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Frugal Recipes for Thrifty Families

The Challenge

Suggesting low-cost healthy recipes
that every working family can afford

Affordable nutrition is a common desire of many low-income working families. In reality, food prices pose an intimidating barrier for families with tight food budget and force them to cheaper nutrient-poor options. Recommending affordable healthy diets that respect eating habit of Americans helps promote the health condition of the low income population.


Feasibility Research

Great user experience cannot live without sufficient considerations of real-world constraints and resource limitations. Both play essential roles in converting the proposed solution into customer value. Thus, I conducted some feasibility research prior to going deeper into any concrete idea to ensure the solution is technically feasible and commercially viable.

Nutrition tracking and recipe details have already featured in many existing apps or services. My work is no more than making the user flow and the content more accessible, readable and understandable. However, recommending healthy and afforadable recipes remains a challenge. Grocery delivery services like Instacart, however, offers a viable business model. By partnering with local grocery stores, the service can get latest grocery prices and ongoing discounts. Users can shop on their own to get rid of the delivery expenses and make the meals more affordable.


User interview

I attended a nutrition workshop held by an United Way, an Atlanta-based non profit organization and gathered user stories to help create personas and prioritze our product features. Each participant fills out a survey to specify how they prepare meals and track nutrition intake.



I grouped the 25 users based on their user stories and all the demographic data we collected and created 3 personas that represent 3 typical sets of our target users to help us understand their problem space, main concerns, behavioral patterns, and needs.



Red routes

I mapped out red routes to gain a better understanding of the user demand. This also helps me prioritize product features and key obstacles of solving the problem. Most of the core tasks come from the initial survey and interviews. Additional tasks are suggested by the target users during an early feedback session.


User flow

Most of our target users using Android phones, but there is still a considerable number of iPhone users. Thus, Hybrid HTML Framework like Ionic becomes an optimal choice that minimizes the development work while covering the entire audience. I created general wireframes that could serve as the basis for designing UIs for both platforms.



Early user feedback & Iterations

During an early user feedback session, users made suggestions such as social feature, details on how nutrients will affect health and potential copy improvements.

I initially placed information concerning ingredients, direction, and nutrition in the same interface to minimize the number of clicks. However, users had to scroll down the screen to find the information they needed, which reduces the efficiency of cooking. Thus, the recipe page is also broken down into 3 separate parts for improved efficiency and clarity.


UI designs & Redline specs

The wireframes are styled for iOS and then adapted to Android under Material Design Guideline. I decided to go with a simple and proven side drawer navigation since my app has quite a few features, and it also reserves the room for introducing new features that satisfy users general demand for the feedback and testing sessions.


The use of side drawer navigation could bring down user's engagment with the features not in sight. However, since users are expected to spend most of their time browsing the recipes according to the red routes, the rest of the features become secondary and the dropped engagement with them is not more a significant issue. Below are some of the main interfaces for Android devices:



Final Deliverable

Account Setup

Users enter their zipcode and meal budget to receive personalized discounts at nearby grocery stores and ensure meal cost falls within budget.

Recipe Browsing & Filtering

Users will see recommended recipes with their cost per serving and major nutrients highlighted. Users can also customize the recommended recipes by specifying their favorite ingredients, allergies, and culinary styles.


Overview of prepping time, ingredients list and nutrition info under different tabs.



Usuability Testing

The usability is tested by asking users to perform a series of key tasks and gathering their feedback through the survey. I also observe the number of attempts and clicks as well as the time they spent on each task. Four stack-ordered core criteria that captured how I wanted to shape the eventual product guided the entire evaluation process:

Usefulness is the most significant measure of the user's willingness to use a product and indicates whether it helps users solve achieve their real goals. Our feedback data reveals that 80% of the participants enjoy using the application and suggest that they will likely use this mobile application to find recipes in the future.

Efficiency is a word we hear repeatedly during testing sessions. Users expect the product to be as simple and intuitive as possible while fulfilling its functions. Although the overall efficiency is satisfying, some users find it hard to recognize certain icons that make the task hard to accomplish.

Effectiveness identifies whether the product behaves in the way that participants expect it to and the ease with which participants can use it to do what they intend. According to the feedback, the product is very effective in achieving the key tasks.

Learnability determines the efforts users have to make so as to use the product. Most users rate the product as quite easy to learn.

Some of the user testing results:



iPhone Interactive Prototype