Coogether is a mobile app with an AR component designed it for people in close relationships to cook collaboratively in a fun and smooth way. This is my passion project during the pandemic when I cooked with my parents at home everday.
3 months (2021)
UX Research, UX Design (Individual project)
Pen & Paper, Figma, Zoom, Unity
Lack of communication & collaboration
Collaborative cooking isn't easy. Humdrum cooking procedures such as washing and chopping can drain the soothing experience away quickly. Arguments over minute issues also take place easily (consider what collaboration experience is like in Overcooked!)
While most of us imagine our ideal collaborative cooking experience to be enjoyable, in reality, arguments over minute issues often occur during meal preparation processes, and they usually stem from a lack of communication between close friends and/or family members. How might we help them cook together to improve communication and, ultimately, enhance relationships?
Overcooked, a co-op cooking game translated as "Divorce Kitchen" in Chinese (which tells us a lot about collaboration)
Communication over cooking preparation
collaboration over cooking process
First time cooking a recipe? Not a problem!
The virtual cooking aids are available for you. You can even play your favorite songs while cooking with your loved ones.
View your cooking timeline, procedures, and accompanying videos anytime you want with your cooking partner.
The need for a happy family kitchen
The lack of social positive interactions among family members has become a social issue in many places such as Hong Kong and my hometown Shanghai.
Busy work lives leave little time for family gatherings and bonding on weekdays. What’s more, many families order takeouts that are heavy on oil and fat on a regular basis, resulting in an unhealthful family diet.
Journal of Family Psychology, 2016, Vol 30, No. 6, 752-759
A deeper dive into collaborative cooking
Communication & collaboration issues in both households
To understand how people cook their meals at home, I observed and recorded meal preparation processes at two different households.
Household 1: Married Couple
Household 2: Big Family
In both households, one family member (the wife) is in charge of deciding what to eat and buying ingredients while the other one (the husband) is mainly in charge of cooking. Without clear communication of what to eat and how to cook beforehand, both sides can get confused and frustrated very easily, resulting in arguments and blaming.
While there is a relatively clear split of roles, namely one person prepares ingredients and the other person cooks, the two are both involved in their own tasks without noticing what stage the other person is currently at. For example, in "Household 2", if Yang had not walked into the kitchen and rescued the over-boiled soup, she would never notice Liu was so busy with cooking and could use some help from her.
Poor communication and ill-preparation are the main obstacles in collaborative cooking
My observations came from families with middle-aged couples, but I'm also curious how young people think about collaborative cooking. To find out the answer, I conducted a series of interviews with 5 young participants.
My key questions include:
-What steps are there in a meal preparation process? Which ones are you involved in? How do you like them?
-What are some challenges you/your family member/partner face during the meal preparation process?
-Please share 1 most recent enjoyable meal-preparation experience and 1 less enjoyable experience.
user groups and user journey
Narrow down focus on young population
Compared with middle-aged participants, young people have lower cooking experience, and many of them take on helping roles like washing and chopping ingredients. They cook with their romantic partners or family members, and they value healthy meals. Now let me introduce Ariel and Ryan who share common characteristics and needs of my interviewees:
Based on answers from my interviewees, the whole meal preparation process can be separated into 5 stages: shopping, washing, chopping, cooking, and finishing up. I synthesized what my users think, feel, and behave at each stage using my two personas, Ariel and Ryan, and I identified multiple design opportunities based on their pain points.
So, how might we create a fun and smooth collaboration experience for people with different levels of cooking experience to improve communication and enhance relationships?
5 key areas
I categorized 5 key areas I can focus on to help create a smooth and fun meal preparation experience that helps enhance human relationships.
To narrow down on key functions, I teased out the ones that require a high effort but are less related to the collaborative meal preparation process, along with ideas that overlap and those that are too broad for function generation.
Then, I made a decision matrix with two criteria: user value and playfulness. User value is assessed based on the ability to address users' pain points directly. I set playfulness as a judging criterion to help select ideas that will be fun and exciting for users, given that boredom is a key problem mentioned by multiple interviewees.
I am going to center my design around ideas on the upper right quadrate.
validating ideas through storyboard feedback
Based on the decision matrix, I selected 3 main processes with features I want to highlight. They are both high in user value and fun. These features cover the whole meal preparation process functions before, during, and after cooking.
To hone and validate my ideas, I drew them out and asked 2 potential users to give feedback on them.
1. Shopping: personalized recipe + auto check-list
Need: smooth & fun shopping
Lead: Have you ever had experience of not knowing what to buy at/before going to grocery stores?
2. Collaborative Cooking: Music + AR instruction + Voice Assistant
Need: fun cooking & instructive learning
Lead: Have you ever had trouble following menus? Is boredom something you experience while cooking?
3. Finish up: Gratitude + Discussion
Need: expressing appreciation & open discussion
Lead: Have you ever wanted to give/collect feedback for dishes? How do you express love and appreciation?
sketch & Paper Mockup
Gathered feedback from 3 users
To evaluate my ideas, I presented my paper mockup to 3 potential users and asked them to critique on my page layout. Then, I cooked dinner with my dad using hand-drawn instructions on paper. By doing so, I gathered first-hand insights on what works and what does not about my current functions. I listed feedbacks and brainstormed revision plans with my potential users.
Feedback: "While expressing gratitude is a sweet idea, it is inconvenient to write down comments every time I finish cooking."
Revision: Set up a pop-up window with a sentence like "tell your partner what you appreciate about this cooking collaboration :)"
From shopping to cooking
Feedback:"It is inconvenient and a bit unnecessary to scan every item I buy."
Revision: Delete the function and focus on auto-generation of a checklist based on menus because this is where the main pain point occurs.
After selecting a dish, click on "Begin" button to start cooking.
Task distribution between family members.
Following steps to peel cucumbers.
Following steps to cut out cucumber seeds.
1. "Step-by-step instructions are helpful for people inexperienced with cooking like me, but not necessary for those who are already proficient in cooking like my dad."
2. "Music is great, and it would be more convenient if I can connect it to my Spotify account."
Collaborative cooking with music playing in the background
1. Consider specifying a niche of users who are inexperienced in cooking or offer the more experienced ones more challenging menus so that they don't get impatient while waiting for their inexperienced partner(s) to finish up cooking.
2. Create Spotify/Apple Music Playlist for kitchen use.
Narrow down use cases
Based on the feedback sessions, one crucial concern emerge: if a person knows how to cook a specific dish by heart, it might as well be easier if he/she tell the less experienced one(s) how to cook the dish. The teaching process can even foster communication. Hence, I decided to narrow down my use case to 1) Both Inexperienced Users 2) Experienced + Inexperienced Users.
Wireframe + Prototype
Based on users' feedback for my sketches, I revised my page layouts and cut down features. I wire-framed my pages and created mid-fi prototypes for users to test out.
AR Building & Testing
I used Unity to build the AR part of my design, and tested it out in my family kitchen.
To test my prototype, I designed four separate tasks and invited 4 participants to think around while trying out the prototype.
While most of the feedbacks were positive, I found that users had a hard time finding the "Ingredient Checklist" (right image). Hence, I modified its placement by incorporating it into the "Cook" section and also changed font size based on the feedbacks I received.
If I had more time
Knowing that my potential users look for more soulful and enjoyable cooking experiences, I will use AI virtual assistants to create personalized interesting mini games for users to chat about while cooking. Users can also customize their game bank.