Smartfridge

Mobile application that helps young adults track expiration dates of food items to help decrease the amounts of food wasted.

Project Timeline

3 Months

October 2019 – December 2019

Western Washington University

Teammates

Amelia Espiritu-Santo

Melody Grappo

Ashlyn Hartnett

My Roles

User Researcher

User Interface Designer

Front-End Developer

Tools Used

React Native

SQLite

Node.js

Prot.io

Skills Used

Project Ideation

Stakeholder & Competitor Research

Prototyping

Front-End Development

Mobile Application Development

Background Information

Food waste is a prominent at-large issue for our society. In a research study conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, there was 40.7 million tons of food waste produced just during that year in the United States, which 30.6 of that million ending up in landfills. This food waste in landfills then generates methane, a major greenhouse gas, which ends up trapping heat within the atmosphere. All this food wasted also puts an economic strain on nations due to the amount of labor and resources that goes into cultivating, producing, and transporting food items.
 
As there is no standardized method of listing expiration dates on food items, people tend to be unsure of when food goes bad. With some food items including the sell-by date on packaging or not having an indication at all, confusion increases which causes people to judge and trash food items too quickly.   The goal of the Smartfridge application is to combat food waste by keeping track of items in one’s fridge or pantry.

Challenge

How do you educate individuals about good food consumption habits while reducing the total amount of food that ends up in landfills? 

Research

Constrained by a short amount of time to conduct research, our team decided to direct our target audience towards college students and young adults who live in a self-supporting environment. With the project also geared towards developing software, our team chose to combat food waste with a mobile application.

Interviewing Potential Users

Interviewing students between their classes on campus, my teammates and I asked questions regarding student’s living situations, shopping habits, budget, fridge content, and cooking habits. With many different factors possibly contributing to food waste, our team wanted to figure out what students prioritized when it came to food-related decisions.

Competitor Analysis

Furthering our understanding, our team downloaded and tested several mobile apps that we felt to be relevant to fighting food waste. With most of the functionality of these apps focused on cooking and shopping, there were not many opportunities present in those applications to combat food waste in particular.

Research Analysis

College students want to become more conscious about their environmental impact.
 
This finding is more on the subjective side as all of our interviewees were studying at Western Washington University. The campus has a strong presence of composting and zero-waste, which showed as many interviewees were familiar with “being green” and taken individual steps to mitigate their food-waste.
It is not easy remembering what food is in the fridge, let alone if something is expired.
 
Most students could list around 10 items in their fridges. Expiration dates, however, were much more trivial to remember.

Design & Development

Ideation and Prototyping

Identifying the opportunities available from our research, we designed and focused our ideas around a fridge map, a fridge list, and a recipe recommender. From there we paper prototyped the three ideas to envision how users would interact with these ideas in a mobile application environment.

Critique and Prototype Revision

A critical piece of feedback that our team received on the paper prototype was that all the ideas, even though had good intensions, seemed to overwhelm when placed under one app to accomplish tasks. With that in mind we refined our prototype so it would feature just the fridge list idea.
 
Through the revised prototype we also added color signifiers of red, yellow, and green along with a progress bar to visually display the health status of both the food items and fridge itself.

User Flow

The main goal for the user flow based on our feedback was that it should be as a simple as possible. From that we made sure that the options users could go would not be  overwhelming. 

Mobile Development

Developing the application, we used a React Native front-end framework for its cross-platform compatibility with iOS and Android systems. With this framework we then decided to attempt connecting it with a SQLite database so the application data could be stored locally within the device.
 
As a group we wanted to make sure that the ideas from our design phase reflected in our code appropriately, but having a short development time on top of a sharp learning curve to figure out React Native and the mobile application development process made the alignment of the two challenging. Due to those limitations we were only able to establish a static React Native application with the bare minimum of features working.

Reflection - So What Did I Learn?

Design is essential to understanding how to develop needed technology.
 
Although the project itself was very rushed in nature with its condensed timeline, I felt that I learned a lot about research and design essentials to create productive technology. Being heavily involved in the research, ideation, and prototyping provided a more personable connection with food waste, which gave me an easier understanding how technology could assist. Getting introduced to the design process for technology showed me the opportunities available when thinking creatively and resourcefully to solve real world issues.