Problem Space: Healthy and Sustainable Food + Internet of Things
As part of the Service Design class at CMU our client SapientNitro tasked our team with envisioning a new food delivery, shopping, preparation, or consumption service that leverages data from separate service ecosystems into your new service or platform by first understanding the current social, economic, and technological factors surrounding making sustainable and healthy food choices — from shopping to deciding what’s for dinner — with particular emphasis on related IOT products and services.
We started with a concept map exercise to lay the ground for which area we wanted to work in when it came to sustainable and healthy food combined with the Internet of Things and data. This helped us narrow down our area of focus on food replacement, nutrition tracking, food stamps/assistance, waste, and food delivery.
We followed this with secondary research and did an extensive literature review of the above-mentioned domains. this helped us narrow the scope of the project to food stamps since we encountered a whole bunch of problems in that space which provided a rich opportunity area for a revamp of the current service.
Visiting the Food Bank
Once we decided to focus on food stamps or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) we visited the local Food Bank in Pittsburgh to get a sense of the complex tasks they have to perform on a daily basis to collect and then distribute food.
We learnt that this happens at a large scale as can be seen in the photos below. While this is federally funded this endeavour largely relies on volunteers, who were present in large numbers. Talking to the Food Bank coordinator we quickly learnt that the problems they face are not of a shortage of food, but of how to distribute that food in a timely manner to those in need.
Interviews at Produce to People
We also learnt that most people on SNAP do not rely solely on the SNAP dollars they get from the government, but also frequent community kitchens and other organisations like Produce to People.
We decided to visit a Produce to People centre. They collect donated food at their centers and distribute them to people who travel from all over the city to collect it.
We observed that most people took the bus and had to carry produce as heavy as 40 pounds back home on public transport. A lot of the people were elderly citizens. Another problem was that the center was distributing miscellaneous items like rice, potatoes and shampoos, ingredients that did not help the users make a complete meal on their own.
Since there are a lot of organizations involved in this process (some of which fall under Feeding America and some which are privately run), we made a process flow map to understand the flow of information and food between each entity in the system.
Upon doing so we realized again that there is no shortage of food and the real problem is of getting the food to low-income individuals who reside in food deserts.
Current State Service Blueprint
We mapped out the journey of a typical user of SNAP and Produce to People to see breakdowns in the system and potential opportunity areas.
To create this we interviewed SNAP users we met at Produce to People and Kristin Hughes (Design Professor at CMU who has run projects on food desserts in the past).
From the above customer journey map we created a more detailed service blueprint.
Mapping the Current State
To help us further understand this space we also modeled the stakeholders involved, refined the process flow model and created a refined systems models which combined the two to understand how food is reaching the end user.
Identifying Opportunity Areas
From our service blueprint, systems model, and the stakeholder models we identified three opportunity areas for our service.
Firstly, we observed that due to lack of access people have limited options. Many use the food bank, which usually gives users whatever donated food is available.
Secondly, we saw that many SNAP users live in food desserts, have no time, are senior citizens, or have disabilities that make shopping difficult due to lack of access. Users stock up on high-caloric meals from their local grocery stores or eat fast food to survive.
Thirdly, many users run out of SNAP dollars by the end of the month. They rely on agencies such as the food bank or soup kitchens. Because there is no steady stream of food, users have difficulty planning healthy meals.
We decided that while we would primarily focus on solving the issue of access, our final solution would attempt at resolving all three issues.
Ideation and Testing
We started generating ideas and concepts on how a service could resolve all the issues we observed.
Some of the ideas were: refrigerator storage pods for the food bank trucks, a grocery vending machine for grocery items and donated food items in food desserts, volunteer drivers for the food bank, rental grocery carts at bus stops, a bus dedicated to delivering food to certain neighborhoods, a neighborhood collective that pools their SNAP money to buy discounted produce in bulk, an automatic disposal system for our vending machine, and a one day SNAP registration (which currently can take up to 2 months).
We generated a bunch of personas based on our stakeholder model and interviews to inform our design,
After refining, iterating and scoping down on our concepts we made storyboards to test out our ideas with users.
We visited local grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods to test out our ideas and storyboards with real users.
Final Service Blueprint
Mapping out our service
After testing, we chose the vending machine idea. The smart vending machine would be placed in low-income neighborhoods and would have grocery items donated from grocery stores and the food bank. This would be accessible to all, but regular users would have to pay full price while items will be free (if donated) or discounted for SNAP users.
A detailed description of how this service would actually work is given below. The video at the end of the page is a user enactment to explain the service in greater detail.
How our smart vending machine works
Our solution brings food to areas where access is a problem, allows users to plan ahead because of improved access, and gives SNAP users more choice.
USer Enactment and Learnings
We created a prototype to test our design and also showcase a user enactment to our clients.
We were given great feedback on the idea and execution specifically how well thought out the service was with regards to all the stakeholders and processes involved. We were encouraged by SpaientNitro to think further about how this service would generate revenue and bring value to the organization for it to be self-sustaining.
My role: Service/UX Designer
Timeline: 2 months
Team: Ashwin Ramesh, Raghav Anand, and Katie Sawaya
This project was done in the Service Design class at CMU taught by Jodi Forlizzi in collaboration with our client SapientNitro.