Humane Food is a concept that was born of a different concept that failed. Here's what happened.
As an exercise, I was challenged to design an app that could quickly tell a person if a food item was vegan, no further instruction was given. With my tiny brief in hand, I set off contextualize the reasons for the existence of an app like this, by learning to understand vegans.*
1. Learn about why and when someone would need an app like this
2. Define the problem that needed to be solved
3. Ideate about how to solve it
Conducting interviews with people who might use an app like this (vegans, and people who lived with/regularly ate with vegans) lead me to understand that even the most seasoned vegans still had to stop, while grocery shopping, to look up unknown ingredients on the backs of boxes, to make sure that an ingredient contained no animal products. This helped me define the problem: knowing what an item on an ingredients list is, and if it's vegan.
* I am not vegan.
So, my challenge was to ideate about how to solve the problem of finding out quickly if an ingredient in a grocery store item was vegan, or not. From there, we could solve other problems, like suggest alternatives when an ingredient was found not to be vegan.
Here are the various solutions I came up with:
1. A search interface - type in the ingredient you wanted to check and get a "yes/no" response.
2. A barcode scanner - a crowd sourced database that would grow over time. A user could scan the barcode on an food item and information about the item would be pulled from the database, including a "yes/no" on whether something was vegan.
3. An ingredients list scanner - a photograph of the ingredients list could be scanned for words, and the words searched for what they were. This would also require a data base.
Option 1 was immediately eliminated because googling food is what the users were already doing. They wanted something faster.
Here's where I got into trouble.
With both crowd sourcing a data base and creating a data base, I came up against a human problem and a factual problem: users couldn't agree on what was, and wasn't vegan, and neither could the internet. Veganism is conceptual, and dependent on each person adopting the lifestyle to the best of their ability and level of choice. Based on this, trying to decide what was and wasn't vegan felt impossible, and a touch unethical.
Changing the concept to an app that could easily tell you whether a food was vegetarian or not felt like the next logical step. . . but it turns out that no one needs an app like this. Here, I had the opposite problem to the vegan app experiment: it's too easy to know if a food is vegetarian or not. While I can still think of several use cases for an app like this (an uninformed but helpful family member is preparing Thanksgiving dinner and wants to make sure that they meet the needs of their vegetarian nephew, for example), this solution didn't reach to the heart of the problem. It wasn't an empathetic answer to the existence of a tool like this.
The empathetic answer to this problem was to consider what motivates a vegan to commit the time and effort it takes to maintain a vegan lifestyle. A big part of the answer to that was clear: the user is motivated by empathy and ethics. While health is another motivating factor, for the most part, all participants agreed that they were motivated by various virtues related to sustainability and animal welfare as well.
The Humane Food Project
What if I could create a way to make it easier for everyone to eat more ethically, not just vegans? If reliable information about the ethics of the food I bought was readily available, I know that I would make more humane, environmentally conscious choices about the animal products I buy, more often.
Following the WholeFoods tier system, I discovered that there is a certification available to producers that follow certain guidelines related to the raising of livestock for food. As natural a life as possible in terms of length, food and environment is required. There are requirements about how animals can be transported, antibiotic use and husbandry practices among other guidelines. If production meets these guidelines, the food product can receive a "humane certification," and certain grocery stores (like WholeFoods) carry them, and market them as such.
To the drawing board.
Visual language: The motives of the user and how they want to feel when they use this app were the primary drivers behind color, typography and graphic choices. The user is motivated to make an altruistic choice, they have the environment and animal welfare in mind, and they're putting their trust in a certification process. The app needed to be friendly, trustworthy, reflective of their values.
Interface Design: The simple information architecture of this app meant that the interface came together quite quickly. It's challenging to keep to a visual language when content is sparse, and so I intentionally kept the color palette simple, so that all of it could be woven in at every opportunity; green overlays on highlighted text, blue text boxes.