Milestone 2: Formative Study & Refined Concept

Introduction

During Milestone 1 we defined the scope of our project to be to help young adults reduce the effort required to cook. The problem that we initially aimed to solve was to help users cook fresh, healthy food despite the fact that cooking can be difficult, time-consuming and lead to unused produce. Our observations based on personal experiences reflected a lack of coordination with roommates, and people find it difficult to prepare meals due to time constraints and lack of knowledge. Our initial ideas from Milestone 1 included the Smart Garden, the Smart Store and the Recipe Assistant. Although we framed our users as young adults, we believe our new proposals will benefit older audiences as well. You will see in this Milestone that our ideas have shifted to align with our new findings from diary studies and survey results. 

 

Study Design: Diary Studies & Surveys

Our team chose diary studies and surveys as our two methods. We selected diary studies as one of our methods in order to understand the participant’s behavior and intent in the realm of eating and cooking. Additionally, we chose diary studies as they limit the effect the observer has on the participant's behavior and allows us to learn about specific events in a user's context, in this case meal time. Our goal was to uncover pain points and positive experiences in the cooking process as well as motivations and any tools used. We had six participants for our diary studies between the ages of 20 and 30. Each team member recruited 1-2 participants for the study. Prior to opting into the study, users were provided with the study' s guidelines were allowed to opt in or out without consequences. We conducted a feedback study where users answered a specific set of questions after each meal. Those who agreed to the study were instructed to send a text to their point person after each meal. Following this text (with a reminder around typical meal times in case they forgot), the point person would respond with the following questions:

 
  1.  If you did not cook this meal, please briefly describe why not.

  2.  What motivated or prompted you to cook/purchase this meal? (ie taste, health/nutrition, cost, cravings (info provided if user was confused by question))

  3.  Describe positive or joyful points in this cooking process. What worked well during the process?

  4.  Describe negative, confusing or frustrating points in this cooking process. What worked poorly during the process?

  5.  What tools or technologies did you use during the process? (ie cookbook, recipe apps, online journals, friends/family etc) 

We noted the responses to each of these questions in individual spreadsheets for each participant. All meals were logged for a five day period from October 12 through October 16. In addition to these questions, we noted the time of day, meal time and date of each entry. We did not include links to our diary study results to value participants' privacy. However, below is a link to an example template used:

Diary Study Template

Our second study method was a survey. Our goal with the study was to collect quantitative data about how adults experience cooking in contrast to the qualitative data we received from the diary studies. We sent our survey out to friends and family and posted the link in a variety of Facebook groups and Reddit pages in order to receive a wide range of results from a broader pool. We received 63 responses. Our survey asked 23 questions inquiring about grocery purchasing habits, frequency of meals cooked for oneself or for others, one’s confidence in their cooking skills and positives and negatives in the cooking experience. Below is a link to view the survey: 

Survey

Study Results

A. Results: Diary Study 

 

The diary studies provided our group with detailed, context-based insights into our target audience’s motivations when cooking, positive and challenging moments, and tools that assisted with meal preparation. To analyze the results of the diary study, our group discussed the details of each participant’s experience. We noted observations that reflected the needs and goals of our target audience, uncovering themes across experiences and differences in individual’s responses. Several key values and needs emerged after analyzing participants’ experiences:

  1. Convenience. This relates to the efficiency of the meal preparation process. We found that participants wanted to maximize the ease at which they consumed food, whether that meant cooking frozen foods, eating out, or meal prepping. 

  2. Cost. We found that some participants’ cooking behaviors were influenced by the cost of preparing a meal. This mostly factored into people’s grocery shopping decisions. Some participants struggled to balance the need to cook low-cost meals with the time and effort required to do so. 

  3. Health & Nutrition. Many participants were motivated to cook because they wanted to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. In order to achieve these goals in their day-to-day, many participants turned to cooking consistently throughout the week, controlling the ingredients that went into their meals. However, we discovered that many participants who wanted to cook in order to eat healthy struggled to balance this need with time constraints. For example, one participant wanted to cook a healthy meal, but instead ordered takeout because they felt lazy and did not have enough time in their schedule.

  4. Time & Effort. We found that many participants wanted to cook meals, but often found it difficult to fit into their busy schedules. These participants expressed frustration when their meal preparation took longer than expected. Some participants turned to frozen foods, takeout, and leftovers near the end of the week due to this need to reduce the time and effort in their meal preparation. 

  5. Social Engagement. Many participants described their cooking experiences as enjoyable because they were able to cook with friends or family. We found that participants were often motivated to cook to spend quality time with friends and share an experience. For example, one of our participants planned ahead during the week to cook a special meal with friends as a way to connect during a busy time of midterm exams.

B. Results: Survey 

The survey helped us discover more about our target audience and understand what people found important, challenging, and positive when cooking. By engaging a larger population, our group learned about the range of needs that our solution should address and how we can effectively assist our target audience in the cooking process. To analyze our survey, our group used data analysis tools in Qualtrics. This way, we could use graphs and charts to understand our respondents’ attitudes and behaviors and visualize trends. For open-ended questions, we identified key words or phrases used in responses to find the main challenges and positive moments. The results helped us answer our research questions regarding people’s behaviors and attitudes towards cooking, using this to refine our scope and design solutions.

One key insight related to people’s typical habits when cooking on a weekly basis. We found that the majority of respondents cook more than four meals a week, spend about 30-60 minutes preparing meals, and are mildly confident in their cooking abilities. This helped our group understand that our target audience chooses to cook and will invest up to an hour of time to do so but could use more assistance in the process. Our group now understands that people could benefit from guidance during the meal preparation process in a personalized and convenient way.

We also discovered that many respondents enjoyed cooking when they were able to cook with friends or family, often finding it therapeutic, soothing, and relaxing. Many expressed that cooking brought them closer to others. This finding is important to our group as we want to generate a solution that builds upon these existing positive moments, creating experiences that connect people and alleviate stress. We have adjusted our scope to include ideas that support social interaction during the cooking process.

Another key insight that emerged from our survey relates to people's priorities when cooking and frequent challenges they encounter. Specifically, we found that people prioritize the time it takes to cook a meal, taste, and health. Our design solution will help people cook delicious meals, while conserving their time and effort. The majority of our respondents expressed that they became frustrated when they failed to: decide what to cook, purchase low-cost ingredients, access the necessary ingredients, use tools efficiently, cook meat properly, and/or clean up quickly. This helped our group steer our design solution towards minimizing some of these pain points. 

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Survey response data from Qualtrics

C. Summary of Results 

Overall, our diary studies and surveys helped our group identify opportunities, problems, and constraints that factored into our design ideation and selection. Specifically, we discovered that our target audience has many conflicting needs, which create tensions throughout the cooking process. We believe this presents an interesting opportunity for our design to bridge the gap between a variety of user needs through assistance in the meal preparation process. We also learned that our design solution should include social features that allow users to interact and bond with others through the cooking process. These findings narrowed down our scope from Milestone 1, as we were initially more focused on helping users through gardening or grocery shopping. The diary studies and survey responses have shifted our scope to aid users in the cooking process and have expanded our target audience to include older working professionals. We want to create a personalized solution that builds upon joyful moments and minimizes pain points when cooking. 

Ideation & Selection

 

After interpreting the results of our survey and diary studies about the cooking process, our group identified a number of key areas where we could help enhance our audience's experience. As mentioned previously, some of the needs our survey and diary studies identified included: convenience, cost, health and nutrition, time and effort, and social engagement. Moving forward in the ideation process our group wanted to focus on generating ideas that would address these needs, forming our design criteria and tradeoffs:

Design Criteria:

  • Is it convenient? 
  • Is it affordable? 
  • Is it pleasurable, stress-free, therapeutic?
  • Is it adaptable for new and experienced cooks?
  • Can it be modified to recognize health and nutritional preferences?
  • What is the level of time and effort involved in using the solution?
  • Does it provide opportunities for social engagement?

Tradeoffs:

  • Balance time-management and efficiency with preferences for healthy, nutritional meals
  • Social features while making the solution personalized to users’ cooking habits
  • Large enough to be visible without taking up too much counter space

First individually and then as a group, we generated potential solutions through brainstorming, sketching, and creating storyboards for potential solutions, evaluating them against our design criteria. To ensure that we incorporated findings from our research, we wanted to select solutions that addressed the majority of this criteria. To do so, we discussed how effectively each idea met the needs of our target audience and balanced the identified tradeoffs. The top three ideas that our group decided to move forward with are the: cooking assistant, smart fridge, and cooking hangout experience. Individually, we sketched out possible solutions to the ideas that we identified and reconvened to look at the approaches each member took. After discussing the possible solutions, we adjusted and refined our ideas  to create storyboards for the proposed solutions.  

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Refined Scope & Concepts

 

Our target users are young adults and professionals, whose priorities are convenience, cost, health, and social engagement. Initially, our idea aimed to help our target group in gardening, grocery purchases, and kitchen guidance.  We have shifted our scope to focus entirely on providing guidance in the meal preparation process, which reflects the results from our surveys and diary studies. We found that on most weekdays, individuals prioritized efficiency and convenience, cooking quickly and with frozen foods or leftovers. At the same time, they wanted their food to taste good and be healthy. This presents a unique opportunity to design solutions that meet this range of needs, providing a tool to create low-effort, healthy meals. With this being said, our scope has shifted to target the kitchen environment, wherein users store ingredients and prep meals. Additionally, we believe that a wider range of users have these conflicting needs and could benefit from our proposed solutions. Thus, we have broadened our user base to include older adults and/or working professionals.

Solution 1: Chef Voice Assistant

In this scenario, Ben just finished with work and does not want to go to the grocery store.  He prefers to cook a meal with what he currently has in the fridge. Ben gives the Voice Assistant a list of items, and the voice assistant responds with a variety of recipes utilizing those ingredients. Ben selects a recipe, and the voice assistant provides substitutes for the ingredients not available. Ben also gives his Voice Assistant details like the number of people or number of meals he is cooking for, and the amount of time he wants to spend cooking. 

Design Criteria Addressed: 

  • Cost-efficient- considers food users have purchased

  • Time & effort - guides users through tools to use to ease prep and cleanup 

Tradeoffs Addressed:

  • Hands-free experience, freeing up space 

  • Personalized to needs - tailor recipe to the number of people and meals and/or allotted cooking time.

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Solution 2: Smart Fridge

Ronald and Rosie are roommates. Ronald scans the grocery shopping receipt once he is done with shopping. The scan is sent to their refrigerator to track the inventory and ingredients, along with the expiration dates. When Rosie goes to the fridge to see what’s available, she gets an updated list of items, along with the quantity and expiration dates. Rosie is provided with a list of recipe options and looks on the fridge to make her decision. The smart-fridge also gives Rosie the nutrition information for each recipe. If the smart-fridge senses that they are running low on a specific item, it gives them a list of stores where they would be able to find the item. This helps Rosie and Ronald keep track of their groceries, which helps them save money and meal prep in an organized, efficient fashion.

Design Criteria Addressed: 

  • Cost-efficient & modifiable to users’ preferences - considers food users have purchased

  • Social - improves coordination with roommates

Tradeoffs Addressed:

  • Prioritizes efficiency and nutrition

  • Considers available kitchen space - not an additional gadget in the kitchen

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Solution 3: Virtual Cooking Hangout

 

Reena and her friend live in different cities. Reena receives a text from her friend, asking if she wants to cook together tonight. Reena agrees, and they both turn on their virtual cooking hangout. The platform gives them a list of recipes from famous chefs that they can choose from. Once they pick what they want to cook, they are able to stream the recipe together. Their favorite chef gives them tips on how to cut vegetables, n make sure that the meat is ready, and reminders to clean as they go. Reena and her friend cook a quick delicious meal together using the cooking hangout guide while enjoying each other's company.

Design Criteria Addressed: 

  • Adaptable for new and experienced cooks - select recipes based on skill-level and learn new techniques

  • Social - cooking alongside friends

  • Pleasurable - can relieve stress and enjoy company of others while cooking

Tradeoffs Addressed:

  • Opportunities for social connections, while in a personalized experience 

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Conclusion

At the end of Milestone 2, we determined that we wanted our project to aid users in the cooking process, by helping them meet their needs of convenience, cost, health and nutrition, time and effort, and social engagement. Our goal is to create a personalized solution that balances these needs during the cooking process. Based on the results from our data, our scope has shifted to focus entirely on providing more guidance in the kitchen. Additionally, we have widened the age range of our target audience from college students and young professionals to include older adults and working professionals. The results of our diary studies and surveys suggest that this broader audience could benefit from our proposed solution. Another feature that we would like to include is voice or haptic functionality, which will make for a hands-free, more convenient experience for users during the cooking process. Some aspects that we are still uncertain about include: how to better differentiate our product from similar technologies, where and how to include a voice or haptic functionality, and if the new target demographic is too wide.