Every year, millions of international students leave their home countries and travel across the globe to study in universities. Throughout university lives, students go through varied emotions, one of them being a terrible craving of eating home food - the food so familiar to their taste buds that ties them back to their culture and identity.
This phenomenon, called homesickness due to food, occurs 1 in 3 international students and is known to cause less to more severe forms of uneasiness, distress and depression.
How can we alleviate homesickness due to food that international students suffer from?
Food Like Home is a mobile application that connects students to family hosts from the same country for an eating experience. Students can explore authentic dishes near them, book a cooking or dining experience, invite friends and eat emotionally comforting food with families - all while creating new memories along the way!
Personalized & Quick On-boarding
Students start off by entering their home country and dietary restrictions, so that they have access to personalized food experiences.
Existing social media login, helper text, autocomplete search & tags enable quick, clear and convenient on-boarding.
Explore & Search
Home screen allows users to explore eating experiences through direct search or browsing contents. These results sorted by distance, a constraint for students who don't own vehicles.
Users directly search for dishes they want to cook or eat and can apply filters to get tailored search results.
Explore in Detail to Incorporate Trust
Once users find the eating experience and family host they like, they can go further explore in detail. Reviews, photos, bio and location are included to incorporate trust in the system.
Book Experience & Bring Friends
Users can book a cooking experience to
learn authentic recipes from families or dine with them by eating comfort home food.
Most users were concerned about going alone, so users can invite or book a slot for friend too.
Create dialog between Host & Student
Users can message family hosts for questions, concerns or even thank each other for a wonderful time!
Talking to students and reading blogs
To understand why students feel homesick, what do they do in this situation and what is lacking, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 6 graduate international students from University of Michigan. I also read 3 student blogs that narrated emotional journeys about leaving home and the difficulties that come along with it.
Do existing solutions make an offer? (that students cant refuse)
Next, I took a careful look at existing solutions that involved the target activity of getting country specific food. I analyzed them based on a combination of factors interviewees mentioned and identified opportunity areas.
KEY RESEARCH INSIGHTS
Not the act of eating, but the experience of eating with family and friends is what students
miss the most
"I miss hotpot"
"Every Sunday mom made
special brunch, I miss that"
Students lack skill(z) and time investment to recreate and
"What I cook never tastes as good"
"I quickly make instant noodles"
Authentic food resources are not easily accessible. But there are opportunity areas.
"I don't have a vehicle to go again"
"Taiwanese grocery store is far"
KEY OPPORTUNITY AREAS
So much information, so a persona!
Now that I had this wealth of information from my research, I structured it into a persona so that I can easily reference it and think of my users while designing solutions. I also created an anti-persona of a student who lives at home, to remind me who I am not designing for.
Ideation & Storyboarding
I put my creative cap on, and did some *crazy* 8 sketching. I designed solutions that involved in person experiences like skill sharing (student-student & student-family), explored new means to access authentic food (student-traveller) and used advanced technology (3D printing of food & VR cooking class). User storyboards delineated interactions, contexts and emotions. This exercise helped me empathize with my hypothetical user, and reconsider the feasibility of my solutions.
Which solution is the fairest of them all?
At this point I really wished I was a crazy scientist who could design and implement a 3D printer that printed authentic home food, but feasibility in near future and key research insights brought me back to reality. I evaluated pros and cons, secondary research about families and got user feedback to narrow down my solution.
A mobile app that connects students to nearby family home cooks for a cook or dine experience.
Family cooks have higher or at most same level of skills in cooking
Families have access to authentic or even ancestral recipes
Why cook or dine?
Cooking enables skill sharing where family cooks can share tips & recipes
Dining for students who want to invest less time & have homely experience
Why an experience?
Fosters cultural and community bonding between individuals
Creates new memories with family-like people & friends
Design rationale for personalization, trust & other detailed interactions in the platform
I used a cool method called QOC - Question (Q), Option (O), Criteria (C) method to make key design decisions. First, you come up with a key design question, then you think of possible answers/options to the questions and criteria to finally assess and compare options. Some key questions I was asking myself were : How are users represented? How can I incorporate trust into the platform?
Test early, test often - Paper Prototyping
To quickly validate my initial designs in a cost-effective way, I created a paper prototype and tested it with my target audience. I carried out two rounds of user testing through which I identified key mismatches in
mental models and usability problems. I iterated my design until users could successfully all complete the tasks they were assigned to and had a smooth user experience.
"I want to enter a particular date "
"Where can I change my location?"
"Oh god I need to scroll
alot to get to Korea!"
"Wait, I didn't make this booking, why is it here?"
"Isn't this my calendar?"
User Flows & Wireframes
I simplified navigation paths based on user feedback and mapped the final user flow. Then, I created wireframes of my final design in Sketch.
Getting pixels perfect - Hi fidelity prototype
I finally created a hi fidelity prototype of my designs and strung together the screens to make them interactive in Principle.
What social impact would my design have?
Through this design, I feel that students would be emotionally comforted by the fact that they have an opportunity to get food that tastes like home and at a close proximity. The experience of eating and sharing food with “family-like” people and friends would foster bonding and creation of new relations. Lastly, I believe that this application would pave a way to replace their old memories of eating home food with newer ones.
Reflecting back - I am my own user, but the user is not like me
Although this project was motivated by own personal experience, every step along my participatory design process I learnt that although I am a user of this platform, the user is not like me. This helped me reduce my design bias and refined my design. Rapid prototyping helped me quickly validate my designs with minimum cost and was extremely critical in my design process. If I had more time, I would go back and conduct more interviews with family hosts to refine features of my design. I look forward to learn more and design for the host part of the app!