Vita — Empowering people to eat healthily

Deni Haughey
18 min readApr 29, 2021
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Unsplash

Today’s story starts as any other story has recently. My cohort and I are seven weeks into a twelve-week immersive course to emerge as confident and proud UXer’s. We got our intro into project four right before lunch. We presented project three just the day before receiving project four. So I should be relieved, especially after my group got positive feedback from the cohort and our instructor.

Was I feeling this way because I knew we would be getting our project, or was it because I knew what we had in store with project four? The latter, if I had to be honest, you see, I knew the project would focus on us as UX designers, who we are and what we will be. It was no secret, and we knew we would be doing this, so why am I anxious?

It’s because we had to make our portfolio website, resume and write our case studies on our recent project. And that’s not it either, and again I have to be honest with myself. It had to do with the case study, Project: Vita. Let me fill in the missing pieces to this picture for you. As I mentioned earlier, we received positive feedback. Now, I failed to mention that we had no final product to show for it. All we had were paper prototypes, so why did we get good feedback? We researched the hell out of it, we almost drowned in all that research, and I am proud to say that I was one of the advocates who pushed for it.

Now I’m not making sense. The thing is, when writing your case study, you have to include your findings, outcomes, thought process and much more. How do you do that whilst not sounding obnoxious, arrogant, or like a sniveler? The bigger question here is, how do you write and not bore the hell out of your audience, especially when you don’t have a flashy application to show for it. This picture is starting to look like an incomplete puzzle, to be honest. I’ll do my best not to disappoint.

The brief

I’ll be brief about the brief, a not so clever attempt at a pun. The client wants to build better lives through behavioural science and help people change their habits concerning their diet and activity levels. And improve their health and also reduce their risk of chronic disease.

Oh, here’s the kicker, they want to reach 100 million users by 2025. When I read this line of text, I wanted to curl up into a fetal position and remember simpler times.

The client didn’t want to turn the whole thing into an app just yet. Because they knew an MVP needs to solve one problem, and the most critical problem they wanted to solve first is getting people to eat better.

Phase 1 — Discover

The thing is, my group started divided, each to their own, so to speak. Enter stage right, the Hare. Large, fast and less friendly than the rabbit, our Hare wanted to hit the floor running and get an end product out. Enter stage left, the Owl. Generally quiet and shy yet intelligent, we would listen when the Owl said something. Enter stage right and cross to the downstage centre, the Ant. The Ant was dependable, productive, meticulous and took charge. Enter stage left and travel to centre stage, the Dog. In case you haven’t got it yet, I’m the Dog, okay moving on. The Dog is supportive, confident, and intelligent. At least that’s what I thought coming onto the stage.

The conversation went something like this “Okay, let’s take 15 minutes to read the brief and come back in to discuss”. We went off into our corners of solitude to dissect this brief. Before we knew it, time was up, and we came back together to hash things out and made a plan. So far, so good. Divide and conquer was the plan as we realised off the bat that this topic involved a lot of research.

We each covered two areas to research, and we gave each other roughly 2 hours to do our research. My focus was on habit formation and the neurobiology of food intake in health and disease. I asked for more time at the 2-hour mark, as I had lost myself in extra research on this matter. When I finished, I came back convinced that the research was the way to move forward. We came back and shared our findings, summarised versions, though. Then someone said, “Okay, cool, let’s move on to the next part”.

Did I imagine that? Did someone say, let’s move on after a few hours of research? Unsure of myself, I asked did you say let’s move on? And without hesitation, the Hare said yes. This research isn’t much to go on, I said. We can’t make informative decisions when we know so little. The questions we would ask ourselves and our users might not have any weight to them. I felt nothing like the Dog who first came on stage. I was no longer supportive, confident or intelligent.

And so the divide began, back and forth proving each other point till the final sound of reason, silence. Break the silence, I said to myself, say something to explain myself. And so I said, “As you all know, I was unsuccessful on my first project, and I didn’t have anything to show for it but my failures, so I am speaking from experience. We need more research, don’t rush for something because of time constraints or to have a flashy app”.

And that’s when the Ant said, let’s take more time and do more research. Now, I wasn’t sure if the Ant had always been on the side of research or if I managed to sway someone. Regardless the Ant was onboard and keen to do the research. And with that, the shy Owl took an interest in doing the research, leaving the Hare obligated to follow. We had a long weekend coming up due to public holidays, so good time to work on our research before the holidays.

And scene.

I’ll stop with the theatre reference. I don’t think I have 40 scenes to write or you the energy to read.

You’re doing good, and thank you for reading on.

A new day and all is well in the land of research, or is it? Everyone’s on board. We all agreed research would drive this project. It is time to construct our user interview questions. Let’s look back at the research we said, and in an instance, divided again.

The group believed that habit formation was a less integral part of our research. They thought we should focus on other areas that would have a greater impact. After all, this is about eating better, and they said not about peoples habits. Unable to persuade them otherwise and outvoted, I moved on. We were still focusing on research, and that was my desired result from this project.

Our research plan was simple, what was our goal, our objectives, methodologies and who were our participants. I managed to sneak in some objectives about habits which were nice, had no problem with methods. Then came the discussion in regards to participants, as in who would we interview. I wanted to interview everyone I could, young to old, fat to thin, active to passive.

Okay, not every single person but 20 to 50/60+ years old. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics validated my research into habits which informed me that the younger generation is as likely as the older generation not to eat healthily.

Fat to thin because the research informed me that unhealthy eating habits had wired our brains to seek these foods for their rewards.

Active to passive would be anyone at the gym or park or something along those lines. I thought this would be a great opportunity to determine what motivates them to perform these physical activities. And habit formation means that past consumption reinforces the propensity to consume the same over time.

But I was told that would be a waste of my time and theirs, and we would have data we couldn’t use. So strike out again, moving on and generating our questions. Some of my questions about habits got buried as follow-up questions, only to be asked if we had time. And some of it formed our survey.

Well, I guess that’s it. User interview questions done, we planned to conduct our interviews over the weekend. But wait, a ray of light piercing through the clouds. Today our instructor brought up habit formation, and just like that, the cohort started to discuss habit formation. I guess I wasn’t the only one who saw its importance. After that, my group’s view into habit formation changed, and we added more questions to our user interviews.

Someone up there must like me. Due to the timing of things, we had to do our user interviews over the weekend, and it so happened to be a public holiday. And like that, the group was open to asking anyone willing to give us their time of day.

Enter the scene, beach backdrop; family getaway. Right, I said I would stop with this, and I’m probably getting it wrong, but can you blame me? It’s an excellent way to bringing up where I was and for what purpose. The beach was probably the best place to scout for user interviews. Everyone has a different demeanour at the beach than when they are in their usual habitat. I managed to get some good interviews with individuals who I would identify as the initial target audience I wanted.

Phase 2 — Define

I was feeling refreshed after a long-deserved break, even though I was shedding my skin like a snake due to severe sunburn. The group and I came together to work out the affinity map.

We had 61 respondents for the survey and had done 32 interviews collectively. After seeing all this data, my first thought was, can I crawl back into my old skin and forget this day ever happened?

Wishful thinking, but we soldier through, and we started with looking for similarities from the insights. Before I continue, I have to say that if you ever find yourself squinting or zooming into an insight on miro, you have put too much in there. Don’t get me wrong, insights are essential. It helps us unify all this information to categorise them into easily readable or understandable problems. But when you have a paragraph written on a post-it, everyone who isn’t you will have a hard time. I had this problem on my first project. The best advice I got from my instructor was to see if I could summarise these insights into five words or less without removing the essence of the insight. Did this challenge of summarising insights spark my interest in UX writing? That’s another medium article, I need to stay on track, or we’ll be here all day.

Look at you, still with me. Appreciate it.

Acting as a timekeeper, I tried my best to keep us on track while sorting out all these insights. Our initial pass at it the timer was 60 minutes, but I had to add 15 minutes twice, maybe thrice. Once we had one category down, we had a good momentum going and did not need to extend the timer beyond the allocated time.

What I have learnt as a timekeeper is that that buzzer or alarm ringing isn’t absolute and that it is just a reminder of the sort so that we move faster. I have also noticed that we produce better work after that ringer goes off. Is it adrenaline? Creative juices? Whatever it is, it does kick us into gear.

It was getting late, so we decided to call it a night and continue the next day during project time. Again, the timer set for 60 minutes, but this time we were blazing through everything. Before we knew it, we had completed our affinity map.

Let’s go for drinks and throw a party. We managed to tackle all that data. Said nobody. I wish I did, though, as what happened next was an experience, to say the least. So, where do we go from here? How do we want to start building our personas? said the Ant.

Hare and Owl, in unison, said, after we have done all that, it was evident that we have a minimum of two personas. Maybe a third, so let’s identify the patterns and list them down next to a persona template and go from there. I had to interject as, based on my experience from other projects, I believed this would help us. I said to the group that we would be better off using an empathy map to assign things the user thinks, says, feels and does.

Now, I am no expert, but I have had problems trying to get more specific user needs, which resulted in a broad persona. However, in the previous group project before this, we used an empathy map to construct our persona, which helped us reveal deeper insights or specific user needs. However, this group wasn’t sure if they wanted to try using an empathy map as they did not experience any problems in the past. Three nays so moving on.

Thinking back, maybe I should have drawn it out on like a line chart or something to show where I think we would be without it. I just kept on hoping we wouldn’t end up with such a broad persona.

Right, so we were done listing down all the patterns we found next to our empty persona templates, and now we were sure we had three personas to do. Now time to input the personas goals, pain points, needs and behaviours. The Owl asked that we start with what’s easy to find and fill, the goals, the pain points, and behaviour followed by need and story.

Soon enough, we had enough to discuss which persona should be our primary focus. Which persona is going to help us focus our design on solving specific problems. After a lengthy discussion and no decision, we decided to cast votes on our pick to resolve this debate.

Off to slack, I said, and I will type out persona 1 to persona 3, and when the count down ends, we place a thumbs up on the persona we want. Three, two, one, go! The yay’s have it, persona 3 with three votes and persona 2 with one vote.

Here’s where things went pear shape. The person who cast their vote for persona 2, who we named Joey, asked if they could explain their decision. We all agree that we saw no harm in it, and so the explanation began. Joey was their prime candidate as they had the least problems and would be more direct to solve. Joey is already physically active, on a diet and only has a cheat day where they would overload on carbs and can’t break this habit of a cheat day. And would also struggle to stay motivated if left alone as Joey lives with a partner, and they keep each other in check.

However, persona 3, who we named Taylor, has too many problems and is unfit. Has poor stress management skills and tends to turn to alcohol and food when stress. Taylor has also been unable to stay on a diet or change their habits due to family commitments. Taylor is living on a weekly budget and does not want to cook two separate meals for themselves and the family. There are a few more problems Taylor was facing, but you get the idea. Taylor would have been a lot of work.

Based on this, Joey is easy to solve for and meets the client’s goal of getting more people to eat plant-based because Joey is familiar with diets and how they work. Joey tends to carb load on a cheat day.

After hearing that, the other two wanted to change their vote for Joey. Because I believed Taylor would benefit more from this and we could smash out some great ideas due to all these problems Taylor was facing, I explained myself and stayed with Taylor. I also mentioned that Taylor is trying to change their life for the better for the kids and teach them to eat healthily. I also said that whatever we ideated for Joey would only address that little or single problem Joey is facing. How would we get more people on plant-based diets from that, let alone 100 million users, by 2025 as per the brief?

But that was it. The group was focused on Joey now. Respecting the group, I let it go and worked with them to focus on the next task.

Our problem statements for Joey. A problem statement is a high-level description of core unsolved problems to help us summarise all of this research and insights into concise statements for all stakeholders.

I asked the group how they wanted to do this, should we type out our problem statement on a shared document, or should we go off on our own to do that then come back and share. The consensus was to go off on our own, so I set a timer for 30 minutes, and we went into silent mode.

In silence, I struggled to come up with anything good or worthwhile. I wasn’t sure if this was me being biased, tired because it’s been a long day, or that it’s Friday, and my kids have been waiting to go out for dinner with some friends.

Think, think, think, the alarm goes off, and like that, I felt unprofessional as I’m not sure why I couldn’t come up with anything decent. Then like racehorses seeing the gate opened and bolting for it, the other’s came back and said they too couldn’t produce anything tangible.

I think I made the mistake of convincing you all to change your votes from Taylor to Joey, they said. When I heard this, I was relieved that I wasn’t alone when I was stuck and could not produce much. It was late, and we all needed some rest, so we agree to spend some time on the weekend to work on Taylor and come Monday, we could work on some problem statements and HMW.

It’s Monday, and we have 12 problem statements. Time to narrow it down to just one problem statement that would align us with the client’s goals.

And the winner is “Taylor needs a way to change their unhealthy food habits so that they can improve their physical health”. Based on this, we were able to explore ideas for the problem we needed to solve. Hello HMW (How Might We). We again took time to do this on our own to answer six ways of addressing HMW.

Based on these six guidelines, I wrote up my HMW, and this is what I wrote.

  1. AMP up the good (HMW make Taylor prefer eating healthy)
  2. Remove the bad (HMW remove the perception that healthy food is boring)
  3. Explore the opposite (HMW convince Taylor that healthy eating habits taste as good as unhealthy)
  4. Question an assumption (HMW challenge the belief that healthy eating habits are expensive)
  5. Go after adjectives (HMW make forming healthy habits fun and rewarding)
  6. Break POV into pieces (HMW)

I didn’t get to write anything for number six due to time, but I felt I had some good stuff to share. We came back and shared everything we wrote and had to vote on which HMW would we tackle.

As a group, we decided to settle with two HMW:

  • How might we make forming healthy habits fun and rewarding?
  • How might we convince Taylor that healthy eating habits taste as good as unhealthy food?

Now that we had our HMW picked and ready to smash out some ideas, it was time to get crazy.

Phase 3 — Design

I meant to say get on with doing crazy 8’s. After our crazy 8 sessions had concluded, we converged our ideas down to one core tenet. Our MVP was:

“Show people what they have avoided eating.”

This idea came from Vita’s research. Vita knew that their current participants that celebrated small wins regularly tend to do better in the program and meet their goals of living better lives. And that positive reinforcement increases their motivation to track their diet and weight loss progress. This positive reinforcement would increase their motivation to:

  1. Change their food habits.
  2. Increase their activity levels
  3. Help them learn how to deal with challenges (bad eating habits)
  4. Reinforce their healthy/good habits

Showing people what they have avoided eating would empower them. This would show them just how much control and determination they have. Having this level of restraint over our impulses is no small feat and should be celebrated and acknowledged.

Have I told you lately that I……….. appreciate you taking the time to read this.

Rod Stewart, anyone? Just me? Cool, cool, cool.

Right, we are moving on. So we had our MVP, but how would we transfer that idea to a digital form? After all, it is just words. Hello sketching, this method is the best way to translate your ideas into something tangible. Again into our corners, we went, sketching what we see in our heads onto paper for the team to see.

Thankfully sketching isn’t about how pretty something is but how clear you can present your idea because I seem to have lost the ability to draw. We then analyse and critique each other’s sketches, basically giving each other feedback on what we liked and what we think would work.

The plan was to use paper prototypes. This method of testing would allow us to test our ideas quickly at a low cost. If it didn’t work, we could easily discard it or amend it as we wouldn’t have built an attachment.

Paper Prototype

Due to time constraints, we couldn’t assign the task of drawing up our low-fidelity interface to one individual. We agreed on a base design for all to follow and broke down each page into tasks to draw up.

Base design

My task was the profile page, which had subpages within it, and these pages were meals, snacks, drinking amount per week and finally settings.

InVision preview

In the morning, we came together to put all these pages together to form our prototype. Due to social distancing and the fact we were doing all this remotely, we settled on using InVision to convert our paper prototypes into clickable prototypes.

With our InVision prototype ready, we set out to conduct some usability testing. We managed to run four unmoderated usability testing with our InVision “paper prototype.” Our users’ tasks were to complete all three tasks within 10 minutes with no more than two errors for each task.

These tasks were:

  1. As a first-time user of this app, show me how you would sign up, save your profile and track what you have eaten today.
  2. You now have an existing account. Please show me how you would log in and make a new entry to your journal.
  3. From the homepage, please show me how you would access your calendar.

Due to a lack of information on our prototype, one of the four users abandoned the task midway. The user could not identify that the home and the welcome pages were the same. The other three users managed to complete all tasks with no more than two errors; however, they did exceed the time limit.

Phase 4 — Deliver

404 error, the requested page doesn’t exist. Sorry about that, poor attempt at humour. Well, here we are. As I said at the beginning of my story, we only had paper prototypes to show. But we had something more valuable to present, all the research that formed our MVP.

Future steps

The first thing I would like to do is revisit this and establish a user and task flow for Taylor. Take the learnings from the usability test and rerun the test with the same users as before, along with new users who would be unfamiliar with this prototype.

Lastly, I would like to explore this idea and see how it held up. Here is where I wrap things up and extend my thanks to you for taking the time to read my case study.

Thank you, and have a great day!