When a Foreign Grocery Store Feels Like Home

~*Ignoring Diversity Hurts Tech Products and Ventures*~ (image by: https://ecorner.stanford.edu)

When cutting edge technologies are created in the western global centers of the world, these inventions are often biased and rarely invented by diverse teams or for minorities. Thankfully, our CSE 440 (Introduction To HCI) class has shone a light on this category of people.

Our job as future designers is not to oppress any category of people.

So what are we designing and why?

In fact, our specific target population is people who have recently immigrated to the USA with food restrictions and allergies. In addition to cultural challenges, people in this group often have language barriers; as a result, they spend a considerable amount of time figuring out which products to buy, with trivial to severe consequences if they pick an inappropriate item by mistake.

That is why we are designing Smart Shopping Assistant Carts with translation options for our target group. This device would prevent them from buying items that don’t conform to their dietary restrictions but also suggest products similar to the ones they are used to buying back home.

Our goal is to basically enable this category of people to have a fast shopping trip with no need to seek help from workers or external devices other than the cart.

What was our design research process?

Stakeholders, participants and design research methods that we picked

Our main participants were, of course, people from our target group. Although, having the point of view of a grocery store supervisor was surprisingly helpful in our design research process.

Interviews were specifically helpful in our case because of the class’s time constraint. Interviews gave immediate and direct answers about the shoppers’ experience, feelings, habits and needs but also helped our design team to shape our solution.

We interviewed the supervisor of the District Market, the grocery store of our university, which gets lots of international and food-restricted customers.

We also interviewed international and exchange students from different parts of the world who have food restrictions because of health reasons and religious beliefs.

Contextual inquiry is the other research method that we opted for.

We observed an international student with a severe red meat allergy during her shopping trip at a regular grocery store. The participant was given a shopping list strategically designed by our team beforehand to be challenging for her. We also asked her a couple of questions afterwards to clarify some of the motives behind her behaviors that might be trivial to her but new to people without food restrictions.

Surprising and Interesting Research Results and Themes

“People with food restrictions and language barriers are usually intimidated and wouldn’t speak out their dietary preferences” -the grocery store supervisor.

● All people from our target group have avoided certain items rather than doing their research when unsure.

● During the assisted shopping trip, the participant even after taking time to read the ingredients thought that the product was good for her while it wasn’t the case.

So people do make inattention mistakes because the labels are usually too long and not very clear.

● All participants stated that the duration of their shopping trips are long.

● Participants agree that finding substitutes is a much harder task since the regular American grocery store offers plenty of options that they do not have back home.

● Participants keep going to the one store that they got familiar with.

How did our research shape the design?

Our research findings pointed towards a need for a solution that reduces time spent in the grocery store for recently-immigrated shoppers, and that assists in their decision-making process. We decided to prioritize the following two tasks in our solution:

Enabling the customer to scan an item and instantly view the ingredients/allergens in their preferred language.

Getting brand recommendations based on products the customers use in their home countries. From our research we found that the most time-consuming task for our target group was choosing between all the unfamiliar brands in an American grocery store.

Our Design

After several brainstorming sessions and design iterations: from a simple in store interface to futuristic augmented reality glasses, but also considering feedback and critique from the professor, teaching assistants and classmates. We opted for the Shopping Assistant Cart design to support our target group in performing these tasks.

Above is an early sketch of this design, showcasing our focus on quick and dependable identification of safe food products through the bulb and button 1, and our emphasis on products recommendations in button 2 and feedback to the store in button 3.

How can you use our design?

Below are two storyboards from further along in our design process which illustrate how the Shopping Assistant Cart fulfills the two tasks described above for our target group.

The first shows Ahmed, a persona with nut allergies and Halal dietary restrictions, using the Shopping Assistant Cart to find out if it’s safe for him to eat a sandwich.

The second storyboard below shows Ahmed using the interface to find recommended ingredients for a Moroccan recipe he wanted to cook.

Pros of our design

One reason we chose this design is because the interface is connected to the shopping cart, so as they walk down the aisles, customers have the device available and ready for use as soon as they have a question about a specific food item.

Additionally, our design is available in store and for free to the consumer, which is perfect for a recently immigrated person who might not necessarily want to invest in an expensive gadget just for grocery shopping.

The Smart Shopping Cart utilizes a touch screen interface that is more intuitive and recognizable to people of all backgrounds, cultures, nationalities and social comfort with no technical background required.

Areas for possible improvement

Our design is not final and will be changing throughout the next design process steps according to feedback and brainstorming sessions.

We are also thinking about ways to adapt our design to shopping baskets.

The following article is written by a diverse team composed of:

Salma El Ghayate, a junior Computer Science student who tackles the creative and written aspects of the project.

Maria Tracy, a fourth-year Computer Science and Spanish major who typically contributes to written and conceptual aspects of the project.

● Jiarong Zhang and Grant Yang helped with the project ideation and sketches.

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction