IA Summit 2015 Main Conference Talk
Topic(s): case studies and cross/omni channel
Would a well-designed interface for a food database help people better understand what they are consuming?
We are living in times when 2% of the U.S. population is producing food for the other 98%. Technology has changed our way of producing food, but still has a very small role in informing us what exactly we are eating. Can design step in to help here? Can good design raise the awareness of what we are consuming? I think yes, and I will tell you how. Using apples.
- Is it possible to make informed choices about our consumption while considering one’s budget and improving the grocery shopping experience?
- Can a well-designed (user-friendly) product raise awareness about eating habits among people less inclined to educate themselves otherwise?
About the speaker(s)
Kamilla Kielbowska is a UX/Visual Designer at Veryday. She’s a Parsons MFA Design and Technology Alumna, who likes aesthetics, typography, dogs, mint tea and thai food.
Kamilla Kielbowska: I’m Kamilla, as I was already introduced. In this brief talk, is going to be my personal history. I’m from Poland, so you will all have to deal with my accent, but that’s OK. I moved here three years ago to go to grad school.
Poland, as the majority of central European countries, is big on apples. In fact, Poland is one of the largest apple producers in the world. That’s big, because we are not even half as big as you are or China is. Either way, a year after my big trip across the pond, I started getting allergic reaction to apples. Weird, right? I mean, trust me. It sounded super weird to me when I found it out. It still sounds really weird to a lot of people.
As a recent philosophy graduate prior to my arrival in the States, I wanted to know why. Interestingly enough, I found out that apples are one of the most contaminated fruits in the US. In fact, American apples have been banned by the European Union for being too toxic. I would like to thank my mother union for supporting my research.
I started researching more and more about apples and food processing in general. I found out that very, very interesting fact that for the very first time in human history, we live in the times when only 2 percent of the population is able to feed the other 98 percent.
This is the result of two factors. The population grew and the technology growth. However, while we have users and we have a sophisticated system of food production techniques, the way the consumers make their decisions has not evolved. The reality, one of the main contrasts between the present and the past is that we know very little about the food, about the products that we are buying and we are eating.
I decided I want to do something about it. As a UX designer to be, I wanted to change that. I wanted to change how much we know about the food and how much we know about things we are eating.
I decided to focus on apples at the beginning of my journey. Everyone was laughing at me that, “Oh, you are just basically comparing apples to apples,” but I didn’t give up. I designed an app which is called “App(les).” Yes, it’s pronounced “app less.” Very funny.
To design this app I used already developed information system in the food industry and adapted to the consumer needs as it relates to their purchases. Food production techniques nowadays means we are consuming way more pesticides than we used to. We should be more aware of that.
I firmly believe that if we create educational system using information architecture and UX design to make us, the consumers, more aware of what are we eating. How does it work? The food industry uses the naming system from mass production of fruits and vegetables called PLU codes. Those are the codes that you can find on those small stickers on the fruits or vegetables that you are buying.
This system was created to enhance the communication between the food producers and the grocery stores. One farmer produces one type of food product, uses the coding system, sends it to multiple different groceries under the same code, under the same name.
For example, PLU code 4017 means a conventionally grown apple. If there is a number nine before that, that means an organic apple. It’s an organic Granny Smith apple. Number eight means it was genetically modified produce. We have that element of the system.
Now on to the pesticides. This part is a bit trickier than PLUs, as data about pesticides being used in the food production exists, but it’s hard to digest. Different data sets on pesticide usage can be found from governmental to nongovernmental sources, such as the USDA, state governments, the UN, and private companies doing research in that area.
A lot of this data is available as API but still it’s not accessible enough for the consumers, because those are just chunks of XML files. What we need is an interface, a user focused design that can provide this data to the consumers in a convenient way. A mobile platform comes in handy in this case, because all have our mobile phones every day when we go to grocery shopping.
Let’s say we have this handy app that scans the bar code on the sticker on the apple, retrieving information about what type of pesticides this particular apple has been treated with. All modern Snow Whites can avoid their not so pleasant destiny. In the bigger picture, if we could do that for one product, we could do it for all. We can change that, and that could change a lot in the way we shop and ultimately in the way of how we produce the food.
In my office, we tend to have this joke when we are stressful about some presentations like I am right now. We just tell ourselves, “Relax. We are not saving lives over here,” but in fact, we might. Thank you.