Our Dinner Table
One stop service that addresses needs surrounding food insecurity and senior isolation.
Service design, UX/UI design
Best Student Project
Thank you Vancouver UX Awards for this recognition. What started off as a school project has become a lot bigger. It has started a conversation around the need to identify problem spaces that feel overwhelming to tackle, but require our attention. Thank you to everyone who congratulated me and showed interest in knowing more about Our Dinner Table. Who knows, one day it might become a real program, resulting in a food secure community!
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Over the course of 10 weeks I designed a service that strives to combat both food insecurity and senior isolation simultaneously in Vancouver. Our Dinner Table does so by making space for easy access to cooked nutritious food and community engagement. I conducted preliminary and secondary investigation, identified the gap and intervened by developing a concept using a range of back end and front end prototyping tools with constant testing.
Please note : This is a proposal for a service like Our Dinner Table to be developed. It does not currently exist. All organizations mentioned here are just examples.
September - December 2022 (10 weeks)
Service designer, UX/UI designer
33% and 30% of Canadians over the age of 65 experience food insecurity and senior isolation respectively
absence of a consistent and reliable service that addresses both problems simultaneously, thus making access to help (for seniors) more cumbersome
There exist a host of well-established top-down and bottom-up services that help people suffering from food insecurity and senior isolation.
services for food insecurity
services for senior isolation
Our Dinner Table makes space for easy access to warm, cooked food and community engagement for seniors in Vancouver suffering from food insecurity and/or senior isolation.
It can be hosted by the Pacific Institute of culinary Arts and supported by the Sustainable Food Systems Grant
our dinner table
learn and register
Users visit the website to learn about the service. They learn how the service works, its' goal about the mission statement and team.
Once convinced, the user is prompted to fill out a registration form.
student chefs cook
at a culinary institute like PICA
As seniors reach the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA), the student chefs greet them and start preparing the meal.
They serve the food once it is ready and distribute the remaining in containers for seniors to take home.
images from PICA's facebook page
meet and eat
at a culinary institute like PICA
As the meal is being prepared, seniors have the opportunity of mingling with each other, playing board games, striking conversations and even helping the student chefs with easy tasks.
Once the meal is ready, they all gather in the dining room to enjoy a nutritious meal.
Our Dinner Table we strive to increase access to help among seniors suffering from food insecurity and senior isolation by creating a one stop service trying to cater to the needs arising from both problems, simultaneously. The following features make us stand out.
We offer a long term seat at Our Dinner Table. Our grant allows us to host 30 seniors at a time, we strive to do so diligently.
While the seniors enjoy their meals, students at PICA benefit from the opportunity of putting their skills to use.
Seniors would receive food security and would be a part of a family like community.
what is the current situation of food insecurity and the help available
several private enterprises, non-profits, and charities have taken it upon them to help those need
To understand the gravity of the situation around food insecurity, I did some research into what it is, why its exists and the services, initiatives and products that are currently working towards helping those suffering. Owing to the multiple stakeholders involved in the movement of food from its' source to the recipient I created an ecosystems map to highlight the infrastructures and resources involved.
Food Donor Encouragement Act
food diversion services
partners helping with language barriers
social service agencies
poor eating habits
traumatic life events
people suffering from food insecurity
too good to go
leaving it in bags outside
making dishes with leftovers
car rental agencies
donors donating food
trying to serve EVERYONE, only to realize that quality is being compromised
I did a deep dive into some of the major services and products that food insecure people use and benefit from to highlight gaps and pain points, my service might address.
helping people who experience food insecurity
increasing access to food
reducing food waste
reducing and recycling food waste
supplying food ingredients to food insecure people
an open access community fridge which people can donate to or take food from
an app that that connects customers to restaurants that have surplus unsold food
a product that appropriately breaks down food into compost
free of cost upon registering
free of cost
customer must pay a reduced amount for the surplus food
high one time cost
only those who can prove that they are suffering from food insecurity
anyone who comes by it
anyone who has access to a phone
high income households/eateries who can afford this product
top-down service - reliable as it a centralized system
bottom-up initiative - not very reliable, dependant on donations
top-down service - reliable
reliable once purchased
emphasis on quality, but has recently seen a dip due to being overwhelmed
no control over the quality of food being donated
end of day quality of food
a three step - appointment, registration and documentation process
no registration required
account to be created in the app
product needs to be purchased
type of food
raw ingredients, healthy food, does not provide cultures specific foods,
no control over type of foods
different types of foods based on the restaurants and stores listed
door step delivery/pick up
to be picked up within a time frame
community fridge to be found and food to be picked up by those in need
culinary schools and seniors - tapping into overlooked resources and targeting a specific group of people suffering
Living close to Granville Island in Vancouver, I came across the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts on one of my visits to Granville Island. With my research underway, I was prompted to know what role, if any culinary schools are playing in the combatting food insecurity.
In culinary schools each student makes 4 portions of a dish, of which 1 is tasted and 3 are wasted.
33% of Canadians over the age of 65 experience food insecurity.
I wanted to design a service that is consistent, reliable and emphasizes quality of help over the quantity of people being served by tapping into untouched resources.
concept development - key points
as I iterated and user tested my concept, I strengthened Our Dinner Table, to bring it as close to reality as possible
introducing mutual aid
Asking for help is not easy. Especially when someone has been food secure before. There is a social stigma attached to participating in services that give out food and maybe perceived as charity. Thus, I wanted to establish Our Dinner Table on the foundation of mutual aid, where there are 2 or more beneficiaries as personated below.
family like community
Our Dinner Table
real world experience
John is a 60 year old, retired school teacher, who lives in Vancouver. He lost his wife a few months back in a tragic accident which left him with injured knees. He lives alone in a two bedroom apartment.
Has physical limitations
Dependant on frozen food, takeout and his neighbours for food.
Concerned about his health and expenses.
Misses eating meals with his wife.
A consistent, reliable source of healthy, nutritious food.
Food that is personalized to his liking and dietary needs as it is difficult for him to adapt to new foods at this age.
Risk of deteriorating physical and mental health.
Risk of increased expenditure on takeout.
“I feel very sluggish. I want to stay active but I don’t have the energy to. I want have a warm, healthy meal, but this pain is too much to handle!”
Isabella is a final year student, completing her master’s degree in culinary arts. She’s a conversationalist and enjoys collaborating with her peers to make delicious meals. Having developed a range of skills through this course, Isabella is excited to put them to use in a real world setting.
Has not had a chance to put to use the skills learnt
Hasn’t had a chance to experiment
Pressurized to produce familiar dishes to get good grades
Exposure - being able to apply the skills she has learnt through this course.
Needs to challenge herself to be able to learn her strengths and weaknesses
Excited to be cooking to help someone, instead of cooking for grades.
She will earn credits for this program which she needs to graduate.
"I wish I could get some real world experience with the skills I have developed. I want some unfiltered feedback on my dishes."
addressing senior isolation by introducing an aspect of community building
Initially I designed a service where a student from a culinary school like PICA would be matched with a senior registered in the program. The student would visit the senior's house and would cook them a meal. These interactions would give the senior access to nutritious food and the student some real world experience.
However, having come across data which states that 30% of Canadians over the age of 65 experience senior isolation which is also a cause of food insecurity, I considered the aspect of community. Further, students may not feel comfortable going to a strangers' house which brought up the question of trust.
Thus, I shifted the physical location of the service to the culinary school, where seniors would be served in groups based on the schedules they chose. This would allow them to step out of their house and mingle with others.
initial service flow
a student and senior get matched
student cooks at senior's house
senior enjoys a warm meal
new service flow
seniors are grouped based on the schedule they choose
seniors visit culinary school
students cook and the group of seniors interact with each other
senior enjoys a warm meal
an effort towards reducing senior isolation
making the service more appealing and accessible
Having designed the overall flow of the service, there were a few questions related to its' details which were brought up during user testing. thus in order to further strengthen my concept, I mapped out a business model canvas, which would compel me to think about features like partners, revenue streams, costs etc.
business model canvas
senior welfare centres
pick up/drop off
student chefs cooking
seniors and students eating
Supporting the food needs of seniors with physical limitations unable to cook.
Based on consistency, reliability and mutual aid.
Making space for seniors to have more social interactions and for knowledge exchange.
Giving student chefs an opportunity to hone their cooking skills by experimenting with different dishes/cuisines/ limitations.
Providing all information through the website. Being transparent.
Allows lifelong participation in the program
No monetary transaction.
Empathetic and welcoming student chefs.
seniors over the age of 65
seniors who have a physical limitation and as a result are experiencing food insecurity.
students participating in this service
Culinary school like Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts
Faculty/administration who manages the program
Reaching out to seniors centres to make them aware of this service.
Student chefs stipend amounts
Sustainable Food Systems Grant
Our Dinner Table is free of cost to seniors. The sustainable food systems grant covers all expenses.
Seniors may avail of the door to door pick-up and drop-off service offered.
Possible car rental partner
Seniors have the opportunity to choose the meals to be cooked for the group, by rotation.
Possible grocery store partner
front end prototyping and testing
"don't' shy away from iterating"
Seniors would look to the website to learn the what, why and how of Our Dinner Table. It was important to develop an aesthetic for the website which would communicate the essence of the service. Further, it had to be easy to navigate and accessible for the user group. In order to determine the sitemap of the website, I conducted a card sorting activity with a few participants.
card sorting and sitemap
goals, food security and family like community
mention that it is free
how it works
choose your schedule
suggest a meal
visit PICA with your group
student chefs cook
enjoy a meal and socialize
meet the student chefs
navigating through different aesthetics
This stage of the design process revolved around iterations and testing. I felt a number of emotions - excitement, satisfaction, frustration, doubt. But they all helped me produce a design that suits the service.
Considered designing the website as a dinner table conversation. Included dinner table elements like a table cloth, spoons, plates, salt and pepper shakers etc.
Through user testing realized that the information being communicated was not clear. Further, it felt more like a restaurant's website and required some realistic imagery.
Maintained the dinner table aesthetic using the table background and cutlery. Simplified the 'how it works' copy by making it self explanatory. Added some realistic imagery like seniors at a dinner table, food images etc.
The aesthetic was not conveying the emotions I wanted it to. It felt heavy.
I tried a completely different illustration style. The homepage is a zoomed out view of a dinner table with a wheelchair which emphasizes who the service is for. As the user navigates to the how it works page, they are zoomed into the table and each plate discloses information.
This style allowed me to utilize the aesthetic I wanted to from the very beginning, maintaining the principles at the same time.
Brown is associated with stability, steadfastness, simplicity and dependability. It imparts a sense of resilience, dependability, security, and safety.