In the final stage of our research for Operation CHOWDOWN, an effort to create a hypothetical ecosystem of design artifacts to help college students make healthier food choices, we stole a few more of IDEO’s research methods.
First, we played a card-sorting game with the same participants whom we interviewed initially. We brainstormed over fifty food items to put on* cards as well as a few sets of categories for those items to be sorted into. As we noted before, our initial participants represented an odd mix of extreme users, so we aimed to list items that could fall into multiple categories, depending on the eating habits of the player. For instance, EGGS were controversial:
• For our unhealthiest eater, who wasn’t terribly knowledgable about nutrition and cooking, eggs fell squarely into the HEALTHY category, but they were an INCONVENIENT food because they required preparation.
• Our healthiest eater, who has severe food allergies that limit her options, found eggs to be HEALTHY and CONVENIENT because she is accustomed to preparing more complicated foods for herself.
• Our semi-vegan eater viewed eggs as UNHEALTHY because eggs are an animal product as well as INCONVENIENT because she relies heavily on fast snacks and eating out.
That's three drastically different interpretations of the same food.
We also had participants complete food diaries and take photos of the foods and kitchen tools they used most and least frequently. These methods aren’t like traditional forms of research in that they yielded little hard data — instead, they helped informed us about the informal, abstract paths of thinking that our participants apply to food. They’re messy, hard to quantify and highly individualized — but that fills the massive gaps that data-driven research tends to leave in its wake.
*in Sherill’s and Brianna’s case, they were printed, but I had to haphazardly scrawl mine on torn pieces of paper because I’m a dumbass.