- 1. Context
- 1.1 Setting the scene
- 1.2 My involvement
- 1.3 The problem
- 1.4 Supporting data
- 2. Approach
- 2.1 Design process
- 2.2. Research
- Learning from people
- Learning from experts
- Immersing myself in context
- Seeking analogous experience
- 2.3 Synthesis
- 3. Design
- 3.1 Ideation
- 3.2 Storyboard
- 4. Outcome
- 4.1 Prototype
- 4.2 Testing
- 4.3 Pitch
- 4.4 Reflections
Skills: User Research, Ideation, Synthesis, Prototyping
Time: Sept-Oct 2022
1.1 Setting the scene
7 week design course by:
- Acumen Academy: the online learning platform from Acumen, a global nonprofit impact investment fund. The Academy seeks to “unleash a new generation of social innovators and leaders with the determination and grit to build a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.”
- IDEO: a non-profit design studio. They design products and services alongside organisations that are committed to creating a more just and inclusive world. They are experts in human-centred design, a creative approach to problem solving.
Course description: In this hands-on course, the pioneers of human-centred design (IDEO) will guide you through a four-step process for designing breakthrough ideas. This creative approach to problem-solving will challenge you to get out into the real world and test your ideas so you can arrive at exciting, unexpected solutions tailored to the needs of the people you serve.
1.2 My involvement
Total involvement in the entire human-centred design process: from discovery and research, to designing the solution and testing with users.
1.3 The problem
How Might We Provide Healthier Food Options for People in Need?
“In many neighbourhoods, there is little infrastructure for the distribution and preservation of food. Food is often spoiled or lost during distribution. In other places, healthy food options are simply unavailable or community members lack the knowledge to make healthy food choices. Another constraint is access to capital, both for small businesses providing healthy food as well as potential customers.
As part of this design challenge, you and your team will design solutions for providing healthier food options, which might include providing people with better food choices, the skills to cook healthier food, or the knowledge to make healthier food choices.”
1.4 Supporting data
2.1 Design process
Sometimes called “participatory design,” human-centred design focuses on people’s everyday thinking, emotions and behaviour. It is a creative approach to problem-solving that involves the end-user from the very beginning and places them at the centre of the digital design process.
The process has 3 main phases:
- Inspiration: In this phase, you learn how to better understand people. You’ll observe their lives, hear their hopes and desires, and get smart on your challenge.
- Ideation: Here you make sense of everything that you’ve heard, generate tons of ideas, identify opportunities for design, and test and refine your solutions.
- Implementation: Time to bring your solution to life. You’ll figure out how to get your idea to market and how to maximise its impact in the world.
Learning from people
I had a conversation with a homeless man in my town to learn about his experience - generally and also about his access to food. I asked him various questions about his life being homeless, how he got there, how he gets food, and how he accesses support.
To make sure he didn’t feel exploited, I bought him some cigarettes and drawing supplies (he clearly enjoyed drawing as he had done many illustrations on envelopes).
- People are generous with their food donations to him, so feeding himself is not difficult.
- He typically eats things like sandwiches, crisps, pastries - which are all bought by people from the supermarket he sleeps near.
- People will sometimes buy him hot food from local takeaways - like burgers or chips.
- He doesn’t care if the food is ‘healthy’ or not. Only if it fills his stomach.
- His main priority is making enough money to sleep in a hostel - warm, secure, has showers. This is generally around £35-40.
- He occasionally uses local charities, but he wasn’t aware of any charities in my town. He said he would, if he did.
- Naturally, he “feels down” about his situation, but I was surprised how kind and friendly he was to me.
- One reason he was in relatively good spirits was because - when compared to some other homeless people (who might be addicted to drugs) - he’s doing okay.
- His perfect meal is breadcrumb chicken, mashed potatoes, cucumber, tomato, soup.
Learning from experts
I had a conversation with the organiser of a local food bank - Kenneth. I wanted to learn about what his role is, how the food bank runs, and how the food bank helps to support people in the local area.
After showing me the food bank facility itself (my primary immersive research source), we sat down with a coffee and he explained everything.
- Huge part is the relational aspect
- To get support, people are required to tell them about their life. Are they in debt? Do they need other types of help? This allows signposting and referrals.
- They will support people as long as they need, but don’t want to create dependency. Will check up every 6-8 weeks to ensure people are working to improve situation (e.g. applying to jobs).
- Holistic support - not just food, but child care, emotional wellbeing
- Frustrated by data protection - slows them down, impacts ability to support
- Cautious of growth of growths sake - demand is currently met
- Aware that some people ‘game’ the system i.e. request more food than they need, or ask too regularly. But is fine to accept this. “Better to be occasionally cheated than be perpetually suspicious”.
Immersing myself in context
To get inspiration, I visited a local food bank in my town. A food bank is a community organisation that can help if you can't afford the food you need.
It is the combined effort of 2 organisations - a large, international church and charity called the Salvation Army and a small, local church called the Bethany Community Church. One had a good digital system, the other had the facility - so they combined forces.
It started during Covid-19 - ensuring people who couldn’t buy food (e.g. shielding) could still get food. Considered a success, it is now permanent.
- Very well stocked and run.
- Items were categorised and stored in crates. Every item had the due date written in sharpie on it. There was an ‘expired’ and ‘soon to be expired’ crate too.
- The organisers were very proud of the facility. It was modern, clean, insulated. The floor tiles were the official colours of the Salvation Army.
- Every food and product type was covered - pasta, cereal, bread, canned fruit and veg, canned fish, toiletries, hygiene products, cleaning supplies.
- There are ‘drop off’ points throughout the town for people to donate food. E.g. in churches or supermarkets (easy for people to purchase and donate)
- People can choose what food they get, but depends on how they receive it. If they collect in person, they can choose items via a form. But if they get it delivered to their home (via volunteer drivers), they don’t get a choice. Instead, they can a predetermined selection of items.
- No one type of ‘client’: single, couples, families, single parents. Usually they receive benefits. Sometimes they’re in a vulnerable situation e.g. Ukrainian refugee, getting out of homelessness, victims of domestic abuse.
- The organisation is religious, but there is no requirement for people to be religious to get support.
- Stats: supported 86 households/ 225 individuals in 2021-22. That included 245 hygiene bags, 1083 food deliveries, 116 collections. Total value of the items provided was £65,000 (approx). Currently supporting 46 households.
For more immersive inspiration, I visited a local supermarket. Sainsbury’s is generally considered a middle-of-the-range supermarket in the UK. But in my area, it’s the the cheapest - so is the place where people on a budget might shop.
As I walked around the store, observing what I saw, I took photos with my phone.
- A lot of signs offering discounts. In big red and white displays.
- Red is the colour used to show a drop or discount in price.
- Many signs with ‘Aldi price match’ - indicating items that are the same price as items from Aldi - a well known budget supermarket.
- The ‘Aldi price match’ was for ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ food.
- Lots of discount/ savings displays on the end of isles. Presumably to encourage on the spot purchase decisions.
Seeking analogous experience
I sought analogous inspiration by looking at school uniforms. Specifically, at how parents and families in poverty - or who are struggling financially - afford uniform for their children.
Like being able to afford healthy food, a key feeling relating to the ability to buy school uniform is dignity. People want - and deserve - basic dignity. If a child doesn’t have new uniform, they might feel shame, exclusion and indignity. Same for the parent.
I learnt about this by reading a report by the Child Poverty Action Group on affordable school uniforms.
- The UK Government introduced rules in Nov 2021 which require schools to make uniform affordable.
- The rules also say schools should also 1) Engage with parents, carers, and pupils when developing their uniform policy. 2) Keep the number of branded items to a minimum. 3) Make sure second-hand uniform is easily available. 4) Make the uniform policy clear and easy to access for parents and carers. 5) Make sure uniform suppliers are good value for money and avoid relying on single suppliers.
- In 2020, 1 in 8 families were having to cut back on essentials like food to afford uniforms for their children. 1 in 10 families were borrowing from friends or getting into debt to cover the costs.
- Not having the right uniform can lead to bullying, isolation and not feeling part of the community.
- “Uniform is quite expensive for families that don’t have that much money.” - yr 6 pupil
- The report says - when a school is updating a uniform policy - they should involve children and families in the decision-making. E.g. activities: group or individual sessions on the uniform, proactively seeking views of pupils in diverse groups, provide anonymous feedback opportunities, recruit engaged parents and carers for a task force.
- ‘Your uniform should support inclusion in all aspects of school life. Missing uniform should not lead to missing learning.’
- ‘Consulting with the whole school community on the most important aspects of your school uniform policy can help you make sure your uniform works for children and their parents and carers.’
- There’s stigma around ‘pre-loved’ clothes. You can combat this through: 1) Language: pre-loved vs. second-hand. 2) Promotion: eco-friendly vs. financial status. 3) Access: universal vs. free school meals or pupil premium eligibility. 4) Environment: shop vs. spare uniform box. 5) Feeling: whole school ethos vs. necessity.
I transformed my research into meaningful and actionable insights by:
- organising research into interesting details and stories
- finding “gems”
- clustering into themes
- creating insight statements
- creating actionable How Might We statements - which formed the launchpad for my brainstorm
I broke my concept into bite-sized pieces that can be easily made and tested. I did this is by creating a storyboard - a visualisation of the end-to-end experience a user might have with your idea over time. For each moment in the experience I identified, I posed one question that I needed to answer in order to understand if my idea resonates with people. I then prioritised these questions to decide which made sense to answer first. This process allowed me to select an idea to prototype and identify the most important elements to test first.
To test my prototype and get feedback, I sent it to the organisers of the local food bank - to get their expert opinion and to hear if they think it would be valuable to people who use the food bank.
In the UK, the demand for food banks is at its highest ever. But for some people in need, the social stigma around using food banks (feelings of exclusion, judgement, embarrassment or shame) prevents them from ever asking for help.
The Harpenden Grub Hub, a new community-led resource, is changing all that. It is an online recipe bank of cheap and healthy recipes sent in by people from within the community, designed for people cooking on a budget.
While it has a big focus on recipes made using staples that may be distributed through the food bank, it is not specifically for people using a food bank. Rather, they are cheap, healthy recipes that everyone can enjoy.
This initiative creates a sense of inclusion and dignity, and reduces the stigma someone might feel if they need to use a food bank - by providing a warm, supportive, informal community based around budget cooking.