Nutrition App (concept)

This project was part of a graduate-level HCI program at the University of Washington. Our assignment was to design for good. We wanted to help people develop healthy eating habits and to empower people to take charge of their diets, their health and their lives. We discussed the child obesity epidemic and wanted to come up with a way to help children and young adults.

The Situation

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years 1,2
  • Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure 3
  • Healthy lifestyle habits, including diet and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases 4

1 Journal of the American Medical Association (2012)
2 National Center for Health Statistics (2011); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012)
3 Journal of Pediatrics (2007)
4 Office of the Surgeon General

“How can we use technology to encourage college students to establish healthy eating habits?”

We want to provide young adults with tools to establish healthy habits. College students are newly responsible for many aspects of their lives, including meal planning. Thus, this period of time in their lives affords us an opportunity to educate and motivate.

Project Requirements and Constraints

  1. Our target users are students who primarily eat on campus and use a dining card to purchase their meals
  2. Since a high percentage of college students already own smartphones, our goal is to design an app to help them develop life-long healthy eating habits
  3. The app will automatically populate purchases through the university’s food services system, reducing manual data input

The Team

  • My Role: UX Designer
  • UX Researcher (2)
  • Technical Writer

Research Activities


We used a survey to collect quantitative and qualitative data to address our research questions. We surveyed over 20 participants and performed a statistical analysis to deepen our understanding of our target demographic. I worked with my team to develop our survey.


We conducted in-person interviews with college students, which afforded us the opportunity to ask our target users qualitative, open-ended questions. Participants responded with in-depth answers that provided insight into the motivations behind their behaviors. I conducted two of our one-on-one interviews.


We employed contextual inquiries to collect behavioral data through involved observation in the context of the problem space. Because the data collected is based on observation, we were able to verify that what target users say in surveys and interviews is reflected in what they do in context. I conducted one of our inquiries.

Research Results

How important is healthy eating to your current lifestyle?

  • Students genuinely care about their nutrient intake
  • Busy schedules make it difficult for students to maintain healthy eating habits
  • Students are open to the idea of using technology to track nutrient intake
  • Students like to see their data and get feedback about what they’ve eaten
  • Students who live on campus eat on campus a lot more (hence, link to dining card system would be helpful)
  • Students would like help finding healthy options nearby


Active Annie

  • Athletic, social, a natural leader
  • High nutritional knowledge & high motivation
  • Goal: Stay healthy and help other stay healthy too

Denial Debbie

  • Family history of diabetes and high cholesterol
  • High nutritional knowledge, low motivation
  • Should be more careful of her diet, but isn’t
  • Goal: Find ways to improve motivation

Well-intentioned Wendy

  • Gained weight since starting college
  • High motivation, low nutritional knowledge and is unsure where to start
  • Goal: Learn how to be healthier through exercise and diet

Design Requirements

Our research indicated that our design should:

  • Allow users to quickly scan nutrient levels and limits
  • Not interrupt the existing campus cafeteria purchase flow
  • Allow users to edit purchases
  • Allow users to customize views of nutrients
  • Offer food recommendations based on current nutrient levels
  • Visualize data over periods of time (day, week, month, year)
  • Integrate with social media platforms
  • Provide motivation

Design Mapping

I worked with my team on design mapping, developing our primary user scenarios:

  • Adding and editing meals
  • Viewing different data time frames
  • Creating a food challenge
  • Searching for nearby healthy restaurants and grocery stores


Main Sreen:

  • Shows daily intake of nutrients for the current day, allowing for a quick snapshot of progress
  • Allows the user to focus on a particular nutrient quickly and easily
  • Buttons at the bottom of the screen allow users to look at nutrient intake over various periods of time

The design is of a similar visual format to many other apps. A format where data can be easily consumed is a priority and a key factor in avoiding abandonment.

Prototype (low-fidelity) + Testing

I built our team’s low-fidelity prototype in Balsamiq for usability testing, through which we learned we need to:

  1. Make goals and limits more clear
  2. Add helpful advice in the My Data tab
  3. Let users add and edit their own food
  4. Make the challenges more about achieving goals and less about graphs
  5. Provide more detailed information about nearby restaurants

Prototype (High-fidelity)


What I learned:

  1. The benefits of a team with diverse skillsets
  2. Using research to inform design requirements
  3. Working in Axure to prototype

What I would do differently:

  1. Spend more time design mapping
  2. Start sketching sooner
  3. Incorporate our personas into our design process better

Next version:

  1. Incorporate social media to improve engagement
  2. Help Sedentary Steve (low nutritional knowledge, low motivation) raise his nutritional awareness and make better choices
  3. Coaching tools to help Denial Debbie stay on track when school gets stressful
  4. Incorporate activity