July 3, 2020

ZECIPE

The average American consumer discards 219 pounds of food waste every year. During my pastry chef years, I took interest in the idea of a recipe system that could help minimize food waste.

In this case study, I introduce the development of Zecipe: A zero waste recipe project, based on publicly available research data about food waste and cooking habits.

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The Challenge

When I first joined the kitchen, I was taught to hand-write all the recipes I learned, or to learn them by heart.


photo of a hand-written recipe pile
"The pile"


While it did help me recognize some repetitive patterns in recipes a bit — and it does make a sentimentally beautiful collection — no one can argue that this is a sustainable method. I tried organizing them Alphabetically, categorically, often-to-rarely-made-mically, but nothing seemed to successfully organize this pile of knowledge. There began my obsession with a recipe organization system.

‍I was looking into simple notecard applications at first, but I couldn’t find a suitable option for a cooking process. I eventually decided to design my own solution by starting from the one question I always ask myself when I’m cooking:

"What's in my fridge?"

The Problem

Unless I’m in the mood for a slice from Joe’s Pizza, I always start cooking by opening up my fridge. Call it a kitchen habit, or a stern grandma’s lesson - but I always try to use up what I have. Here’s why:


a data chart from USDA
“In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This estimate, based on estimates from USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. This amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on society”


If I were to commit to this project, I wanted to make sure that I had a goal that could suggest a solution. In other words, I didn’t want to design a product for the sake of designing one. I knew that eliminating the food waste problem would be far beyond my power, but establishing and promoting healthy cooking habits that minimized waste would be tremendously meaningful.

The Research

In order to be ‘scrappy’ or to gain the most information from limited resources, I published a custom survey on Typeform while collecting cooking-related statistics from various sources that were publicly available. Here are some key results I scraped:

  1. Reportlinker statistics: 20% answered that they find inspirations from the ingredients they have at home, while 17% find inspiration from cooking blogs or recipe sites.
  2. HunterPR survey: Since the pandemic, 54% of consumers are cooking more and 46% are baking more. 60% answered that they look for ways to use the ingredients in their fridge/pantry.
  3. Typeform survey: 70% answered they save leftover ingredients, while 47% said they are often hesitant to try a new recipe.



I also organized user interviews amongst the people who answered "I want to cook more often" in the age of early 20 to mid 50 to create problem statements. Here are some interesting takeaways I found:

a data chart from USDA
  1. Using what we already have in the fridge is a common cooking approach
  2. We are trying to save already, but we can do better.
  3. We don’t want to go out and buy new ingredients to accommodate the leftover ingredients
  4. We use up to 3-4 tools on top of the recipe platform such as calculator, measurement converter, and timer.

Design Directions

Based on these findings, I set my design directions for Zecipe.

It should be sustainable
• I want to know what I can make with what I have first and foremost

It should be comprehensive
• I want a singular tool experience without a complicated process

It should be prospective
• I want a product that can be branched out with further implementation and usage.

Wireframes

I wireframed 3 screens based on different priorities and took them to usability testing.

  1. (A) The search-focused approach on the screen A got good feedback. It felt clear to figure out what to do. However, the list-view for the recipe was not ideal as the participants wanted to see the photo of the food before they decide to make it.

  2. (B) The recipe card focused would be able to contain a lot of information without going into separate pages. However, the majority of the participants wanted to see more options without having to scroll for too long. 
  3. (C) This screen got the most positive feedback out of three. Participants mentioned that the layout felt familiar and approachable. Since the users will be entering multiple ingredients, having more filtering options could be overwhelming, so pre-categorized curation eliminates this problem.

Data Modeling

I reached out to my dear friend Dakota to help me out with engineering. We created a rough data model based on the wireframe C. Based on this draft, it was clear which information would be required for each recipe:

  1. Recipe Name
  2. List of ingredients. Each ingredient must have (a).the amount used in the recipe and (b).the units for the amount
  3. The number of servings made by the recipe
  4. A description of what a 'serving' is for that recipe
  5. Instructions for the recipe
  6. Cooking time for the recipe
  7. A category or list of categories for recipe
  8. URL for any media associated with the recipe


Importing Content (CMS)

A successful search-based platform needs content — lots and lots of content — preferably with multiple writers or import systems that can supply the content automatically. However, if we create a template with standardized measurement units, we can open the door for the interactive yield amount feature. Plus, with reusable templates, we won’t have to worry about writing custom pages every time new content is published. 

To start with standardized measurement units across the platform, I decided to use the recipe pile that I've collected over the past few years. As any manual content process goes, this was the most hands-on part of the project and it took hours. We implemented the functionality for redeploying the app so that whenever new content is published, it triggers a new build, and we can see the changes reflected on the site immediately.

High Fidelity

I created a High-fidelity mockup of the MVP for the priority screens: Search functionality, categorized curation that’s connected to the search results, and the actual recipe page. Since these are the core functionalities of the product, I identified everything else as a V2 arrangement.

I created prototypes to communicate interactions and to evaluate design decisions. We were able to get more feedback on the navigational expectation and UI components which will be updated shortly after the build.



Going Live

If we had more resources and time for this project, we might have considered developing Zecipe as a mobile application. However, it would be wasteful to release this product as a mobile application from the get-go. We want more data, flexibility, and compatibility. After a short discussion, we were convinced to create Zecipe as a web application, since it was the most cost-effective and manageable option available to us.

Next Steps

As much as I would love to say “j'ai terminé!” and throw my dishes away, there are iterations, new features, and further applications that I want to explore for Zecipe. 

Iterations: 

  • Increasing the real estate of the search section on the landing state to add prominence while adding a scroll function to decrease the section size past a certain pixel. 
  • Cleaning up UI elements with stronger branding components. 

New Features:

  • Register/Bookmark/Upload: We should encourage users to bookmark as many recipes as they could per every session since bookmarked recipes are the key motive to return to the site. For a stronger content database, we should also open up compose functionality as long as we can shoehorn the measurement unit to our standard.  
  • Adjustable recipe amount: When recipes are in “gram” and “teaspoon/tablespoon”, you can eventually enable adjustable recipe yield. However, the issue we need to tackle is time - once you increase the amount of ingredients it can also increase the cooking time for a vague duration of time. The phrase “cook for (n) minutes or until golden brown” could be an escape hatch, but we should look into this feature next. 

Further Applications 

In the world of smart objects, Zecipe is a comprehensible product for smart home electronics. I would be thrilled to keep track of what I have in my fridge, on my fridge. The idea is to not stop at:

‘What’s in my fridge?’

...but to provide solutions to follow-up questions such as: 

"Ok, What can I make with these?"
"What’s about to go bad?"
"What’s something I haven’t made in a while?"


Special thanks to Dakota, Fullstack Engineer

Surveys and statistics from USDA, Typeface, ReportLinker, and HunterPR


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