Pairings app uses the user's current inventory to recommend recipes and create shopping lists, helping busy college students make healthy dishes.

UX/UI, User Research, Mobile  |  Partner: Adella Guo  |  1 month


01 – Introduction

What pain points can atypical research methods reveal about grocery shopping, and how can we prototype an intervention?

Using various research methods, my partner and I explored patterns around grocery shopping and designed an intervention too alleviate common pain points among college students. The resulting mobile app provides recipe recommendations based off what the user currently has. The recipe then doubles as a shopping list for remaining supplies. Here is the vimeo link to the prototype!


02 – Research: Deep Hanging Out

What behavioral nuances can we notice by immersing ourselves in the environment?

We asked questions like: How do in-store interactions between employees and customers affect the shopping experience? What types of things do people decisively buy vs. spend time over? What is the experience like for old timers vs new shoppers?

What we found: The population was a mix of adults and college students, although time of day and location were likely a factor since Pittsburgh is a college city. We noticed two common habits were comparing nutrition labels with prices and then buying either a few items or in bulk (the latter likely for a long duration and to feed several people). 

03 – Research: Cultural Probes

How do habits before, during, and after a grocery trip affect one another?

Having seen grocery-shopping in action, we were interested in understanding the before, after, and how they related to the during. "How" and "why" were big questions we had regarding decisions such as where people shop, purchases at the store, and usage and organization of food afterwards. We sent out probes to 5 different people on campus, including graduate and undergraduates across various disciplines as well as university staff.  


What we learned: For those that did plan, it was usually with phones, or by memory/habit. For some, planning was necessary to feed a family, for college students it was primarily to save money and time. However, since many college students don't know what to make or shop inconsistently, they usually decide purchases on the spot.


04 – Insights

We identified two contrasting types of shoppers and values both groups have.

We saw that the planning process was the largest contribution to that struggle: not only did our research show that uncertainty and deliberation cause people's purchases to end up incomplete or imbalanced, but they also wasted time. For most people, saving money/time, and eating healthy were priorities.


04 – Defining Pain Point and Strategy

We used motivations, habits, and values of users from our research as attributes to draw out a user journey.


Problem Statement

Busy students waste time figuring out how to eat healthy and organizing what to buy. We found that the planning process was the largest struggle, and poor planning often led to impulse purchases and time spent inefficiencies.


Increase decision-making efficiency and the amount of healthy foods purchased by mimicking identified shopping habits that work. Thus came the idea of lists within lists, to organize types of foods we noticed people often bought repeatedly. We also hypothesized this could help organize types of items needed each trip.


05 – Testing Initial Concept

Additional interviews filled in our knowledge gaps and were a pivotal point in refining our narrative.

What we wanted to learn: We had a hunch that our approach was too confining, and wanted to see if it actually fit existing habits. What we learned: We interviewed and tested on 5 people. Common feed back include: combining lists is helpful since there's usually categories of things users buy, usually for certain dishes, and a desire to make more balanced meals. 

"It's not like I eat each thing I buy separately, so it makes more sense to me to think about what I might make with a given ingredient."

06 – Concept 2

Recipes, lists, and suggestions: a food companion


Reflecting on the interview tests, we decided: instead of lists based on random past shopping lists or types of foods or goods, why not have lists of ingredients to make dishes themselves? We added to the narrative a way to suggest recipes with ingredients the user already has, and then use of the ingredient list as recipe. We created the rest of the user flow to be like a conversation between the user and the app.


07 – Creating Visual Language

I created a fresh, friendly visual language, with colors inspired by the generative workshop.


First Pass

For the first pass, I used conventional styles and the composition relied on pictures since it was my first time designing visuals in the mobile space. Our typographic studies considered combinations that were both legible and whimsical, ultimately choosing Open Sans for primary content and Museo Slab for call-out moments.

Second Pass

Later, I returned to challenge myself to create an unconventional UI style. Taking inspiration from the colors and typography of vintage/homemade cookbooks, and the strong, flat contrast of woodblock prints and Swiss graphic design, I tried creating something I don't usually see in the app store. The visual and layout revisions also address feedback I received from previous interviews, such as needing more contrast in indicating the changes in shop, make, or save states. I learned the importance of motion to create contrast between pieces of information.





Regarding Collaboration

Because of contrasting mental models and backgrounds between my partner and I, I learned to be conscious of jargon and phrasings in explaining ideas. To reach clarity, I was careful not to make assumptions. To align ourselves, we explicitly set a goal for each step to guide our iterations. It was also important to assign tasks based on our skills and interests to make the process enjoyable and efficient.

Regarding Design Process

I learned the benefits of research methods beyond traditional interviews and questionnaires that can reveal insight people may otherwise not think of, or even be comfortable sharing. At the same time, visual design and language affects usability, so moving forward I aim to pay attention to craft even in wireframes. 

I also learned the surprising fact that I quite enjoy staying up into the small hours of the morning refining craft!


If I were to continue this...


I'd consider where this small experience would fit in a larger system. Or, as an interviewer asked, 

What company would buy this idea?

The emphasis on proposed features: the list-making and the recipe-searching would shift depending on the direction.

  • Google Keep could incorporate this and add extensions for list creation
  • Fitbit could expand their services of wellness beyond how you exercise to what you intake
  • Yelp could incorporate a social part of food and recipe sharing

These are just some ideas I came up with quickly; if you'd interested in picking my brain more, try bringing this up in a conversation!