Example of one of the task screens for the application

Using Cooking to Foster Community

Postsecondary students have hectic schedules that make it difficult for them to build essential skills outside of the classroom, or connect to a campus community. For the course “Fundamentals of UX Design”, I had the chance to address these problems through community cooking.
Project Context

Over eight weeks, I worked with three other students (Meagan, David, and Sushani) to create a digital application that matches students into groups to prepare meals together. The working name of this project is UMeet+Eat.

My main contributions included: 

  • Defined research methods and protocol
  • Determined survey and interview questions
  • Conducted in-depth user interviews
  • Created part of the medium-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes
  • Moderated usability testing sessions
Design Process

We used the design thinking process in two-week cycles of research, ideation, prototyping, and evaluation. At the end of each cycle, we presented our project progress to UX industry professionals in Toronto. Here is a more detailed breakdown of my team's design process: 

An infographic detailing the specifics of the design process, from scoing the problem, to doing the initial customer research, card sorting, validating & prototyping, to finally finalizing the prototype.
1. Understanding the Problem

In defining the problem scope, we conducted a literature review on food insecurity and cooking skills in post-secondary students. We sought to understand what made students delay learning how to cook. We utilized this research to craft a proto-persona, Jamie. Jamie is a second-year student at the University of Toronto navigating the transition from living on residence to living on his own.

2. Primary Research with Users

Utilizing our user profile, we sought to interview and survey others in similar circumstances. We conducted in-depth interviews in order to gain a richer understanding of what students face on a daily basis on an emotional level. We also ran a survey to understand general student attitudes towards the topics of cooking and community involvement on campus.

Our primary research was conducted on the St. George campus with both undergraduate and graduate students. You can view the context and results below.

Research results from initial stage of research
Correcting Our Assumptions and Pivoting the Design

A key finding for us was that 63% of students felt that they did not have enough time to cook. This was further backed up by our interview data, where students noted that their hectic class schedules presented an obstacle to improving their cooking skills.

This was important: prior to the research process, my group and I had envisioned that our solution would entail students sharing a single meal together. What our research demonstrated was that students would not buy in into this unless we accommodated their hectic schedules.

3. Finding Key Needs and Ideating

My group an I decided to take a step back, and synthesize our primary research findings into a set of core requirements that our target group (as symbolized by Jamie) would need. We synthesized our research into two key requirements, which can be summarized by the following needs statements:

1. “Jamie needs a way to save time with meal preparation so that he does not rely on campus food as often.”

2. “Jamie needs a way to connect with other students so that he does not feel so disconnected from campus.”

Based on this assessment, we opted to create an application that would match students into groups to prepare meals together. The image below shows the very initial storyboard of the idea.

Hand-drawn storyboard of initial idea.

4. Prototyping and Testing

Using the storyboard, my teammate, Meagan, and I drew a series of low-fidelity sketches. My group and I used these sketches to moderate four usability testing sessions with student participants. Some of the major points of criticism were that there were too many screens for our tasks, and that many of the tasks took too long to complete.

This lead us to condense various steps together for our medium-fidelity prototype.

You can view a user flow of the medium-fidelity prototype below:

Medium fidelity prototype and user flow of key steps

Wrapping Up and Key Lessons

The course wrapped up after summative testing, and my group and I decided not to pursue it further. Regardless, I found this project incredibly formative in terms of how I approach design. In particular, I had two key takeaways:

1. The user interface did not communicate properly.

The reason our participants struggled so much with our interface was because we did not communicate, step by step, what needed to be done for each of our tasks. Instead, we became focused on our features, and this made our prototype difficult to navigate.

Going forward, I will prioritize communication by breaking each user task in terms of what needs to be communicated to design better interfaces.

2. We did not design for the offline experience.

My group and I latched ourselves onto a digital solution right away, and we offered no guidance for the offline cooking experience. This was a major regret of mine, as the lack of an open and safe environment during the cooking process was a major participant concern during usability testing.

To mitigate this, my group and I could have pursued more ethnographic research, and conducted observations with relevant campus groups that host community cooking events. Understanding how community cooking happens in real time would have helped us design an integrated experience.