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Food insecurity is a statewide problem with diverse stakeholders. In this project, we explored the broad issues surrounding food insecurity, and ways to tackle these challenges with design solutions.


Grant Charland

​Penny Chiang

Mike Hu

Jingyao Liu


User Research



User Testing


​3 months

​(Sep. - Dec. 2018)


Adobe XD



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. The statistics from USDA shows that 11.8% (15.0 million) U.S. households were food insecure during 2017.

 As "food insecurity" is a very complicated and troubling situation that we are not able to use a singular design to solve, we view it as a "problematic situation" that can be improved from multiple angles. 

In our research process, we drew the attention on Bloomington, Indiana, which is considered to have a lot of food pantries resources. We utilized several research methods to understand the food insecurity situations in Bloomington and then proposed a service to support insights from our research.

Project Timeline



In this stage, we conducted interviews and observations in Bloomingfoods (a local food retail company), Crimson Cupboard (a food pantry organized by students at IU Bloomington), and Bloomington Meal on Wheels (a non-profit organization that delivers meals to homebound people) to understand the support system of food insecurity and people’s behavior in these spaces.

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We found out the “food & monetary flow” and “time involvement flow” can link the stakeholders and they actually have a strong connection of the involvement in food insecurity. We then created a diagram to show the stakeholder relation in Bloomington:


Next, we used affinity diagram to see our research data in a wider perspective. From the results, my team found our common interests in some clusters, which became the cores of our final design:​

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Social Engagement

The bottom-up power is the cogs that make the support system function.


Positive Emotions

Stakeholders are always happy to see their positive influences on food insecure situations, and the connection with clients is meaningful to them.



The partnership between organizations establishes strong foundations of food insecurity support systems.

Based on our research, we also created story maps to see how stakeholders do a specific common task and to reveal the pain points as well as points of contact between different stakeholders. The inspiration from the story maps also became important elements of our design concept:

  1. Clients may not be able to get food that meets their needs in the pantries, so they might just choose other stuffs as substitutes or turn to other resources. We could think about how to help clients get what they want and need in one visit.

  2. Lots of activities happen in a short time during the check out process at Bloomingfoods. The donating action occurs at the same period, which customers would be asked if they want to donate their change. We suggested the convenience encourages people’s will to donate money. (From the interview we also knew that Bloomingfoods collects a great amount of donation through the change donation program )

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Food insecure people -- visiting food pantries

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Cashier--chekout process

Problem Framing


Most food pantries provide staple food to ensure basic nutrition.

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We ask...

When you finish class or get off from work and feel hungry, what's on your mind? Do you think about the new ramen place or some frozen yogurt around the corner? What if your only option is to go home to canned vegetables and pasta? How do you feel?

Our first observation in Crimson Cupboard: it seems there were only few kinds of food. We suggested that clients receive enough staple food, but the options are often limited. Thus, we were wondering if we can create a service for clients to select food they want.

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To learn more about clients' choices and food pantry experience, we returned to Crimson Cupboard for a second observation. This time, we noticed that food options were more diverse and some special food donations (e.g., Nutella, brownie mix, Pocky...) were located on top of the refrigerator.

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Since the goal of food pantries is to nourish hungry people, pantries will by no means spend money on non-staple food like coke, cookies or candies, But...


Something special would make clients excited about coming here.

- Crimson Cupboard Volunteer


Do you eat to live? or Do you live to eat?

We believed that food should not be only about surviving, but should also be about living. Based on our insights, we proposed two "what-if" :

What if the food pantry experience is more interesting and surprising for clients?

What if there is a stronger connection between donors and food pantry clients?

Our design idea was to create a "snack supply chain" and promote meaningful interactions between donors, clients, food pantry volunteers, and food retailers.

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When playing a gashapon, people often feel excited and expect something special inside the capsule. A special snack would be put inside the capsule, which is not the usual grocery item that can be found in the food pantry, to bring extra happiness to clients.


Final Design

Snackapon—Play gashapon, enjoy snacks!

Sharing Happiness

When clicking on the "pay" button on the self checkout system, food shoppers will be asked if they want to donate snacks.

The donation process includes:

(1) selecting one kind of snack to donate

(2) leaving a wish message to clients.

Checkout Machine

Receive & Give

Clients will not only receive the snack but also wishes from the donors. By replying with an emoji and a simple message, the relationship between donors and client is no longer one-direction and donors can see their impacts in time.



​As we prioritized the donation part at the end of the project, which we believed is the key to the feasibility of our design, we did usability tests of the donation prototype and interviewed people to know their donation behaviors. The participants mentioned some points:

  1. They would donate if it the process was quick.

  2. They want to know where the donation goes.

  3. They want to see some real-time feedback.

Thus, it is important to consider how to raise people's incentives to donate by speeding up the donation and providing more transparent donation process.

As a response to the "real-feedback" and "transparent donation process", we added a feature that donators can get a special receipt when they finish the checkout. The receipt includes donation information and a QR code that links to a site showing the delivery status of the donation.

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Special Receipt

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Delievery Status


– IxDA Indy local leader
I really like this fantastic job. It was cute and playful. The prototype allows me to truly see more opportunities beyond this, and to see how it could actually work in a multiple system. 
I think the framing is beautiful. What you said about that it shouldn’t be just about surviving but about living…It could be more surprising and could be delight. This was really impactful.
 – Jeffrey Bardzell, Professor of HCI/d at IU 
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Food insecurity is a broad topic that was hard for us to find a focus and delve into. We tried different research and design methods to frame the problem and design space, but sometimes it was not obvious to see where we could intervene. We had a hard time coming up with ideas that were really exciting. However, I found it was very helpful to step back to review our previous research data. It was never too late to revisit the research stage for more inspiration when we had a concept in mind but are not sure about our assumptions. Also, even if we were not allowed to directly interact with the vulnerable populations, we still learned a lot about them through other stakeholders.

Overall, I learned to understand problematic situations by studying the stakeholders and design solutions by thinking about what values the stakeholders can provide to each other, not just focusing on a target user (e.g., food insecure people). It was a valuable experience to practice research and design methods and to design for a complicated topic.