In Canada, 31 billion dollars worth of food is wasted every year. How can digital technology help?
This is my story of designing ‘FeedBack’—a multi-platform tool that helps reduce food waste and address hunger in Toronto. Second Harvest was our community partner for the FeedBack project.
I was the lead planner for an eleven-people team, hosted by the UX Design Professional program at RED Academy in the second half of October 2016. Our team worked on FeedBack project in a studio-style agile environment using the Scrum method.
I was responsible for designing FeedBack’s web-based platform interface, helping set a direction for the visual design, and leading all planning work, which included identifying and visualizing salient research findings for the team to use.
Throughout the project, I supported the team by filling in the gaps, shifting in and out of roles as needed, which include being a part of the pitch team, editing report copy as well as producing information graphics for the report and the client’s presentation.
Tackling food waste
Hot off the heels of our individual projects, we were to work together as a studio where our instructors acted as the UX Team Lead (James McNab) and Scrum Master (Liz Kucharska) respectively. In the beginning, the scope of the project was intentionally left open while we wait for the final confirmation from our first community partner, Second Harvest. The design sprint simulates an exploratory exercise that a studio or an agency would conduct for a business pitch.
Food waste immersion
Our lack of domain knowledge in food waste meant that we first needed to understand the landscape of food waste thoroughly and quickly. We were divided into three research sub-teams and worked in parallel, with each group assigned to research a stakeholder in the food value chain: individual consumers, businesses and charities.
Defining ‘food waste’
Canada has no standard method for measuring the impact of food waste on the economy and the environment due to the lack of consensus regarding the definition of ‘food waste’. As such, the way we chose defined ‘food waste’ determined our approach to tackling the problem.
For our design sprint, we defined ‘food waste’ as any food produced for human consumption that does not get eaten as a result of mismanagement or human decision making. We focused on redistributing food and diverting food waste.
The goal of the project was to come up with a technology-based solution to reduce food waste in Toronto.
The consumer is the culprit
In the course of our research on the consumer segment, we unexpectedly discovered that consumers are the largest contributors to food waste by far. We also identified the root causes of food waste to be:
• Excess purchases;
• Infrequent purchases;
• Date codes;
• Attitudes towards food; and
The highest share of waste was due to fruits and vegetables (fresh and processed), followed by meat and seafood. The key factor found to influence the volume of food waste due to consumers was “high expectations” — demand for high-quality, aesthetically-pleasing food.
Identifying other players
The charities’ segment research team found that Second Harvest had been “picking up donated, surplus food, which would otherwise go to waste and deliver that food to community agencies in Toronto” since 1985. They also learned that small business donations were often not picked up as Second Harvest’s current food rescue program is unable to receive food donations of less than 100 kg.
Shortly after, we learned that Second Harvest happened to recently received funding from Walmart Foundation to work towards developing a platform to facilitate small-scale donations.
Connecting key players to reduce food waste
Our vision was to create an easy, localised and responsive solution, accessible through multiple platforms for redistributing surplus food with a focus on Second Harvest’s food rescue program.
Thinking big, starting small
Second Harvest’s initially proposed creating a web-based platform that would act as a matchmaker between food donors and agencies in Toronto. Instead, we chose to focus most of our design efforts on creating mobile apps based on our research finding that 68% of Canadians use smartphones and add more features as the project expands.
• The activities of drivers, donors and nonprofit agencies will be synced and accessible in real-time through the FeedBack app.
• Donors will be able to donate their surplus food conveniently through the app.
• Drivers will be able to use a location mapping system to see where food is available for pick up and where it needs to go. They will also be able to communicate with food donors and the agencies through the app.
• Nonprofit agencies will be able to keep track of their inventory as well as of the flow of incoming and outgoing food.
• Diners will be able to see what food is available to them in their feed and locate a nearby agency in order to pick up food.
Simplifying a complicated process
Taking cues from existing platforms, we adopted relevant elements and applied them to our design of the FeedBack app.
First, we simplified the donation form by implementing a workflow similar to Wealth Simple’s simplified investment process.
Next, we had to create a food inventory and donation management workflow for the community agencies for Second Harvest to oversee the flow of donations. We took the inspiration from Stripe’s dashboard to create a visual and simple dashboard.
We then had to create a system for matching driver and donations. We did so by applying a workflow similar to the one used by UberEATS.
Finally, we hoped to create an environment where receiving food donations can be empowering and enjoyable. To that end, we adopted the filters and the feel of Zomato’s.
RED Academy facilitated a meeting between our FeedBack team, MetaLab and Second Harvest to propel the FeedBack project. At the meeting, we found out that the stars were aligned. MetaLab, a Vancouver-based digital product agency that built the popular communication platform Slack, happened to be looking to work on a project with a cause and Second Harvest happened to have received funding from Walmart Foundation to develop a platform that would enhance their existing food rescue program. Our team also happened to be working on a design sprint exercise to tackle food waste.
When we pitched our proposed multi-platform solution to Second Harvest, not only our vision was consistent with their goals, but we also proposed solutions in ways they had not yet imagined.