1 out of every 8 Americans does not have reliable access to food. That’s 38 million people. And 40% of all US food waste comes from restaurants, groceries, and food services.
Plenty Plate is a service that explores the ways to connect those in need with restaurants and grocery stores that have surplus food at the end of the day, for free. To create a working system, we did thorough research about the existing programs and services and discovered two fundamental problems: food insecurity and food waste.
In this 1-week UX Hackathon, done as part of the General Assembly UX Design Immersive Bootcamp, my team of five set out to explore the current programs in place to address food inequity and ideate ways to improve upon the current systems. My role covered UX Research, Analysis, and UI Design.
Addressing food inequity in urban areas through reallocation of resources
Sometimes statistics speak volumes. When we started our research on food insecurity and food waste, we found data that showed us something was fundamentally wrong with the food system in the United States.
Here is some of the data we thought was eye-opening:
Pick up at one location
Hot meals or groceries
Available at certain times
Divert restaurant food waste
Pay a lower price for meals from local restaurants
Can be used in stores for certain items
Users go through an application/verification process
Problems With Current Options
Running out of funds
Food served only certain times of the week
Asking $3-4 minimum for one meal is expensive
Sometimes restaurants do not get paid by the app, refusing to give food to the customers
Mainly used at the grocery stores and pharmacies
Only applicable for certain items
Does not fight food waste
To supplement our market research I wrote and fielded an open-ended survey to gain some perspective from people who either currently work to help alleviate food insecurity, or who have lived through periods of food insecurity themselves.
Barriers to Federal Aid
There are many barriers to receiving federal aid. Low-income earners may make too much to receive aid but still go hungry, while bureaucratic processes & the need for an ID keep others from receiving aid. Furthermore, the food provided is low quality.
Some people have to choose between eating and potential COVID-19 exposure. COVID makes packaging and distributing food more onerous on both ends.
Services that distribute food are inconsistent. People don’t know when to expect them and whether or not they eat that day is often left to chance.
Redlining & Income Inequality
Redlining and income inequality create food deserts that predominantly affect the elderly, mentally ill, people making under 24-45K, trans, and people of color; all populations who are more likely to suffer from food scarcity.
There was a lot of overlap in the data from our market research and the open-ended survey, which helped up affirm the key takeaways below.
Most programs address food insecurity, but not food waste.
Barriers to aid, including federal barriers, redlining, COVID-19 concerns, and lack of access to the internet prevent many people from receiving aid at all.
Many programs are inconsistent - this is especially a problem for people without internet access. Whether or not they eat that day can be left up to chance.
With more than 38 million food-insecure people in the US, stores & restaurants throwing out food is a major problem.
To design a service that reallocates food resources from local businesses to those in need.
To develop a business plan for the locations that participate in the program, such as tax credits.
Using the data from our open-ended survey and insights gained from market analysis, we created a proto-persona named Kelly. How might we help Kelly find reliable sources of food during her time of need?
Designing the Service
Keeping in mind the fact that 1 in 6 people living in poverty have no internet access, we realized that a digital solution would exclude a significant part of the population who could benefit from our service.
To keep our service as inclusive as possible, we provided a potential non-digital solution; the option to call a partnership line with the local government. The user flow below shows both digital & non-digital solutions for onboarding, reserving, and receiving food.
Using the data we acquired on how the food-insecure obtain food, their goals, and their pain points we created a Prospective Journey Map to identify areas where our service could improve their experience.
Helping those in need is an act of altruism. Unfortunately, in larger organizations things like volunteer burnout and lack of funding can hinder these intended acts of kindness. Put frankly, altruism alone is not a primary motivator.
Put simply, businesses need an incentive to give away food that would be easier to just throw away. The government already has a donation-based tax break program for businesses who give food to non-profits. Our idea is to cut out the middle-man and have businesses donate directly to those in need. This model is not only faster and more accessible to those in need, but reduces carbon emissions caused by the non-profit trucking & refrigeration.
Wireframes & Testing
A Design Studio exercise helped us to visualize the steps in our User Flow & Journey Map, while adding some key features for customization and ease of use. Below are the top-priority features we included from our Feature Prioritization.
Filter by dietary restrictions (preference, health-related, or religious)
Show restaurants by location for people who may not have transportation
Reserve pick-up time for the user's convenience
QR code for easy verification
Special notes for the business
Dietary Restrictions Filter
Reserve by Time & Special Notes
Search by Location
QR Code for Verification
We conducted moderated usability testing using the first-click method, where we tracked whether or not participants clicked correctly on their first attempt, and how many clicks it took them to complete a task.
Map pins did not seem clickable
The purpose of the app is unclear when a user first logs on
Success Rate Before Iterations
Filled in map pins to increase click-visibility
Added an onboarding flow to help users understand the app
Success Rate After Iterations
User Facing Prototype
Business Facing Prototype
This one-week hackathon was an incredibly fun project. Everyone on my team was highly motivated and I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish in such a short time.
Being able to examine the problem & existing solutions inside and out allowed us to design an improved solution that we believe benefits both types of potential users - business owners and people suffering from food insecurity.
Were we to continue working on Plenty Plate, I would research how to partner with the local government and the legality behind donation-based tax breaks. These two factors would be the primary concerns in deciding the viability of the Plenty Plate program. Furthermore, I would recommend extensive user testing among various food-insecure populations and business/restaurant owners.