User-Centered Design for a Social Application

Short project description: A user-centered design process, including diary logs, interviews, and surveys, which led to design recommendations for an application that brings together friends for meals. A project for a graduate-level course in user-centered design.

Long description: Individuals and families regularly plan and prepare meals. Improving the meal planning and preparing processes would therefore improve people’s everyday lives. Our team conducted a study aimed at better understanding the problems people face in planning and preparing meals.  The aim of the study was to create a recommendation for a product design that would make these processes easier and more efficient.

The study included three user research steps followed by data analysis and an assessment of the design implications. Initially, the team hypothesized original design ideas and developed a logging study that would determine if the hypotheses were true. While analyzing the log data the team found that the original hypotheses were not supported by the data. The needs of the study participants were not as expected. Instead, very different problems were reported.

As a result of the new findings, the team developed four high-level design ideas and designed a survey focused on gathering information about those high-level ideas. The results of the survey provided interesting information about all of the design ideas, but the feedback about one of the ideas, an application to facilitate eating with others, was the strongest. As a result of the data from the survey and peer feedback from our in-class presentation, the team developed semi-structured interview questions around the idea of eating with others. The team then conducted the interviews over the phone and based on the results developed a final design recommendation.

Primary roles:

Summary of my contributions: Study design, recruitment, analysis, ideation

Lessons learned:

  • Short forms for diary studies are good.
  • It’s difficult for users to imagine product ideas.
  • Multiple methods allow triangulation, but they can also allow increasingly targeted findings .
  • Each phase of research has implications for design as well as for the next phase of research.
  • Team members with different backgrounds approach projects very differently .
  • Sometimes you may think you’re generating unique ideas based on findings, but really you’re designing what’s trendy : For this 2009 project, our final idea was a Facebook app. I imagine now it would be a smartphone app, like all my students’ projects.


  • Final report ( ) – Long. The Introduction and Background section starting on page 2 is a nice overview.