Design Interactive
9 min readDec 12, 2021


With UC Davis students returning to in-person learning, balancing their budget while exploring a variety of food options has become a struggle once again. We wanted to optimize students’ food budgeting and exploration experience to allow them to have both a full stomach and wallet.

In the span of six weeks, our team created a mobile app with a human-centered approach. This app helps students explore food options near campus all while keeping their budget and free time in mind.

Meet the Team

Monchies Crew :)

Problem Statement

The transition back to in-person learning is exciting for both students who are familiar with campus and students who are physically attending UC Davis for the first time. However, many students have difficulty budgeting their food and finding time in their daily and/or weekly schedules to buy and cook food.

For many students, it is their first time living away from home. These students are learning how to buy food and groceries and budget their money, all while attending classes, maintaining good academic standing, and balancing many other academic responsibilities. Our team wanted to create a platform with a personalized experience that can help students find the highest value and convenience for food around them.

We explored the idea of how we might create a personalized platform that will help students decide on food options based on highest value and convenience?

User Research

For our user research, we conducted literature reviews, surveys, and interviews to gain more insight and understand the issues that our users face in regards to food.

Literature Review

In order to understand food platforms better to create a platform that can help students, we sought to understand why food application platforms optimize the food exploration and budgeting experience.

The market for online food platforms has allowed customers to order groceries, meals, and more of the like with a tap of the button. The market for restaurant delivery has risen by 128% since the pandemic and is expected to grow as technology becomes more advanced. Based on Peerbits, food applications offer customers a convenient and satisfying experience, with restaurants enhancing their performance, efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction by utilizing information technology. Technology allows consumers to see the menu, prices, and ordering activities in a streamline fashion. Food applications also allow users to have a personalized experience as it allows users to set more preferences (e.g., dietary preferences, location, prices), narrow choices, but also showing available options.

The rise of food applications allows users to counter the adverse effects of the rising prices and busy schedules of everyday life. It is important for people to have food apps that will remind the users of their daily budgets while helping them maintain the eagerness to explore different food options.


In our survey, we asked open and closed-ended questions to identify the issues students face in terms of other food apps they use, how they engage with food, and what types of problems they have in general when it comes to food. Out of the 42 responses we received from young adults (ages 16 to 25), 52.4% state that they go out to eat once or twice a week and 35.7% say that they use food delivery apps (e.g., DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, etc.) once or twice every six-months in order to get food. Additionally, the main barriers for access to food is the price and time constraints that they have as students. Many have stated their frustrations about the lack of flexibility when it comes to ordering food and the hidden fees that come along with it.

Data Feedback from Google Forms


We conducted a total of 4 in-person interviews. We asked users about their overall experience with food, how they budget food,

The interview consist of two sections:

  1. Open-ended questions about what difficulties users are experiencing when it comes to budgeting and planning for food.
  2. Follow-up questions and expanded answers from the interviewees about the survey.

From our interviews, we noticed that students spent more of their time budgeting food than enjoying the food exploration experience and not having the time due to their busy schedules.

User Persona

With the information gathered from our user research, we then created a user persona that would conveys the collected data into a person. The card below shows our user’s preferences, goals, frustrations, goals, and needs.

Eleanor King is an undergraduate student at UC Davis who wants to optimize the time spent exploring new food and finding the best deals within her budget.

Synthesis & Ideation

During our research, we created a user journey map to understand the current touchpoints, tools, weaknesses, and emotions users are experiencing in regards to food planning and budgeting. The user journey map guided us in our research and interviews as the general idea of users.

After our research, we moved to synthesize our findings using affinity mapping. Through this we found three main insights:

Budgeting Food Spendings

  • Hidden fees from apps can deter purchase
  • Constantly comparing prices of items and groceries between stores
  • Limiting food intake to save money

Time Constraints

  • Having no time to plan their meals
  • Eats (unhealthy) food if there is no time to cook
  • Lack of exploration due to time constraints


  • Local business are often overlooked by franchises
  • Lack of recommendations that would encourage discovering new cuisines / dishes

Referencing our user research and user persona, we decided to prioritize budget and time. As a result, we made a “How Might We” statement that would accommodate to them:

How might we create a personalized platform that will help students decide on food options based on highest value and convenience?

We began creating sketches that would address all parts of our purpose. To narrow down various solutions, we voted on the features that we thought would fulfill our purpose the best.

Lo-fi Prototyping

We created lo-fi wireframes based on our initial user flow and sketches. This allowed us to present to users the basic functionality of the app and appearance.

  • We implemented a Recommended Meal section that recommends meals to users based off of their budget from the questions they answered during on-boarding.
  • Embedded features include Edit Meal Plans and Save Meals to cater to their taste
  • A Weekly Spending was also included to show the users a chart that tracked their spending during the week on food, so the users can be more mindful of the leftover budget.
  • A Deal Discovery (Coupon Page) was incorporated for users to be encouraged about spending money on food and exploring more with coupons.
  • Saved section was for meals and coupons that were saved in the embedded sections
  • Ordering section for users to order the recommended meals in order to avoid switching through different apps and tools

Usability Testing

We conducted a total of 6 usability tests on college undergraduates. For our first round of user testing, we made a list of targeted tasks that would allow our users to explore various features of the app.

The first round of user testing was a turning point in our process.

We found that there was confusion with:

  • Meal planning: Most users were confused with choosing between restaurants and eating in and had trouble navigating the meal card.
  • Weekly spending analytics: Users stated that they weren’t likely to find the weekly spending analytics useful and would rather see how much they spend daily.
  • Purpose of the app: User mistook our app as an ordering app rather than a meal planning app.

With all the confusion our team faced during user testing, we had to go back to the synthesis and ideation phase. We decided to change directions and simplify a lot of our features in order to make the app less complicated and easier to understand. We decided to make it more based on budget rather than meal planning and food delivery.

We created a finalized user flow that mapped out the user journey.

Mid-fi Prototyping

In our Mid-Fi prototyping, we redesigned our app to make it more aligned with the user’s goals and issues. Based off of the new user-flow, we created the following sections that included less embedded sections and enhanced the features that would help users.

  • We created a Home section that displays their Budget based on their answers from on-boarding and Recommended Meals that would recommend restaurants based on the users’ budget.
  • A Deal Discovery (Coupon) where they can save coupons
  • A Profile Page section where users can change their preferences, notifications, etc.

Usability Testing (Part 2)

For our second round of user testing, we made a list of modified targeted tasks that would allow our users to explore various features of the app.

The second round of user testing allowed us to finalize the features for our app. Instead of trying to solve the many solutions at once, we decided it would be better to narrow down our focus to three specific features. As a result, we decided to stop the meal planning option and instead focus specifically on restaurant recommendations based on the user’s budget. We also wanted to highlight the idea of discovering new places to eat in Davis as well as benefiting money conscious students by adding the coupon and deals discovery page. Not only can students try new local restaurants, they can also save money with student discounts to these new places. Lastly, our third feature and final feature helps solve the pain point of delivery being too expensive by finding the best

With all the feedback and insights, we moved on to finalize our design.

Hi-fi Prototyping

In our final preparation, we focused on unifying the overall visual designs with our design system.

  • Initial design lacked contrast and the colors did not align with our goals of a food app that deals with budget and planning.

Design System

Initial Design System:

New Design System:

  • The new design incorporates colors that will provide more contrast.
  • Color psychology that aligns with the goals of our apps.

Final Solution

View full prototype

Final Thoughts


Designing a food app amongst the many food applications available has been a difficult but fulfilling journey.

Realizing the need to change direction after our first usability testing, we returned back to the drawing board. We had to realign our application goals with the users needs and narrow the issues down into the main pain points for students at UC Davis. We changed the direction of our app to be more focused on recommended options based on the user’s budget and time.

We fell behind in the design sprint due to the redesign of our entire system based on the feedback. Despite the time crunch, we were able to finish our designs with extra meetings and late nights.


We learned what the pain points of our fellow UC Davis peers had with food options and money, as well as their eating habits and wants and needs.

Next Steps

If we were given more time, we would like to explore more restaurant options outside of Davis to add to our recommendations. We would also love to continue to improve our prototype with more user research.