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Category Archives: Food

What’s (really) on their plates?: Insights from research on teenage food choices.

In our exploration of teenage food choices and eating habits, our design team, (Laura Galos, Crystal Watson, and Lindsay Josal), has just completed two weeks of synthesis. In the synthesis phase of our project, we thoroughly reviewed all the qualitative data gathered during our two-week research phase, and began to make connections across our teenage participants. Once broad themes emerged, our team drew out insights from each by asking “why?” to each theme. Why might it be the case that teens think others judge them based on their food choices? Why do they perceive food information to be complicated and changeable? Out of the chaos of transcriptions, photos, groupings, and themes, the resulting insights seemed to us simplistic, even obvious. Yet they also seemed to ring true, and we recognized the simplicity came through hindsight, and only after combing through piles of confusing, often conflicting data.

FoodChoice_Unvi

Some insights that most intrigued us were as follows:

  • Teenagers are nostalgic for the way their parents fed them, and regret their current circumstances by comparison
  • Food choices are identity statements in disguise
  • People as young as teenagers have formalized food choices, resulting in opportunity loss

But the insight that seemed most resonant was that food information is too complex for one person. Whether our participants were highly engaged with their eating choices or not, across the board they expressed confusion and reliance on family or friends for direction and as models for eating habits, even as they were expected to exercise greater autonomous choice.

We feel strongly that the insights we developed are both clear and provocative of design ideas that will help us support teenagers as they navigate this odd time in their lives, where they begin to experience autonomy and its inherent risks. While teenagers’ lunch choices may seem relatively low-risk, the consequences of long-term activity can include the construction of a values system (meat or no meat? local or not?), health problems or wellness, and general emotional well-being for years to come. As designers, we hope to create solutions that support teenagers in the making conscientious choices, not just add to the cacophony of conflicting influences they already hear.

To view our synthesis presentation please click here.

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(East) Austin Food Guide: Challenges and Opportunities in Urban Nutrition

A few weeks ago we shared our research plan (here).  Since then my team, Eugenia Harris and Lauren Segapeli, and I have been out talking to people and collecting data to fuel the next stage of our design process.  We began our research with a focus on how people living in food deserts budget for, shop for and prepare food. Exploring particularly people’s beliefs around nutrition and food availability and the priorities and constraints that govern their choices. A food desert is an urban area where fresh food and produce are not easily available to residents who do not have cars.

Over the course of two weeks we conducted ten interviews with people in three basic groups: People grocery shopping in East Austin, people working to improve food access and nutrition and patrons of  Austin area food banks.

The purpose of our research was to help us, as designers, to build an empathetic understanding of the people we hope to serve and to steep ourselves in a rich and varied data set that will provoke new insights and design ideas. As we mentioned in our research plan, one of the methods we used to get this data is called Contextual Inquiry. Contextual Inquiry focuses on watching, learning about and perhaps participating in the user’s tasks and activities. The researcher becomes the apprentice and the user becomes the master, sharing his or her expertise in his or her own life. It is a way to tap into the tacit knowledge that we all have that allows us to do the work of living our lives but that we are not consciously aware of or which seems too low level to be worth mentioning. It is exactly these quirky, specific details, these workarounds and new uses that provoke new insights and ideas.

For example, one of our participants is a patron of local food banks. In our first interview he told us all about how going to the food bank works. The information he gave us was all useful and true, but no where near as rich as the data we got the following week when we went to the food bank and he taught us how to do everything from arriving early to save a place in line, to signing in and selecting food.

As we conducted our research we kept the focus intentionally loose because we were aware that the concept of food desert might not ultimately be the framework that was most useful for understanding the situation in Austin. That flexibility served us well.  We found that geographic location wasn’t the major constraint on most of the people we spoke to. Many people, even if they were struggling financially did have cars, although not always money for gas. We also saw that people rely on family and community networks that stretch across neighborhoods to help each other access food and to share food resources. We are interested to see how these informal networks might connect with the type of support people in the government and community are providing and explore other connections and disconnects between these different groups.

We learned a great deal doing this research and were constantly reminded that our interviewee’s point view is not our own. It has been a privilege to meet these people and have them share their lives with us.

Our presentation deck is attached below. Next we will launch into to the synthesis phase of the design process. Look for an update on that in the next few weeks.

East Austin Food Guide-Research Presentation

 

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Food & Identity: Process, Insights, and Implications

Over the first quarter of this program, I have had the great pleasure to work with Jacob Rader and Bhavini Patel in the Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class at the Austin Center for Design.  Together we dove into the topic of how cultural and emotional factors affect food behavior in low income communities: namely the Eastside here in Austin, Texas (note: the Austin Center for Design is located in the Eastside area).  What we found is that people’s identities are shaped by the food roles they take on and this leads to important questions concerning the long-term effects of restricted food choices on populations in need.  Our work and thoughts culminated in a research presentation about Food and Identity.

 

Informing Intuition

Our work began with two weeks of research that was aimed at learning about a diverse set of viewpoints and informing our intuitions about the community.  This research took on several forms including interviews, contextual inquiry, and artifact collection.  Contextual Inquiry is a term I had never heard before coming to ac4d; it’s the act of putting yourself in an environment with the intent of investigating and observing behavior.  The underlying assumption is that there are things you can learn from participants that they are unlikely to tell you in conversation.  By going through activities with them and letting them actively teach you about themselves, you are able to see meaningful behavior in action rather than in hypothetical.  Furthermore, your intuitive understanding of a person and the environment they are a part of is greatly enriched through this technique.  Overall, this highly subjective and immersive research process served as a concentrated blast of information and understanding that was crucial to provoking thoughts in the remainder of our work this quarter.

After research we started exploring our data.   First we transcribed every significant phrase or thought from our interactions, indexed them, put them on small notation cards and covered the wall with them.  We also included observations from our contextual inquiries and photos from our research.  This served as a physical medium for us to manipulate and begin making sense of.  One way we did that was by pushing our data through different frames of reference in a technique called work modeling.

 

Work Modeling

In work modeling, the goal is to focus on only one specific aspect of interactions that are taking place and in limiting perspective you open yourself to new ways of understanding the data.  Here’s a few examples from our research:

Diagram 1

Pictured above (Diagram 1) is a Flow model in which each participants interaction with other people or objects is diagrammed.  This can often reveal focal points in the environment as well as bottlenecks and breakdowns in interaction.

Diagram 2A

Diagram 2B

Pictured above are the Physical model (Diagram 2A) and the Artifact model (Diagram 2B).  These two models are often useful in tandem for helping people who were not part of the research process gain some context for the environment the participants are in.  This is a powerful tool in presentations of Design because they allow the research to convey more directly and ultimately make it more real.

 

Making New Ideas

Regardless of the fidelity or volume of data, design research is only significant if it provokes designers to new ideas.  Synthesis is the process of making sense of data.  In this process of sense-making our minds often are able to generate new ideas called insights.  Insights are provocative statements of truth about human behavior (which may in fact be wrong).  Insights are the result of non-linear–often illogical and serendipitous–connections in our mind.  But as we’ve learned in through the first quarter, methods can be introduced that make these connections much more likely to occur.

One powerful way of doing that is by making groupings with the data.  In our case, we took all of the indexed notecards, photos, and observations that were covering our research wall and started rearranging them to represent relationships.  As the relationships became more robust we tried to name them.  This is a long process that often requires several iterations but you end up with compelling representations of affinity and isolation that your mind can start to comprehend.  And your brain’s way of doing this is some form of the question “Why?”.  Why are these statements related?  Why are these people behaving this way?  What is this person behaving differently?  Why?  Why?  Why?

The background and judgements of the designer start to actively mingle with the structure of the data: pushing, pulling, and slicing it in new ways.  This process is highly subjective and depends on the skill of the designer to draw upon their intuitive empathetic understanding from research as well as their ability to push their mind into new points of view.  And occasionally they are able to articulate something about the behavior that clicks.  An insight intuitively fits on to the data giving it greater definition and meaning in our minds.

In our case, our research with food produced a great number of insights which we eventually culled to focus on just a few that were inter-related and felt significant and provocative in relation to our research.  What we found are two insights about food behavior:

Insight 1: Without authority over food choices, people are reduced to what they are willing to accept or deny.

Insight 2:  Established food roles become a persistent part of our identity.

Taken together these two insights force us to ask what persistent lack of choice does to a person’s identity over time.  Food choices feel fleeting, but decisions about food are one of the most prevalent forms of problem solving in our lives.  When options are restricted over time, we believe there is erosive effective to someone’s creative problem solving and consequently to their humanity.  And that’s why our third insight, though somewhat obvious in statement is also quite significant:

Insight 3:  When options are restricted food choice becomes a vehicle for humanization.

We have seen the impact of this insight on the community here on in the Eastside.  But we believe it also has a broader design implication: 

Choice is an essential element for food interaction with populations in need.

Food isn’t just about the delivery of calories and nutrients.  We all know this, yet when confronted with hunger or poverty the standard operating procedure seems to be to simply throw food resources at the problem.  Our design research calls for a more broad view of how those food interactions affect the people involved, especially in situations where the interactions are a persistent part of human lives.

Thank you for your consideration and we’d love you hear your thoughts or comments.

-Scott Gerlach (on behalf of Jacob Rader and Bhavini Patel)

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Observations on the relationship between government, business, and wicked problems

Politics – the role of government, and our views about that role – have a critical influence in wicked problems. It is common to view politics as artificial and somehow extraneous to our work. Yet in the context of nutrition, health and wellness, poverty, and so on, understanding how these forces work is fundamental to changing behavior.

Consider: according to the NCHS, 35.7% of the adults in the United States are obese.

Why? How? How can we fix it?

Based on that finding, our country would, theoretically, change policies to control the types of food that are consumed or produced, to mandate changes in physical education for students, to add warnings to sodas (like the warnings on cigarettes), and so-on. But did you know that the definition of “obesity” is simply a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30? Most of us have no idea what a BMI is. It’s a measure of your weight in pounds, divided by your height in inches (squared), times 703. If that seems fairly arbitrary, it’s because it is: it was developed in 1840, and hasn’t changed since. NPR describes “10 reasons why the BMI is bogus”. Kate Harding offers pictures to illustrate what BMI means in real people, arguing that BMI lumps people who are obviously fit into the “obese” category, while Medical News Today claims that we’re probably underestimating obesity in the US.

High-fructose corn syrup causes weight gain, and is now linked to both autism and ADHD. Michal Pollan describes that “Corn is the sweetener in the soda. It’s in the corn-fed beef Big Mac patty, and in the high-fructose syrup in the bun, and in the secret sauce. Slim Jims are full of corn syrup, dextrose, cornstarch, and a great many additives. The “four different fuels” in a Lunchables meal, are all essentially corn-based. The chicken nugget—including feed for the chicken, fillers, binders, coating, and dipping sauce—is all corn. The french fries are made from potatoes, but odds are they’re fried in corn oil, the source of 50 percent of their calories. Even the salads at McDonald’s are full of high-fructose corn syrup and thickeners made from corn.”

Some doctors are lobbying to change how we calculate obesity to use waist-to-height ratio, a better indicator of actual health risks. And others are demanding that we readjust our century-old focus on corn subsidies, part of the the farm income stabilization, which are incenting the use of these ingredients in the foods described above.

Who would oppose such changes, in the face of scientific evidence?

According to Reuters, the “side with the fattest wallets.” The food and beverage lobby spent 140M in 2009-2011 – more than they spent in 1998-2008 combined. As the Reuters article describes, these lobbyists drive their message directly to the top: “On July 12, White House visitor logs show a who’s who of food company chief executives and lobbyists visited the White House. The group met with Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser, and Melody Barnes, then director of the president’s Domestic Policy Council. Among the group at the meeting: CEOs of Nestle USA, Kellogg, General Mills, and top executives at Walt Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom, owner of the Nickelodeon children’s channel — companies with some of the biggest financial stakes in marketing to children. Those companies have a combined market value of more than $350 billion.”

And when you peek behind the curtain, you see Janice Fields – president of McDonalds USA – is also on the board of Monsanto Company. You learn that John Chidsey, formerly CEO of Burger King, is a Director at HealthSouth, the US’s largest owner and operator of inpatient rehabilitative hospitals. Janet Hill, Director of Wendy’s, is also the director of Dean Foods, which owns Robinson Dairy, Borden, Country Fresh, Mayfield Dairy, and pretty much every other dairy manufacturer in the US. Daniel Bryant is the Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for PepsiCo, and is on the board of directors for the largest lobbying group in the US, the “United States Chamber of Commerce”. Donald Correll is on the board of directors there, too, and is also a director at HealthSouth. Patricia Woertz is the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, an agriculture processor. She also sits on the board of directors at Procter & Gamble, and sat on the US President’s Export Council.

The connections between the producers, distributors, and politicians are clear, and personal influence plays a major role in setting policy direction. In a wicked problem, behavior change comes through multiple approaches, all engaging at once. Some of these come from product and service design and advanced technology. Many of them come from advertising and cultural voice. And a huge amount of them come through the influence of a very small number of people, manifested as lobby-led policy decisions. To fire on all cylinders, social entrepreneurs likely need to understand and drive all of these forces.

If you haven’t played with the online tool They Rule, check it out here: it offers a great interactive visualization of those who are pulling the strings.

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Feast For Days: An Initial Strategic Intent

Image by cliff1066

It is less than a month until our meal assembly service, Feast For Days, enters the piloting phase. As we move closer to this milestone it is important for Jonathan and I to begin thinking about what future business targets we want to aim for. Below is the first iteration of our statement of strategic intent. What do you think?

Our plan is that Feast For Days becomes the most widely used meal assembly service in the Austin area. We plan on achieving this though a low per-serving price point, strategic partnerships with nutrition relief agencies, and whimsical branding that targets a broader audience than the competition. We aspire to see our service attract low-income families and time-strapped, health conscious young adults which are both largely untapped demographics in the meal assembly industry.

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Prototyping Food Find

It’s the first day of Christmas break and I still can’t stop thinking about AC4D :) Last night was our final presentation for our Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class. See below for a summary and reflection. Enjoy!

Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem solving is basically a fancy way for describing an Introduction to Making. This course provided me with a filter and framework for the entire process of creating something that previously did not exist, which was helpful given my preexisting phobia of making. Below is a quick snapshot of the process with mini-definitions to follow. (Note: if this really excites you, you should google the terms in the diagram as I am simplifying definitions for people like me who are impatient readers :).

Use Cases: A top level view of all goals an artifact will help users accomplish. Note artifact is a fancy word for thing.

Scenarios: Stories of imaginary users and how they will interact with your artifact given specific situations, needs, and desires.

Storyboards: Sketches of the scenarios that visually (and more completely) showcase the essence of an artifact.

Process flows: A focused and oftentimes technical view of the steps that need to happen to make your artifact work.

Wireframes: Visual layout and diagram of the artifact that starts to communicate how the artifact will look and feel visually.

Prototype: A test artifact that has many of the same features as the finished product used for the purposes of communicating an idea and testing how users will interact with an artifact.

==

To better learn this process we came up with an idea related to our research, which we would then put through this process. My idea was Food Find, a web application that of functions like a Groupon or a deal of the day…but for FOOD!

Here is a link to an interactive prototype. Note you’ll most likely have to download it, and view using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader X.

AC4D_IDSE201_Lewis_Prototype_FINALForWeb

When reflecting on things that I learned about the process and my idea, Food Find, one of the first things that comes to mind is the importance of rigor. The creative process is oftentimes depicted as a single moment, much like the flip of a switch to turn on the metaphorical light bulb. This is far from reality, or if it is reality it is one small step in the creative/making process. And the subsequent steps (see chart above) can change the initial lightbulb idea completely.

This process also taught me the importance of visualizing ideas both through storyboards, wireframes, and prototypes. Oftentimes, I rely too much on my oratory ability which I think is much stronger than it actually is. But I was blown away with how ideas and concepts surrounding Food Find were much easier to grasp by others when it was visually externalized.

The next time I do this process, I am going to push my self to externalize and visualize even more. I was super impressed by my professors Matt Franks, and Lauren Serota, and some fellow students, Diana Griffin and Cheyenne Weaver’s ability to bring ideas to life through thoughtful and provocative visual design, and I definitely want to grow in that area.

Also next time, I will take more sersiously the beginning stages of the process, (writing stories and basic diagrams), which at the time seemed a little trite. The old adage you have to crawl before you run is definitely true in that one can’t design something big and complex until he or she knows the basic uses for it.

In summary, this was a great class. Many thanks to Matt and Lauren for teaching it, and I’m looking to seeing how what we learned manifests itself in 2K12.

-Jonathan
@jtomylew

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Service design course leads to a great idea

Dentist’s Offices, The Ritz Carlton in Costa Rica, Coffee Shops, Japanese Bullet Trains, and purchasing an HP touch pad…

These were some of AC4D 2K12’s best and worst examples of a “service” which we then discussed, dissected, and diagrammed during the first few classes of our service design course taught by the man, the myth, the legend, Jon Freach (@jfreach).

Like other AC4D classes, wisdom and knowledge were not gained through lecture but primarily through reading, thinking, making, reflecting, disagreeing, drinking, then making some more. We learned from case studies and Jon’s first hand experiences with designing services such as the wayfinding system for MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas.

We also used insights gained from our research to design a service that would meet the needs of a vulnerable population of people. Ultimately, Ben Franck and I came up with the blueprint of a service, We Cook, we are going to try and bring to market next semester. See below for a description.

In short. We Cook is a service that facilitates groups of people cooking a week’s worth of food together for an affordable price. Below is a short case study of a potential user.


Meet Jane. She is a single mother who is stressed out because right now money is tight.



She hears about We Cook from a friend who tells her that it is an inexpensive way to get a week’s worth of healthy home cooked food.



Jane goes online and registers for a We Cook class.



During class, Jane meets a chef, who instructs/mentors students as they each prepare a bulk meal.



At the end of the cooking session the students swap meals so that every student has 7-8 meals to…


take home…


freeze, and then eat throughout the week.

While there are many design challenges associated with this service, we are super excited at the potential to leverage the economics of food purchased in bulk to change people’s behavior surrounding food.

-J

@jtomylew

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Student Midterm Presentation: The Wicked Problems of Food

Students at Austin Center for Design have concluded their design research and preliminary synthesis, and have identified product, service and business opportunities that address the wicked problem of food. The students presented the sixteen weeks of work to a packed room on December 17th, 2011; a video of the presentation is below, and you can download the slides here (as a 23 meg .pdf file).

The work that will be developed over the next sixteen weeks include:

Clean Collective, founded by Samir Rath and Jaime Krakowiak. Clean Collective will connect clean-tech ventures, which typically require a large physical footprint, with independent farmers, who typically have a large amount of unused or under-utilized land.

We Cook, founded by Ben Franck and Jonathan Lewis. We Cook will bring together various families from low-income households in order to foster group cooking and sharing of a week’s worth of food.

Girls Guild, founded by Diana Griffin and Cheyenne Weaver. Girls Guild will help girls who are struggling with eating disorders to find a mentor and utilize creativity as a positive emotional outlet.

Congrats to all of the AC4D students on a great first half; we look forward to seeing these ideas come to life over the next two quarters!

Posted in AC4D Events, Classes, Food, Startups | Leave a comment