Food and farming are intricately linked with our health and well being. However, practices in food and farming are negatively impacting on the long-term sustainability of our environment. As a submission for the RSA Awards, my team and I created Sprout, an urban farm produce delivery app, to make sustainable food more accessible and also promote healthier, more environmental practices.View Prototype
Role: product design, UX research, UX/UI design, usability testing
Timeline: September - December 2018
The RSA Awards Harvesting Health brief is to design a product, system or service which uses sustainable food and farming to help improve people's health or wellbeing. Before we dove into the challenge, we broke it down to understand what exactly sustainability and sustainable food/farming is. We got more educated on the subject through searching online and found some pertinent information, such as:
- World population is growing by 80 million a year and food demand is skyrocketing. Conventional farming methods are not sustainable for that growth. To solve the global food crisis, farms need to be growing up, not out. This concept is known as vertical farming (source).
- It is estimated that the current food system produces more than 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In Canada, particularly in winter, most fruits and vegetables are transported at least 2,500 km from their point of origin to your table. That transportation emits massive amounts of greenhouse gas (source).
- 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable food (source).
After some thorough Googling, we decided to go out into farms and grocery stores to get some real, first-hand insights on what people's thoughts were on sustainable food. Since our campus is situated in Stratford, a town surrounded by farms, we had easy access to a lot of good research opportunities.
We visited the Shantz Family Farm, a pumpkin farm in Wilmot, Ontario, to see if we could talk to some of the farmers about how they distribute their harvests and whether they had any sustainable farming practices. We found out that most farms in the region sell their crops locally to the community, or supply Ontario based businesses, so their carbon footprint was relatively low. Additionally, when we asked farmers if had they had any sustainable practices, they responded that "all farms are sustainable to some extent", so we realized that we had to clarify on what exactly "being sustainable" meant, and if it varied for different people.
In addition to visiting farms, we were able to conduct an user interview with Gordon Cooledge, the Executive Chef of University of Waterloo Food Services. We were able to get great qualitative information on UWFS's sustainability initiatives and talk about some of the challenges that are involved when trying to become more sustainable. We learned that the UWFS has a goal that by 2025, 40% of all food need to be sustainably sourced. They use the STARS criteria to determine what is considered sustainably sourced.
We also distributed a survey to consumers to find out their viewpoints on sustainable food. This targeted towards consumers of the health-conscious and healthy eating demographic, such as Whole Foods shoppers. 70% of respondents said that they cared about how the food they're buying was produced. Additionally, 100% of respondents said they would pay more for sustainably sourced food, with the most willing to pay 25-50% more.
Vertical and urban Farming
We decided to dig deeper into what exactly vertical farming is and whether there were any vertical farms in our vicinity.
Vertical farming is growing crops in layers, stacked on top of another, usually indoors in a tall building. It is able to increase food yield without having to increase land usage. Vertical farming is considered a type of urban farming, as they are usually situated in city centres. This greatly reduces the costs and environmental impacts of food transportation. However, only some types of crops can be grown as of now in vertical farms, due to the energy capabilities. The crops that are likely to be grown are high-value nutritious crops – like tomatoes, lettuces, green crops.
There are currently 9 urban farms in the Toronto area, including 2 vertical farms, Living Earth and Modular Farms. They currently distribute their harvests to online organic produce stores, such as Mama Earth, who then sell to consumers through baskets or individual item delivery.
Knowing all the information that we've gathered through research, we synthesized our goal for the project and defined what direction we wanted to pursue. Since our online research determined that more development in vertical farming is needed in order to sustain future food supply, we decided to look more into vertical farming. Also, from what Gordon mentioned, there needs to be more public demand for local food. Lastly, our survey results showed that people are willing to pay more for sustainably sourced food and cared about how it was produced. From these insights, we created the following How Might We statements.
HOW MIGHT WE STATEMENTS
- How might we make sustainably sourced food more accessible?
- How might we educate more people on the benefits of sustainable farming practices, such as vertical farming?
- How might we drive more demand for locally produced food?
We created a persona based on the health and environmentally conscious people we talked to through Whole Foods or people we knew in our network.
Once we've defined our goals for the project and also clarified our user's needs, we began to brainstorm for ideas through whiteboarding and dot voting our top ideas. We decided on a product that would allow consumers to directly order produce delivery from vertical and urban farms within their local communities. This idea then became what is now Sprout.
Once we established the concept we wanted to pursue, we laid out its user journey to clearly evaluate its touchpoints for the user. Below we described the scenario for our persona Rachel, where she just discovered Sprout and wants to order some fresh greens.
We used Figma to collaboratively work on the prototype together. Since I was the design lead, I established the visual design and created base components which then allowed everyone to help me build a lot of the screens.
We conducted guerrilla testing on 5 students passing by in our Student Learning Centre, where we asked them complete 3 tasks. We learned that users mostly preferred search to find the items they were looking for, despite the item being on the front screen. Our participants also mentioned that it would be nice to see the actual vertical farm since that's the selling point of our app. None of the 5 have heard of vertical farming before and we realized that it was necessary to create an introductory and onboarding design.