*vegetable puns intended
Over the past three weeks, we have been doing contextual inquiry interviews with the customers and staff of Lettuce meal delivery service. Contextual inquiry is essentially a way for researchers to get jalapeño business and observe your behavior and the context in which you interact with something. In our case, we wanted to visit the homes of Lettuce subscribers and conduct interview sessions to learn more about how the Lettuce service integrates into their lives.
Our first challenge was to figure out how to get strangers to invite us into their homes for an hour-long in-depth interview session in which we would interrogate them about their lives and relationship with food. Fortunately, Lettuce agreed to lettuce place recruitment fliers in the Lettuce delivery bags for one round of deliveries in early September and offer Lettuce credit in compensation for participants’ time.
With our recruitment pitch effectively delivered to our target audience’s kitchen table, we set up a corresponding Calendly, a scheduling tool, for prospective participants to visit to learn more and sign up for what we called a “feedback session”. Calendly integrated nicely with our team’s calendar such that we were able to customize our availability windows and request location details for the sessions. As participants signed up, we sent customized confirmation emails to confirm the home address and frame expectations for the upcoming interviews.
After sending out flyers to 230 subscribers, we got a response back from about 30 people and then successfully scheduled a total of 13 subscribers for one-hour in-person interviews. The interviews were conducted at the participant’s kitchen or, if they preferred, a public space.
The interview started with a statement of consent, some general questions, and then a free-association exercise. Participants looked at 50 words and picked 12 words that they associate with meal prep then organized it into a positive and negative column and shared their thought. We started with this warm-up to give them time for self-reflection on how they interact with food. For some participants, this is the first time they are called on to give a detailed description of their behaviors about food; a topic which is routine and mundanely uninteresting. We want them to recall what their actual behavior is around food, not their ideal habits.
Then the second part was to reflect specifically on how Lettuce is integrated into their lifestyle and also gauge their home habits and tendencies. We showed them the ingredients from a Lettuce meal and asked them “what would you make if you did not have a recipe card?” We also asked about recipe cards and how they keep themselves organized. This usually transitioned naturally to the next part when we ask to look at their kitchen, recipe books, fridge, and pantry. The final two activities of the interview were to rank Lettuce’s seven principles and conduct a usability test of the Lettuce website interface.
Stories from the Field
To start off our interviews, we did a word association activity to get our participants thinking about which words they might associate with “food” and “meal preparation”. When we offered one participant, Nia, this prompt, she immediately honed in on the word “clean”.
Nia shared a story of a time when she and her husband had very demanding work and school schedules. They were eating poorly and for convenience. She decided to turn things around and start a strict program kaled the “Clean Diet.” Nia wanted to track her success by weighing and measuring her body.
“..then I found out at a certain point because I was doing all
these measurements that I was pregnant. And it turned out I was six months pregnant!”
These sorts of accounts are important to our research because we believe that human stories are immensely powerful. Through these in-depth conversations, we were able to observe more of the details and nuances of our participants’ lives and their interactions with food.
Pat is a longtime vegan and working father. We had plant for Pat a visual association activity to gain insights on how the subscriber feels about food and meal preparation. From Pat, we learned that routine is immensely important to keep life running smoothly for him, his wife, and their three-year-old son.
“After our son was born, I was like ‘oh my god, what do we do?’, because it was so chaotic. We were fine before our son was born, but now… we’re structured.”
One of the benefits of conducting these contextual inquiry interviews in participants’ homes of was that it made it much easier to learn about their lives and typical routines. Pat was able to show us his recipe books and meal planning artifacts that he and his wife use to keep themselves afloat as working parents trying to prepare healthy meals for themselves and their child.
We sat down with Margaret and did an “inspiration station” activity where she walked us through what meals she would prepare with a Lettuce delivery if there were no recipeas included. During our conversations, Margaret told us what her meal preparation used to look like:
“I used to go to the farmer’s market all the time. I used to plan meals for the week, look up all the recipes, write down the shopping list, go out and get what I needed… I used to do that all, but now I’m working in Lockhart. That’s an hour and a half of my day commuting every single weekday that I lost. How do I get that back?”
Margaret’s recent lifestyle change and new commute to Lockhart was what motivated her to become a new subscriber to the Lettuce meal delivery service. When she found out that there was a service that “#1 would do the planning for me and #2 would do the legwork for me?” She was hooked.
Valerie shared that the Lettuce plan that she is on is honestly too much food for her family. Her husband is more of a ‘meat and potatoes’ type of person and her teenage daughter prefers to heat up frozen “less healthy” foods, so Valerie shares some of her weekly Lettuce delivery with her neighbors. While Valerie would like to take advantage of the composting service that Lettuce offers, with her daughter’s frozen food taking up space in the freezer, it doesn’t leave mushroom to fit her own compost bin.
“They went above and beyond with the compost piece. Even though we don’t participate in it, that really impressed me and told me that these guys are for real.”
Since Valerie isn’t participating in the composting service and she has to coordinate with neighbors to make the deliveries work for her, we wondered what keeps Valerie around as a loyal Lettuce subscriber? What opportunity areas might exist to make the service work better for her needs?
These are exactly the sort of questions that we’ll be tackling next. Our team has been transcribing the audio and compiling the photos from olive our interviews because next, we will transition to the process of synthesis. Synthesis will allow us to identify patterns and themes from across our research with the goal of discerning opportunity areas for Lettuce. More on that later, loyal AC4D blog readers… until next thyme!
*vegetable puns intended