I discovered Hack the Gap, the hackathon designed for female and non-binary designers/programmers three years ago, and since then I have participated either as a team member or as a mentor. Besides bringing female coders and designers together and empowering them, it also provides community help: the themes for the apps and websites teams pull together are problems communities face. This year’s theme was “Help your community struggling with shelter-in-place.”
As the hackathon happened during the shelter-in-place and had only a week to deliver a product, our research focused on competitive analysis. The team made a lot of assumptions that normally would require some foundational research, starting with confirming the need for such a website.
The goal of the website is provide a platform where managers of small restaurants/diners can post their menus and operating information, and where patrons can discover new places, and place orders for pickup and / or delivery, while supporting these small businesses. This way, they can support small businesses in their communities while getting good food. In order words, TOLU, Take Out to Lift Up.
The following discussion refers to a product that has not been realized, and thus some of the points are conjectures.
The main direct stakeholder groups are (1) the restaurant managers and (2) the potential patrons of these restaurants. (3)The chambers of commerce represent a third group of stakeholders as the communities that these restaurants operate in would benefit from this service.
Many of the small restaurants lack staff with technical skills and so it is imperative for the website to have low technical barriers both when setting their pages up, and when regularly updating their information. Another anticipated issue is the lack of English language skills, which could be accommodated with a sign-up process offered in more than one language.
A further consideration is that for this platform to provide value to all three stakeholder groups, restaurant managers need to keep their information up-to-date on the platform, which means that they need to be incentivized to do so.
My primary role is IA, creating the site map, the user journeys for both the restaurant managers and the patrons, and the wireframes. The main problems I need to solve are:
- Enable low-tech managers to enter and edit all the relevant information. As the goal of this platform is to help small restaurants, many of which have no web presence, we could not assume technically skilled staff. The language and content of the site needs to be simple and easy-to-understand.
- Encourage managers to keep their information accurate and up-to-date. A critical component is the trustworthiness of the site: patrons need to be able to trust the accuracy of the posted information.
- Allow patrons to search based on their dietary needs, price point and availability. Many patrons understand the need to support small businesses, but may not be able to do so if the restaurants do not meet patrons’ needs for special diets, or other needs.
- My approach is user-centered design – many of the design decisions need to be guided by data from users: restaurant managers and patrons.
- Restaurant Managers
- Tools and platforms currently used to provide up-to-date information
- Pain and delight points of the process
- Frequency of updates currently done
- Frequency of ordering food
- Discovering a new restaurant
- Factors influencing their selection (cuisine,dietary needs, price, location, etc.)
Comparative / Competitive Research
Platforms currently offering restaurant information include:
- Google’s restaurants near me search
- Yelp’s restaurants near me
- Facebook restaurant pages
- Uber Eats
I uncovered common content elements along with gaps / opportunities that can differentiate this platform from others.
- Identifying the content elements most relevant for patrons.
Creating and testing categories and labels for cuisines, food types. It is crucial to get a representative sample of intended users.
At every stage of the design work, stakeholders are asked to complete tasks such as setting up a new account, looking for a restaurant for takeout, etc.
Creating this project posed several difficulties.
- One, using a user-centered design approach is more challenging as shelter-in-place makes interaction with stakeholders significantly more difficult, especially with restaurant owners from different cultures potentially less interested in interacting with our team.
- While the team worked well together for the duration of the hackathon, a project owner was sorely missed to guide the work, and prioritize features.this would have been especially relevant because of the low UX maturity level of the team.