Your first case study will always be challenging. I was advised against working on a live project due to extra stress while learning — it was a good suggestion. But, I was ambitious and decided to proceed anyway and it was definitely stressful but I learnt a lot in the process
The Coronavirus situation didn’t make it easier — already a mentally draining time, with everyone being busier and trying to integrate with a new team online. Now, I realise that I could have asked for more yet as I’m learning I was also trying to find my way.
Real life constraints make a project exciting however I was doing a case study on a design which itself was ever evolving making it more exhausting to work on.
As I soon begin my next case study, instead of trying to catch up with their new design and propose new re-designs I have decided to show what I did in relation to how it looked at the time. So with that, we begin..
When I started this case study it was part of my UX course with Circular in the middle of May. I reached out to PlantJammer — a product I love but struggled to find the motivation to use frequently.
PlantJammer is a plant-based AI recipe creation app, the solution gives users the option to create dynamic recipes based on the ingredients they have and want to use. Extra functionalities include the option of creating a meal plan, shopping list and seeing the nutritional value of the dishes created.
So I asked them to provide me with some current challenges they faced to understand their business goals:-
- Increasing the number of users who share their recipes
- Helping users to reach the “Lightbulb moment” after creating their third recipe
My role for the project was an external UX/UI designer undertaking a case study — I would co-ordinate with members of the team at PlantJammer however I wasn’t directly involved. This I later found out to disadvantage me however they provided assistance in the form of setting me up with interviews with current users of the PlantJammer app. I would undertake this research independently and discuss objectives with members of the team before designing and proposing solutions.
I had more difficulty in this phase than I expected but I can understand why. I haven’t done this process before for a project like this and within a short timeframe it can be hard to decide or know at what point you take your existing research and begin to drill down.
My research process involved:
- A general questionnaire on cooking, barriers and cooking with apps
- Reading the app store reviews for PlantJammer app
- Looking at competitors and similar apps
- UX interviews with users and PlantJammer team members
- Building personas
- Creating a research summary to target recurring issues
I wanted a general understanding of some key areas so I made the following questionnaire. This allowed me to shape the way I understood how people will generally approach such an app and know what works for people and what doesn’t.
- Exploring new options is a key objective
- Special ingredients without a substitute is a big barrier
- Equipment and time are also important
- People are generally open to discovering new techniques and ingredient handling knowledge
App Store Reviews
To shape the future User Experience interviews, I checked the app store reviews to see which comments were placed by users. First checking recent reviews before searching by rating to achieve a better understanding of what provided users with positive or negative experiences.
I put these into a comment cloud. Which helps to understand the width of issues but in future I want to provide more details to each comment — which comments came from reviews of which star rating so that there can be an easier recognition of which are minor issues or larger problems.
- The User Experience is not completely intuitive
- Multiple varied usability problems
- Barriers from (Point A) entry to (Point B) the desired recipe
- Limitations in user finding their desired functionality
Competitors / Similar Apps
When asking PlantJammer who their competitors were — the answer was ‘Takeaways’ which I was quite surprised by.
So I searched for some products similar to PlantJammer to see what features and functionality they were offering. As these were not viewed as direct competitors by PlantJammer but has similar goals I considered these important. It was likely they could have a working solution for existing problems of PlantJammer.
- Like function is a worthwhile idea (Meallime)
- Cooking mode — handsfree instructions whilst cooking (Meallime)
- Eating preferences — choosing which individuals foods inside your diet you don’t like (Meallime)
- Unit changer — Present in PlantJammer but with refinement possibilities (Meallime)
- Detailed onboarding — including desired cuisines and experience level (Yummly)
- Hellofresh and Supercook were indistinctive and clunky to use, little exciting applicable features
User Interviews (1–1)
My user interviews progressively became more structured as I developed my questioning technique leading to very insightful discussions over Google Meet. It also allowed me to record audio for exact quotes and view body language or mannerisms related to the comments made.
I broke down the responses from my user interviews into different areas to assemble a larger understandings of the key areas faced. This allowed me to focus my understanding on where I could bridge insights and business goals to develop solutions.
- General Insights — The app is often found by organic means and encourages users to find recipes for ingredients they have while building confidence at the same time.
- Usability — It must provide a key function, either by being faster or making a recipe in an easier way. Most find it easy to use however those less confident would appreciate more help for example in the Taste Score section.
- Functionality — Users didn’t notice the other features for meal planning or diets and therefore did not engage with them. It was also uncommon that a user recognised and frequently used the ‘Share’ function, which being a target for the company needed to be addressed.
- Design — The design of app is positively received and users are comfortable with it. It was mentioned that minor UI updates and bug fixes could give more confidence, credibility and trust to the product and company.
- Positives — The PlantJammer app allowed users to experiment and create new dishes whilst teaching them about cooking. It is efficient and emboldens the user when they encounter uncommon items in the supermarket.
- Frustrations — There are minor bugs and quantity issues. The app loses a lot of value when the process is less efficient than other alternatives.
Recurring insight from the research suggested areas of interest:
- Usability Issues: The User Experience of the app has some usability issues that can be easily fixed.
- Minor UI changes: Users are interested and engaged by the UI, there should be only minor changes where possible to heighten trust in the brand.
- More customisable: Users desired a more customisable process at points.
- Secondary featured hidden: The core functionality is enjoyed by many users but the secondary features are unnoticed.
- Cooking experience matters: The PlantJammer app has some unexpected positives and helps users to enjoy the cooking process and learn new things.
- Different experience based on cooking experience: More experienced cooks think that those with less experience might need more information at key points to help them learn. This should be explored further.
Initially I jumped the gun and started designing while creating some initial research so I have included some documentation of those initial ideas and then after creating the research summary I decided to adapt the changes I was making and start the design process once again. Some elements remained as a result.
Mainly I wanted to focus on the User Experience as the interface received positive reviews in the many app store reviews. So subtle UI changes would be incorporated if they had a benefit to the User Experience of the solution.
The aim was to directly target the proponents of my research summary based on the business goals of the company. The usability issues were larger designed to increase aspects of the app’s accessibility providing it with greater contrast and consistency. Other aspects intended to give users a better understanding of the app’s functionality and inspire them to create and share their recipes.
Ironically, one of the first ideas I was working on was implemented shortly after I made the initial designs but before I released the case study. Which was to have a feed of recipes that users wanted to share.
The information about using the resources of the app for free due to the Coronavirus is temporary but important information. I chose to keep it where it was located but add the option to close it (permanently) as having this information every time you use the app takes up a lot of available screen space.
Initial Sketches & Low-Fidelity Wireframes
Low-fidelity wireframes were then designed quickly to develop an understanding of how it would look within a more consistent design layout.
I wanted to keep consistency with the current (at the time) design and provide subtle but important usability changes to improve the UX.
Onboarding was included to allow users to make important choices before starting their journey and without requiring to go deep into the options. It also allowed users to indicate their ability level. This could provide a more personalised journey that assists users on a different level depending on their choice.
I began creating a ‘like for like’ design and then allowing users to remove the COVID-19 banner to free up space on the homepage.
Then I added two sorting options — one through the PlantJammer team saying that takeaways were an important competitor. The first aspect that people search for when having takeout, is the cuisine. In the top right you can also sort the feed types according to which section you utilise the most.
Finally I tried to implement a slightly updated UI with more consistent directions and colours. The bottom right section can now be a profile which allows users a more personal feel and knowledge of where they can make customisations within the app.
A like button is also present on each item for users to quickly store the recipe ideas most interesting to them.
Lastly, each user can share their recipe in the app and other users can discover these in a similar vein to Spotify’ feeds. A similar idea was added with influencer chefs in the latest edition of the app.
Lack of testing
I was looking forward to testing the design — ideally in person. I did present this to non-users of the PlantJammer app who did understand the concept but as this was more to do with User Experience and functionality then A-B testing would have been amazing.
With the launch of the latest PlantJammer iteration, it doesn’t make sense to compete these designs against the newer design. So unfortunately this will not be stress tested however in my next case study I will place extra emphasis on this section.
What did I learn?
- Be ambitious — I’m still encouraged by the progress. I had greater dreams of what I would present yet I was able to learn interesting points.
- Follow the process — I tried to research and design whilst researching. To begin iteration early but I could have placed my energy and time more strategically.
- Integrate! — One of my biggest regrets was not integrating closely enough with the PlantJammer design team. This way I could have complemented their existing situation instead of designing at the same time.
- Step back — Taking some steps back — I identified my own learning points. I encourage this, speak with people and allow it to refine your process.
- Have fun! — I did! Enjoy your first case study and don’t beat yourself up over not knowing everything yet. The experience will come in good time.
I’ve gone through the motions designing this and writing up the case study. There is a lot I would love to deconstruct and research deeper but with the limited timeframe I will leave it like this.
I would like to say a big thank you to Gustav and the team at PlantJammer for their help and support during this project at a busy time for them. I also encourage you to use the app — it is a beautiful concept resulting in amazing dishes!
A final thank you to everyone who participated in surveys, interviews and testing the app and providing me with valuable insights!