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Helping students with dietary restrictions make more informed meal decisions

Project overview
Project overview

Team: Brianna Pritchett, Ishaani, Hue Watson, Agrim Chandra

Honors: Finalist, Convergence Innovation Competition

Challenge: Our goal was to build a cheap, flexible, and subtle solution for people with dietary restrictions, to simplify their experience at a restaurant.

Project video 

My roles

I was the go-to researcher, ensuring that research was being conducted well, particularly during needs analysis and evaluation. More specifically, I:

  • Conducted and wrote up competitive analysis

  • Conducted 2 open-ended interviews during needs-analysis and 2 feedback sessions during ideation

  • Reviewed and edited questions for each questionnaire, interview, and survey

  • Coded open-ended responses to online survey and final evaluation

  • Wrote 2 of the 4 project milestones, both of which received 100% from the TA

  • Created screen sketches during ideation  

  • Created screen mockups in Sketch during prototyping

  • Contributed to all group discussions and activities throughout project

Wants & Needs
Wants & Needs

The question that we started with was: how can we improve the grocery shopping experience for people with dietary restrictions? We were inspired by friends, particularly those who were new to their dietary restriction or new to America, who were having difficulty reading labels in the grocery store and finding what worked for them.  However, our initial findings led us to something interesting: after an initial discovery period, people often fall into a routine at the grocery store. What we thought was the main problem was actually secondary to another problem our interviewees brought up.

Gluten-free items in a grocery store

For me the issue is not so much in the grocery store, but when I’m eating out/away from home. Vending machines? Fast food? Most restaurants? (On campus food?) I have to be really careful with all of those.

At this point we generalized our research to include restaurants, in the interest of finding the biggest need. For the rest of the needs-gathering process, we generalized the question to: how can we help people with dietary restrictions make more informed meal decisions? To find this, we performed a few different research methods.


Observed people in the gluten-free section of a grocery store

Paper questionnaires

Sent out 7 paper questionnaires with open-ended questions about shopping habits.

Contextual inquiries

Performed contextual inquiries with 4 students - 3 while grocery shopping, 1 while at a restaurant


Conducted 3 in-person semi-structured interviews on shopping habits

Competitive analysis

Analyzed existing shopping and restaurant apps for people with dietary restrictions

Online survey

Received 40 responses to Qualtrics survey on food choices

Icons made by Freepik from, licensed by CC 3.0 BY


With this data, we moved on to analysis, focusing on finding user wants and needs (not thinking of solutions quite yet). Here, we created an affinity diagram and conducted task analyses. From this, we formulated five usability criteria to keep in mind during design and evaluation. Finally, we decided to focus on the restaurant context.

Cost of system

Should be low-cost to not strain student resources

Simplicity of language

For those unfamiliar with food labels


To aid quick and unobtrusive information gathering


To match the simplicity of the task


For different dietary restrictions (vegetarian, GF, vegan)

Based on our findings, we came up with 3 personas and matching user journeys. We made sure the personas captured the variation we saw in our users, particularly in the areas of sociability, technical skills, familiarity with their restriction, and English mastery. The user journeys were based on the pain points identified during the research phase.


Equipped with this extensive knowledge of our users, we dove in to potential solutions. We first conducted a brainstorming session to characterize the space of possible ideas, pushing beyond the obvious solutions to get as creative as possible. Then we organized these ideas along axes of feasibility and creativity to narrow our options to 3, described below.

Our three favorite options after this process were a QR app, an AR app, and a kiosk. For each idea, we worked out the basic functionality as a group, then split up and independently sketched out mockups for the app (example sketch of mine shown to the right). Then we came together and picked the best elements of each sketch, converging on one "Frankenstein" mockup for each idea. We additionally created storyboards to show use cases for these ideas. These mockups and storyboards are shown below.

From here, we conducted 6 within-subjects feedback sessions with members of our user group to figure out the good, bad, and the ugly of each design.  Newly equipped with this information, we sat down as a group to decide on what features we would want the final product to have (again creating a "Frankenstein" version of our previous ideas, plus a couple features mentioned by users). The table to the left are the features we considered and whether we decided to keep them.

Users (and the team) didn't see the added benefit of this feature
Customer reviews
Users expected this feature due to the app's similarity to Yelp
Allowing people to filter by restriction serves the same basic purpose as a profile
Fine-grained restriction definition
People indicated that they liked defining their restriction exactly (e.g. lacto- vs. ovo-vegetarian)
Allow users to select nearby restaurants
Menu with categories
Users mentioned that they'd like to be able to skim the menu based on what they're in the mood for
Users felt neutral-to-negative with making one
Users and experts indicated lack of interest
Rating per dish
While the granularity would be nice, we didn't think it likely that people would take the time to rate each dish they ordered
Restaurant score
Our users loved the idea of one score that indicated how compatible a restaurant is with their restriction

As a group, we sketched out each screen, then split up to make wireframes for these screens using Sketch. We decided to have 5 basic screens (excluding dialogues): dietary restriction selection, profile (later removed), map of nearby restaurants, menu, and reviews. The sketch + wireframe for the menu is shown below.

After creating a very basic mockup, we had an expert walk through our prototype.  We had them simply give their impression of what they understood from each screen. This led us to make two main changes. We expanded the top menu category by default (left), because the expert indicated that they didn't understand the legend in the absence of a visible menu item. Additionally, we removed the subcategories in the dietary restriction selection screen (right), opting instead for one row per type of vegetarianism. This made it clearer for the expert and allowed for brief descriptions of each restriction.

Below is a gallery of all of the screens that we had mocked up for the app, as they were going into evaluation.