Affordable Organic Produce for all: A Wicked Problem Case Study

For our very first project as a UX/UI Design student with IronHack Miami, we were tasked to find a solution to a wicked problem we chose out of a few provided. To approach this wicked problem during a quick 4-day sprint, my teammate, Sapir Matmon and I followed the first 3 steps of Stanford’s d.school Design Thinking process, from Empathize to Ideate.

Design Thinking Process — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test

Back to our wicked problem: “how might we help communities access the seasonal organic produce of their region, fueling fair and honest relationships between producers and customers while ensuring food safety for all?”. Design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber introduced the term ‘Wicked Problem’ in 1973 and defined it as a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. After a little secondary research (what is organic produce really?, Is it expensive to produce?, Is it actually sustainable?), I realized just how much this truly is a wicked problem, mostly because of the contradictory information out there. Side note, is anyone else saying wicked as if they were from Boston?

EMPATHIZE

First things first, who is the user, and what are their thoughts and feelings regarding our wicked problem.

Secondary Research

So wait, let’s back it up a bit. What really is organic produce? As per the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. So for produce to qualify under the organic label, it needs to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

As of 2016, per the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, there are 14,000 organic farms operating in the United States. This is a 56% increase from 2011, which means organic farms are on the rise.

User Research

Quantitative Data

So how do you even start to research for such an overwhelming problem? As the saying goes, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.” (I probably should have used a different metaphor but anyways I absolutely do not condone eating an elephant.)

We started with the collection of quantitative data in the form of a survey. I do think this was one of the hardest parts of the challenge: how do you even know what you want to ask, what information are you supposed to obtain, what should you focus on. After reading and rereading the brief we realized there were many different areas you could focus on however agreed that the main problem is that organic produce is unaffordable. So again this is, some might say, an unsolvable problem, so with that, we wanted to start at the beginning. We based our questions on the basics; how many people are already buying organic and why, as well as why they are not. We were honestly surprised by the rapid feedback totaling 146 responses, with some even sending comments. We sent our 12 question survey to Facebook groups, Reddit groups (first time using, definitely got lost into dark holes), and friends and family.

5: Often — 1: Not often

As you can see, 70% buy produce often. This made me hopeful because it means most people already include fruits and vegetables into their diet. While only 21% buy organic often. What’s interesting is the varying percentages of how often people buy organic produce.

So why do people buy non-organic vs organic and vice versa?

Survey powered by Google Forms

The main takeaways here were:

  • 60% buy organic to be healthy
  • 29% buy organic for sustainability/environmental reasons
  • 57% do NOT buy organic because it is too expensive

People generally do feel that organic produce is too expensive and is the main reason they are sticking to non-organic produce. In retrospect here, I do believe there were some knowledge gaps that we could have delved into. For example, with more time, I would have liked to have conducted a follow-up survey to get insights into the 12% that do not care about organic.

Qualitative Data

We now had a better understanding of the statistics associated with the buying habits of organic produce. However, we needed to better understand the perspectives and the behaviors. We now moved on to collecting Qualitative data in the form of interviews.

Picture depicting a woman exhausted from Zoom fatigue

So this was fun, my friends and family loved to join another FaceTime/Zoom session (just kidding, I am forever in their debt). We are currently in month 10 of quarantine due to Covid-19, almost at the year mark. So now we have fun terms like ‘Zoom Fatigue’. I left my office in March 2020 convinced we’d be back in two weeks, I really hope someone was able to throw away the banana I totally forgot I was saving for the next day.

Between Sapir and I, we interviewed 5 people. I interviewed 2 friends that generally live a healthy lifestyle.

This being the first time I conducted an interview of this kind, I was nervous that I would influence their answers so I tried to keep it casual and only went by a flexible guideline of questions, allowing them to tell me their story. I was pleasantly surprised that the guideline of questions I had just naturally happened as at times they themselves went there without me asking. Also interesting was the tidbits that came to light that I would have never thought to ask. Again, in retrospect, a lot of the knowledge gaps I had at the end started here and I would have loved to follow up with the interviewees if there were more time. Typically, an interview of this kind is best conducted with a moderator and a note-taker so I used the recommended app, Otter, which helped me focus on the interviewee and not on note-taking.

The main takeaways

  • They both buy organic produce be healthy & for Environmental reasons
  • They both do not buy organic produce exclusively due to price

An interesting comment one of the interviewees made was that she only shops around the perimeter of the store as the aisles are filled with pre-packaged items that she believed to be unhealthy. Didn't even know that was a thing but I guess it kind of makes sense. Another interesting observation was they both had different styles of shopping, one went prepared with a list, one walked down every aisle.

Another process we referenced throughout this project was the Double Diamond.

Design Council’s Double Diamond
Design Council’s Double Diamond Process

This graph really helped me visualize the breakdown of the Design Thinking Process.

We had completed the Discover section having diverged by collecting multiple forms of research: secondary, quantitative, and qualitative. We were now ready to converge in order to define insights, patterns, who the user really is, to eventually come up with a solution to our wicked problem.

DEFINE

Affinity Diagram

The first artifact we used in the Define phase was the Affinity Diagram. The Affinity Diagram allowed us to dissect collected data in order to find insights and patterns. We started by using the post-its feature on Miro (really LOVE Miro) to write down the most important data collected from our Quantitative and Qualitative efforts. We then started to place alike categories together. For instance, where they live, how often they cook, how they grocery shop, where they shop, what do they shop (organic vs non-organic). We were then able to label the patterns into groups and lastly color-coordinated to visually enhance the patterns.

Before and after

The insights and patterns we established through the Affinity Diagram were:

  • Most grocery shop frequently (at least once a week)
  • Most live active lifestyles
  • Most are not able to afford organic produce exclusively
  • Most are unaware of where/how to obtain affordable organic produce

Empathy Map

We established patterns but we needed to understand the behaviors behind these patterns. So we moved on to the Empathy Map, a method used to hone in on your user by really trying to understand their feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Empathy Map

By using this tool, we were able to really establish who our user is, what are their needs, wants and fears.

Needs & wants:

  • To find affordable organic produce
  • To know more about local farms/vendors

Fears:

  • To pay unfair prices for organic produce.
  • Not to know the origin of their produce, if it really is organic

User Persona

With the insights, patterns, and perspective into their behaviors, we were ready to create our User Persona. Personas are “fictional characters assembled from the behaviors and motivations of the actual users encountered in the research”. They are used to represent a User group that would essentially be your target audience. For me, this was the most useful tool during this process. It allowed me to focus on our User and was the most powerful way to remind me that “ I am NOT the user”! While we complied all the main patterns and behaviors to create our User Persona, we did realize that we had the potential for secondary users as we saw a few other patterns however this was a 4-day sprint so….

Healthy Hannah for the win!!

Our user persona: Healthy Hannah

Healthy Hannah lives a healthy lifestyle, wants to be more knowledgeable regarding local farms/vendors in order to support local business and fair trade. She wants organic produce to be more affordable as she has a limited budget. As simple as it may sound, putting a face and name to the patterns and data allowed me to really empathize with the intended target audience.

Journey Map

So now that we established who our user is, we needed to help Hannah reach her goals. By laying out Hannah’s day, a day in which she would go grocery shopping, we were able to visually point out the areas of opportunity. For such a daunting problem, it really helped to break down the process to 1 day, grocery shopping day, in order to pinpoint these opportunities. It also assists with being able to consider the context in which a solution would have to work.

Our journey Map — depicts grocery shopping day for Hannah

Here we were able to clearly see 3 pain points:

  • During Phase 2, Hannah plans her week, she likes to meal prep and know what recipes she will be cooking. This stresses her out as she leads a busy life and has to search for new recipes.
  • During Phase 3, Hannah has to scour the internet to find possible farmer’s markets in her areas and/or promotions and coupons for organic produce.
  • During Phase 4, Hannah, unsurprised but disappointed, goes to the Supermarket and sure enough, the prices for organic produce are too expensive.

So as we near the end of the define phase and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we prepare to, well, define the main problem we will focus on.

How Might We?

Now that we have the 3 main problems or pain points, we need to rephrase them to attainable goals in order to easier focus on solving these opportunities. This is also a natural segue into Ideation and brainstorming.

picture of our Problem statements that were converted to How Might We’s

IDEATION

We made it to Ideation! After narrowing down or converging, all the data we collected to define the problem, we now must diverge again and brainstorm.

Picture of our brainstorming session

Loaded with our How Might We’s (HMW), we delved right into brainstorming ideas. As this was a 4-day sprint and time was running out, we used the time-box technique recommended by our Instructor, Daveed. We gave ourselves 4 minutes to come up with ideas for each HMW individually and then took turns writing them on post-its to discuss. By using the ‘yes, and’ approach we actually came up with additional ideas. Between the 2 of us, we came up with about 30 ideas.

MoSCoW Method

From there we needed to narrow down and figure out what ideas we would move forward with. We did this by using the MoSCoW Method, a technique used to identify and prioritize features. This is essential to being able to present our MVP, Minimum Viable Product, a concept used in lean UX but more on that later.

The MoSCoW Method allows you to identify which ideas are a Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won't Have.

Picture of our MoSCoW Method

Here you can visually see the correlation between impact and effort to cement which ideas will impact the most at the minimum effort. I think we had a lot of great ideas that would truly add benefits to the user experience, however, are not necessarily vital for our MVP.

Minimum Viable Product — The Organic Network app

Henrik Kniberg’s visual represenation of an MVP

So, we made it guys, to our MVP, Minimum Viable Product. So what exactly is an MVP?

Per the Interaction Design Foundation, the most popular definition is “The smallest thing that you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of the value back).” When applying this process, a team can get a working product to testing quickly, gain feedback and improve. To further understand this concept, you can compare a prototype to an MVP. The difference is Prototypes are not typically fully functional and cannot be properly tested. Whereas an MVP, is a ready-for-production, fully working product that can be tested and improved upon using actual feedback.

Logo for the Organic Network App

Our MVP, would be an app, the Organic Network, that centralizes all organic produce available in the user’s vicinity. Allowing them to compare prices and choose the best option for them, based on price (but can also be other criteria, such as supporting a certain farm or vendor).

The app will have the user, Healthy Hannah, upload or type in her shopping list, which will then auto-generate separate carts. The number of carts would be based on the participating vendors Hannah has favorited. With each cart, there will be a snapshot view of the Vendor Details as well as price. Hannah will then select the most affordable cart or if preferred, the vendor she wants to support. The app will have fun details and background on all vendors to keep our users informed.

Success & Failure Metrics

Robot holding a #1 trophy— included to represent success metrics

Success:

•Users leaving 5-star reviews

•Repeat users that create accounts.

•Consistent increase in users (and even vendors/farmers)

•User actually finding affordable and fairly priced Organic produce.

Broken robot trying to repair himself — included to represent failure metrics

Failures:

•Poor reviews

•Users only compare prices on the app then buy separately/direct or inactive users

•Time user is in-app, if too short, they left quickly (unimpressed) if too long possibly not great usability

Next steps…

We had a lot of ideas that would add to the overall experience of the user. We would like to add a recipe toolbox feature, where you can upload your favorite recipes to have them all in one location. The app would extract the ingredients needed and would populate a shopping list. You can also add friends and follow each other for recipe sharing. Kind of like following friends’ playlists on Spotify. These features would address one of the 3 pain points we discovered when using the Journey Map and just an overall efficient feature. We also wanted to have a feature that would inform Hannah of stores in her area that offer an ‘imperfect’ section, for when she needs to produce more immediate. ‘Imperfect produce’ are typically discarded as they are hard to sell due to its, well, imperfections. While conducting secondary research, I learned there are stores that offer this service however are not easily found. But rather something people just stumble upon. For Hannah, that kills two birds with one stone. (Sorry for another slightly morbid animal metaphor, I promise I LOVE animals!) Hannah would be able to eat organically while further supporting sustainability efforts.

Knowledge Gaps

I briefly referenced a few areas that produced knowledge gaps for me. For example, with more time, I would have liked to have conducted a follow-up survey to get insights into the 12% that do not care about organic. I would have liked to follow up with the interviewees to get more insight into their feelings. I mentioned that for me developing the survey and interview questions was the hardest part because of the knowledge gaps I would end up with if I didn't ask the right questions or if I didn’t probe where I needed to. So I think putting in more time in establishing the questions is essential to minimize these gaps.

Takeaways

An important part of UX design is to ensure you are solving a problem that actually exists. That stuck with me and after the research phase, I was able to clearly see that we were indeed setting out to solve a problem that actually exists.

The Double Diamond really helped me focus on the task at hand and not constantly want to jump to the ideation phase. Towards the end, it became second nature to follow the steps and focus because you truly understand the benefits and the importance of using artifacts to analyze the data. If not you risk confusing yourself with the user.

I enjoyed using one of lean UX‘s main concepts, the MVP method. I can see how trying to implement all the desired features at once can fog things up especially without having any user feedback prior to launch.

Overall, I feel this challenge helped to cement the Design Thinking process for me. I was able to experience the benefits from each step and artifact firsthand.

As we get ready to jump into week 2, I find myself eager, excited, and extremely hopeful for the future!

Thank you very much for your time and I hope you enjoyed the read. Any feedback welcome!

Robot bowing in appreciation with text that says ‘Thank you’

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