In this project, we designed integrated services called Produce Pro to help grocery stores minimize food waste by improving employees’ performance, repurposing unsold produce, and raising awareness of food waste.
This case study is a team-based project I worked on in the Service Design course at the University of Washington. We took a more holistic design approach than the traditional user-centered design process by understanding the relationships among different stakeholders and addressing their value tensions.
Service Designer, Design Strategist
Ecosystem map, customer journey map, service blueprints, co-design, narrative prototype, lo/hi-fi prototype
UX Designer, UX Researcher, Generalist
Oct 2022 - Dec 2022
Figma, Miro, Adobe Premiere Pro
About 30 % of food in American grocery stores is thrown away, which contributes to 16 billion pounds of food waste that retail stores generate every year (rts) and, ultimately, the climate change crisis. As we saw this problem space as the opportunity to design sustainable services at scale and impact the food supply chain, our team decided to focus on minimizing the food waste at a grocery store.
A food system is large and complex. We utilized a variety of service design methods and tools to take a holistic approach to address this massive food waste problem.
We designed an integrated sustainability activation service package - Produce Pro. By integrated, I mean this service package consists of 3 different components. Sustainable activation means it enables people's action toward sustainability. More specifically, it helps grocery stores save more produce by enhancing employees' performance with proper information and a reward system. It also provides a new avenue to repurpose the saved produce and provide fresh juice and smoothies to the customers. The employees' and the store's contributions to minimizing food waste will be recorded and shared at a community level to raise awareness of this issue and promote sustainable actions at scale.
The values that Produce Pro delivers to clients
We visited 5 grocery stores in our neighborhood, observed how employees handle food and asked them questions on-site to understand our research questions. The discovery phase was one of the challenging phases in this project since we had limited access to grocery store employees. Therefore, we also utilize desk research to learn as much as we possibly could about the food management process at grocery stores.
Based on the information we collected from our research, we worked together to create an ecosystem map to visualize the relationship among employees, other actors, and artifacts that supports food management at a grocery store. This led us to identify the employees' unmet needs such as:
Since many grocery stores set high brand value and beauty standards for fruits and vegetables, imperfect produce is not considered sellable. This leads to a massive amount of unsold food at grocery stores.
No clear guidelines for food sorting are used during the onboarding training for produce associates. Each employee relies on their own perception, experience, and common sense for decision-making.
A sustainable culture and mindset are not well-established at grocery stores. They don't educate their employees about food waste, and there is no encouragement or reward for saving food.
Lack of employee empowerment is negatively influencing their competency and performance. It results in a lot of produce being sorted incorrectly and going to the trash bin. (*No produce should go to the trash.)
"The underpaid and underappreciated situation of the employees is one of the significant challenges. No one wants to put in additional effort apart from the core job responsibilities. [...] This leads to a disconnect between the company’s goals, what individual departments want to achieve, what to do with the food, etc."
After synthesizing the research findings, we identified the employees' minds and behavior as the key opportunity space that could make a great impact on food waste.
How might we reduce food waste at grocery store?
How might we motivate employees and activate their sustainable action toward reducing food waste?
How might we introduce a new avenue to repurpose unsold imperfect produce?
I facilitated an online co-design session with 3 participants who had the experience of working as a food associate at a grocery store or cafeteria. Through 3 different types of activities, the participants worked collaboratively and generated solution ideas for our design questions.
While participants generated some ideas, any particular design solution didn't come out during the co-design session. However, we identified 5 key design goals to make our solutions align with employees' values. Later, our team further discussed the ideas and devised a comprehensive solution that could achieve these design goals.
Improve employee’s competency and achieve consistent food sorting performance through a clear training system
Give employees a sense purpose and meaningfulness in their work to boost motivation and improve their engagement
Allow employees and customers to acknowledge the food waste at grocery stores and its impact
Create a touchpoint with imperfect food and give people incentive to take action on minimizing food waste
Make the job easy and enjoyable by gamifying the tasks and celebrating their wins
We designed the integrated sustainability activation service package for grocery stores to subscribe. It consists of 3 main service components that promote employee empowerment and sustainable action toward saving and repurposing unsold imperfect produce while generating more revenue.
Integrated food handling assistant for an employee onboarding training and day-to-day usage. The main features include:
Help achieve a consistent performance among employees by establishing common knowledge
Give employees confidence and reassurance about their job
Increase the amount of produce to repurpose by preventing them from incorrectly going to the compost or trash bin
We repurpose the saved imperfect produce and make juice and smoothies for customers. It's situated at the store entrance for better discoverability.
Empower employees by recognizing their effort and giving meaningfulness to their job
Raise awareness of food waste among employees and customers
Gradually drive perspective shift and behavioral change toward imperfect food
Raise awareness of food waste at a community level
Facilitate goal-oriented actions by making contributions visible
Different stakeholders have different values and priorities. We discussed where the tension occurs within our solutions and how we could balance each value.
Our service allows the stores to utilize the imperfect produce as a value added product without presenting them directly on the shelf to customers
Our service reduces the time and effort needed by the employees to sort and save produce. It also motivates and rewards them through incentives and shared values with the store
Our vending machine service makes sure that the smoothies and juices are 100% safe to drink at a fraction of the cost, and communicates the same to customers
We created a journey map to visualize the employee's new experience with the Produce Pro services including their thoughts and emotions. It helped us understand how each service component takes part in the journey as well as uncovered new opportunities to enhance their experience by making sure it aligns with employees' values and needs.
We created a service blueprint to visualize the employee's new workflow and the relationship between the different service components - customers, employees, and props - within the journey. This activity helped us identify and streamline inefficient workflow to achieve a smooth user experience.
We acted out and immersed ourselves in the scenario to develop deeper empathy with the stakeholders. After the activity, we discussed some unnecessary steps that needed to be streamlined and some challenges in building customer trust.
I led the prototyping session and designed some key interfaces of the sustainable food handling app that supports employee's primary actions.Figma Prototype
When employees are unsure about produce safety, they can scan it and get a quick diagnostic guide and directions to properly sort it out.
This interaction needed to be quick to avoid too much interruption to their work. I minimized the amount of information provided on the diagnosis page and made it easy to digest the information using icons and a box design.
Users also have the option to explore more information about food damages. I used real images of damaged produce to transmit information quickly and optimize learnability.
Employees can visually learn what sellable items should look like and what could be repurposed or thrown away.
These guidelines are customizable to make them align with each store's standard.
Employees earn points as they load imperfect produce into the food rescue vending machine. Employees can check their progress and total contributions to minimizing food waste from their phones.
We gamified the tasks to make their job more fun and motivate them to take action toward climate action.
The service design artifacts, such as an ecosystem map, customer journey map, and service blueprints, are robust tools that help us visualize the intangible services. They enabled me to see complex organizational structures with more holistic perspectives and find the glitches and gaps between people's values/needs and services.
While this project went by so quickly that we had little time for secondary research, I found it a very important phase that prepare us for successful primary research. Not only does it allow us to establish fundamental knowledge, but it also helps us learn what research has been done, what design solutions already exist, etc. Such knowledge would lead us to the right design direction later on.