By Patrick Ho, Brian Liang, Justin Yang
The Challenge: Unsustainable Eating
When was the last time that you enjoyed a delicious, home cooked meal while stressed out about work or school? Well, if you’re anything like three-fourths of the young adults in Seattle, you either ate out or likely made something that was quick and cheap, like pasta or fried rice. Furthermore, approximately one-third of the food in the average American household goes uneaten or discarded. This food waste contributes to significant environmental pollution, as 81 percent of household food waste ends up in landfills or combustion facilities (United States Environmental Protection Agency). Our research revealed that this problem likely stems from how little experience young adults have with home cooking as well as how little time they have to think about food waste reduction.
The Solution: SUStenance
With our smart fridge solution SUStenance, you can easily keep track of food inventory, expiration dates on perishable items, and browse delicious recipes tailored to your needs. A key feature of our smart fridge solution is the ability to automatically track foods and then sort and filter them to suit user needs. A useful functionality of the inventory is that users will be alerted ahead of time when food items are close to expiration, enabling them to be knowledgeable and take proactive measures in consuming these food items. Furthermore, by keeping inventory of their food, users can better manage their meals, time, and money. Based on the food inventory and the needs of the users, the smart fridge will generate various recipes based on parameters such as the time it takes to prepare, the difficulty of cooking, a star-based enjoyment rating based on feedback from other users, and the number of missing ingredients.
The Evolution of SUStenance
Initial Design: We created an initial interactive prototype on paper. This prototype contained the main inventory and recipe screens, along with filter, sort, and alert features. These elements allowed us to test our main tasks of automated food tracking and recipe generation by manually moving the paper components around.
Testing and Improving: We tested our paper prototype on users by having them use the prototype to go through the process of loading a fridge and finding a recipe to make as we simulated responses from their interactions. We identified several critical incidents from the usability tests and modified our prototype accordingly:
Task 1: Keeping track of what foods are in the fridge and which ones expire soon
The first task that we wanted to support was keeping track of what foods are in the fridge and which ones expire soon. To accomplish this, we envision that our smart fridge design would take advantage of the cameras and sensors (standard in modern smart fridges) to catalog the items that a user adds or removes from it. Then, expiration dates will be assigned automatically based on the average shelf life of a particular item.
Fridge Inventory Tracking
The screen on the fridge (left) tracks the items in the fridge (right) and displays each item’s name, quantity, expiration date, and a real-time image of the item.
The screen will display an alert when an item gets close to its expiration date.
Users can apply various sorts and filters to organize the displayed items.
Task 2: Deciding what to cook for a particular meal
The second task that we chose to design for was deciding what to cook for a particular meal. Because time was the limiting factor for the majority of our target user group, this task was one of the most important features. By addressing this task, our design will enable our users to create new, delicious dishes while reducing their household waste by helping them creatively and fully utilize all the food in their fridge.
Navigating to the Recipe Generator Tool
Users can navigate to the recipe generator tool by clicking on the recipes button from the inventory page or the home page. The recipe generator tool is displayed side-by-side with the inventory so users can easily identify what ingredients they are generating recipes for. This design also provides the user with the ability to select, sort, and filter the ingredients inventory so that they can get a more customized selection of recipes.
Inventory + Recipe Sort Functionality
As the user sorts the food in their inventory while the recipe generator tool is open, the suggested recipes will dynamically update to reflect the sorted list of ingredients.
Inventory + Filter Functionality
As the user applies filters to their inventory while the recipe generator tool is open, the suggested recipes will dynamically update to reflect the filtered list of ingredients.
Recipe Sort Functionality
Users can sort the suggested recipes by the amount of time it takes to prepare the dish, how difficult the recipe is, what the recipe has been rated by other users, and how many ingredients they are missing.
Recipe Search Functionality
Users can search for particular recipes using the search bar and view the whole recipe by clicking on it.
From the second iteration of our paper prototype, we conducted a second round of usability testing and made several changes as we created our digital mockup.
We added a background to our home screen, aiming to make our home screen more aesthetically pleasing.
We expanded the width of the sort and filter dropdowns for the recipe page to simplify the alignment of both interfaces. This increases the visual coherence of our interface, creating a cleaner and more sophisticated feel.
We updated our scroll bar style to be more minimalist, reducing the clutter of unnecessary information and buttons from the scroll bar. This makes our interface easier to understand at a glance.
We added color and more information to our expiration alert popup dialog in order to draw attention to a food item that will expire soon and highlight the critical information of how many days are left before it expires. This makes it easier for our users to ascertain the system status of our smart fridge when the expiration date alert popup appears.
From our user research, we identified a major challenge for the Seattle young adult population to cook delicious, healthy meals at home while practicing healthy sustainability habits and dealing with stress from school or work. SUStenance is our smart fridge solution that provides young adults with the necessary tools to track food inventory and browse recipes based on custom needs. By enabling easy, organized access to one’s food inventory and generating recipes based on user needs such as time, cost, and popularity, young adults will have an easier time than ever cooking their meals without having to deal with the stress of knowing what to cook on top of their other responsibilities. With SUStenance, young adults will develop good cooking habits, enjoy home cooked meals, and decrease food waste.