Platform for environmental advocates
Food as the gateway to community engagement and ecological thinking
As the primary researcher, I was responsible for the entire design process from developing concepts, organizing participatory activities and user interviews, to creating prototypes and conducting usability testings.
Barbie Singla–Product Manager
UBC's Design Team
myPDx is a collaborative project between MY, the University of British Columbia (UBC), StonePaper, and Canada's Digital Technology Supercluster (CDTS). myPDx introduces a novel approach to addressing the challenge of protecting the privacy and security of individuals’ health information while enabling data sharing for research and business purposes.
Problem & Opportunity Space
Responsible for 60% of biodiversity loss (WWF 2018), our food system is in dire need of re-imagination and reconstruction. Besides its ecological impacts, food carries within itself the traditions of a family, a community, or a region. It sustains our livelihood, drives conversations, and evokes memories. Regardless of our social or political backgrounds, we are all connected to and through food in one way or another. It is thus a most promising medium to not only raise awareness about ecological matters but also encourage climate actions.
My design process started with what Steve Portigal calls "bland curiosity"—a simple quest to explore my fields of interest and learn from my participants without the commitment to any particular design outcome. Each participatory activity was an experiment of organizing and engaging a group of people in the conversation about food and sustainability using a variety of design methods. The exploratory approach allowed me to investigate multifold components of the research development:
1. What most pressing aspects of food and its ecological impacts should be addressed?
3. How do I create workshops conducive to organic conversation and robust idea generation?
2. Who is my target audience and how do I gain access to them?
4. What type of dynamic do I want to form between the participants?
5. How do I employ my design skills to deliver a relevant solution?
Based on the experiences acquired from the generating phase, I organized a sequential participatory activity spanning over 3 months in order to:
• understand my stakeholders, their pain points, and their skill set
• involve the audience in the ideation process
• map out the potential directions for the final design outcome
I created a website to introduce my research subject as well as recruit participants for the general survey and later on, for Fridge Talk–a participatory activity.
The survey aimed at gaining insights into the respondents’ general attitude towards food, ecological sustainability, and community engagement. For this phase, the quantity of responses played a rather important role in detecting patterns. It also provided me with some general information useful to guiding the conversations during the follow-up interviews.
Fridge Talk invited participants to take photos of the inside of their fridge and make a list of the refrigerated foods over the course of one week. Through this activity, the participants reflected on their relationship with food and ecological matters, addressed challenges in adopting a sustainable lifestyle, and brainstormed strategies to overcome those obstacles. The proposed ideas would later give inspiration to the creation of the knowledge-sharing platform.
Through the MVP, I wanted to test this following hypothesis:
"I believe that building a knowledge-and-initiative-sharing platform
for those interested in food and its ecological impacts
will result in a more ecological thinking community and motivate them to adopt more sustainable domestic food practices.
I will know this is true when I see the users understand the core values and functionalities of the platform and show the willingness to use it as the reliable source of knowledge and inspiration."
Based on the participatory activities and secondary research of other knowledge-sharing platforms, the personas represented the group of audience who were interested in food and its ecological impacts and looked for ways to integrate more sustainable food practices in their daily life. The target audience is divided into two sub-groups: readers and writers.
Because the user journey was built on assumptions, it differed in the description of the users’ emotions. Instead of showing how the users would feel, it outlined the desirable outcomes and the pain points that they might go through at each stage. This became the framework to develop the MVP.
For the knowledge-sharing platform, the prototype development process focused on the four main pages: home page, initiatives, resources, and products and services. It was, then, used to test the desirability of the proposed solution and observe how they navigated through the platform, searched for results, and created new content.
The reason for choosing participatory & empathic design approach came from my realization that despite my keen interest in improving the public’s ecological literacy, my knowledge alone fell short in producing sufficient educational materials of environmental issues. Instead of relying solely on my limited resources, I reached out to those sharing the same interests and concerns. Quickly, I found out that a long history of sustainable food practices had already existed and been waiting to be discovered and spread.
After a series of participatory activities, I took note that a common sentiment among the participants was their sense of helplessness in the face the broken food system. Their efforts and challenges in adopting more sustainable domestic food practices were deemed insignificant and went unrecognized in the larger food landscape.
Meanwhile, their proposed ideas in the brainstorming activity suggested the yearning for connection and their ability to think creatively, especially in a group setting. By building the connection among community members, I hoped to gather the scattered knowledge and energy and give people the opportunity to make concrete impact.
Customers & Business
The design created in this research project targets citizens with concerns about food and its ecological impacts. It could, however, be extended to entrepreneurs hoping to build their businesses around food and sustainability because their success depends largely on the growth of a loyal customer base. In order to offer competitive price point against food industry giants, these businesses may have to cut down their marketing expenses. This platform is the place where sustainable food businesses could promote their products and reach out to more focused audience without the investment in multiple media channels. Since the platform exists separately from other e-commerce channels, the credibility reviews will be approved or challenged by customers. In this way, the platform not only brings customers and businesses closer but also acts as an autonomous channel for customers to hold businesses for authenticity and transparency. Moreover, this relationship would help drive customer-initiated projects forward. Despite their ability to come up with innovative ideas, prospective customers may lack the technical capacity and financial resources to turn them into reality. Entrepreneurs could connect and collaborate with those eco-conscious customers to generate more human-centric solutions.
Multi-lingual & Multi-regional Resources
A feature that has not been fleshed out in the final design outcome is the ability to toggle between multilingual resources related to food and sustainability. This is the feature that knowledge-sharing platforms such as Wikipedia and Quora have adopted to invite more culturally diverse resources, although the content is still predominantly written in English. Should the language barriers be overcome with the help of translation tools and volunteers’ contributions, the cross-cultural information exchange enabled by multi-lingual options will become more inclusive and robust. For example, once, out of curiosity, I translated an English-written article about food and sustainability and uploaded it to a Vietnamese page dedicated to the matters for an open discussion. To my surprise, the post attracted significant participation from the page members whose opinions were shaped by their social and cultural backgrounds and differed from the mainstream English sources. The instance strengthens my belief in the necessity of integrating a multi-lingual aspect into the platform.