, Seeing, and Hearing

Some sample "pains" include:

  • “I’m not a good cook, I don’t know what to make”
  • “Figuring out something new or interesting is hard, I hate food”
  • “How to make meals different?”
  • “The crushing regularity of cooking”

These statements show how stressful choosing what to cook was for my users.

Initial Storyboard

Also based on my user interviews, I created a basic storyboard for a hypothetical user’s weeknight using an app provisionally called “The Practical Chef.” In retrospect, I wish I had first made a journey/experience map for an existing weeknight—complete with frustrations—and then another using the app.

I discovered that the largest gap in expectations versus experience was in the first sticky note: “What should I cook?” This is a source of a lot of stress and presents the largest opportunity for improvement.

The other questions, “What will my kids eat?” and “How can my kids help me cook more?” are important to my users, but do not offer as large an opportunity for improvement in their weeknight cooking experience.

Problem Statement/POV

Based on my user research and feedback from my Designlab mentor, a UX Researcher at Twitch, I isolated three different problem or POV (Point of View) statements:

  • The user wants help choosing what to cook for dinner
  • The user wants help finding recipes their children will eat
  • The user wants to involve their children in the cooking process

Given the gap analysis from my user journey map, I chose to focus exclusively on the first problem. Here is my new POV statement: Jane, a busy working parent, needs to worry less about what to cook for dinner because she wants to focus on spending time with her family in the evenings.

I thought about the problem from different angles using “How Might We” statements:

  • How might we increase Jane’s time with her family in the evenings?
  • How might we make it easier for Jane to decide what to make?
  • How might we take the decision making out of dinner?
  • How might we make recipe suggestions with versions kids like?
  • How might we make cooking not something to worry about?
  • How might we make cooking into a game?
  • How might we improve quality time together in the evenings?
  • How might we make cooking dinner into something exciting rather than a chore?
  • How might we make the process of cooking and eating into fun and not anxiety producing?

Brainstorm (Crazy Eights)

Next, I brainstormed solutions using the “crazy eights” method of folding a paper to make eight squares and using a timer to come up with eight solutions for the problem “Deciding What to Cook.”

I did this exercise twice and came up with the following ideas:

  • Sorting by preferences
  • Sends you recipes every day
  • Weekly shopping list and recipes
  • Easy step recipes, fast, easy cleanup
  • App that creates variety, can customize like a playlist
  • Option to have groceries delivered, built into app
  • Surprise me variations
  • Theme months/weeks/seasonal
  • Option to connect with local CSA/farmers
  • Treasure hunt format
  • Make it a game, collect all kinds?
  • Social media tie in, sharing with friends
  • Happy Eating local groups

User Journeys Storyboard

Here’s where the rubber really meets the road. Using my new focused problem statement, I made a detailed storyboard for an app called “Happy Eating.” I chose this name because it is not in use and has a simple, positive message. This storyboard taught me to think through the typical use of this app versus optional features, and how iterative rounds of user research with simple prototypes would yield the most focused results. 

Storyboard Review

I then tested the storyboard with two users. Main findings include:

  • They would like help selecting recipes for weeknight cooking   
    “This resonated: Getting home and being, like "Oh ****. What are we going to eat tonight?" I'm really bad at planning ahead.”
  • They want to add detailed preferences to the recipe selection feature 
    “In preferences, one should be able to select religious or vegetarian restrictions.”
  • They liked that the phone stays on and uses voice scrolling while cooking
    “It would be amazing to have the phone stay on while cooking.”
  • Help with grocery buying shows an opportunity but needs more research
    “The grocery list should have an option to check off ingredients you already have.”
    “The app syncing with partner’s app is very useful.”
    “Can I order the groceries with a delivery service?”
  • They were not sure they’d use different levels of cooking complexity
    “Unlikely to make a level 2 or 3 meal on weeknights, maybe on weekends."

Landing Page and Usability Testing

Finally, it was time to create a basic prototype and test it. I used the landing page creation tool Launchrock to create a landing page for Happy Eating.

Happy Eating Landing Page V1:

I then ran a remote, unmoderated usability test using Peek.com, summarized here:

  • The product needs more focus; there is not enough information to draw the user in, and they were confused about what the product offers
  • The initial pitch and tagline needs to be short and needs a background photo
  • The features look like links but are not actual links that offer more information, which was frustrating
  • The site needs sample recipes and information about where ingredients are sourced (if offering ingredient delivery)
  • The name is appealing but does not convey simplicity
  • “It’s a great idea, it would be handy to have something like this”

Building on this usability test and feedback from my Designlab mentor, I refined it in a second version. (Note: Both versions feature a photo of my husband and son making pancakes. This is not precisely related to the product idea, but I felt added more than enough cuteness to compensate. However, I’m biased.)

Happy Eating Landing Page V2:

The next round for this project, should I choose to pursue it, would include:

  • Competitive research: What other companies are in the recipe selection space and what do they do? How does this service relate to other food service products such as meal kits or grocery delivery services?
  • User interviews using iteratively refined questions and a wider demographic
  • Detailed storyboard showing gaps in weeknight cooking expectations/aspriations versus experience
  • Moderated and unmoderated usability testing with simple and complex prototypes

What I learned:

  • Iterative user interviews help refine the research question, problem frame, and product goal
  • Empathy mapping is a quick, visual way to categorize qualitative data
  • Storyboards help see the user experience from a new angle, and are effective for gaining user feedback
  • Brainstorming with a timer surprised me with creative ideas I had not thought about before
  • Usability testing with a simple prototype yields fast, useful results even if it's not perfect
  • Iterating successive versions of each exercise, based on feedback, greatly improves the result
  • I'd like to learn more about competitive research and refining user interview/testing questions