"Getting kids to commit to nutritious choices can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Schools have the opportunity to foster good habits early on. But accommodating picky eaters and dealing with outside influences, such as the media, family, and peers, can be daunting. Design an experience where schools can influence students' food choices. Show your process and how you arrived at your solution. Please include a sequence of high-fidelity mocks from your design solution."

Finding the problem

To start finding the problem, I decided to unpack my assumptions first. What do I know about this topic? Who should interview to get the point of view from an expert?

What country?
Eating behaviors can be very different from place to place. 
For example, kids in Italy use to eat at home after School. Italian parents pay significant attention to the nutrition of kids and spend quite a lot of effort in teaching us the differences between junk-food and healthy food or let us understand what a balanced diet is. 
In Japan, kids spend considerably more time at School; consequently, they have more chances to eat in school cafeterias, where school nutritionist professionals establish the balance of meals.
Since we are in Tokyo, I decided to challenge myself to find the problems of the Japanese School's lunch program. 
From here, I started iterating on my sketchbook; I'll post the most relevant pages that eventually led me to find the problem and a possible digital solution.​​​​​​​
unpacking assumptions
unpacking assumptions
unpacking assumptions
unpacking assumptions
explore edge cases
explore edge cases
explore edge cases
explore edge cases
Questions to answer
To better understand the problem to solve, I listed a series of questions to test my assumptions: the age of the kids looks essential to understand the problem.

What age does a kid understand the importance of healthy nutrition? 
 

Parents and teachers might influence kids in elementary schools and junior high, but a teenager (high School) could have other influences outside of the control of parents and teachers. 
So let's say we can distinguish three main age categories:
- Elementary school kids (approx. 6 to 12 years old)
- Junior High (approx. 11 to 15 years old)
- High School (approx. 15 to 18 years old)

Other questions I needed to find an answer were:
What's the kids' journey when buying food at School?
Can they buy food outside the School? Do they bring a bento (lunch-box)?
What are the common issues parents and teachers have with kids' nutrition habits?
Do kids know the difference between healthy and unhealthy?
Do kids mind picking healthy choices over unhealthy?
How many parents in Japan have control of kids eating habits?

With this amount of questions to answer, I start digging on the web, reading all the articles I found about the topic. The result showed how much I didn't know about Japanese kids' education.
Japanese Ministry of Health and Education has a very well organized system for schools' meals.
Most of the schools have a professional nutritionist in charge of defining the ingredients, managing the kitchen that distribute healthy and balanced food to all the students. 


It seems like kids in Japan don't have big nutrition problems, thanks to their school’s rigorous meal programs. In fact, Japan has been called a global leader in school lunches.


Finding the issue in a perfect system
By searching a little bit more, I start doubting Japan had a problem at all until I moved to the next phase, where I interviewed an expert on the topic.
I was lucky enough to know a Japanese Junior High School teacher. I could ask many questions. (She is also the person I user-tested with my sketched wireframe later on). 
"Japan's standpoint is that school lunches are a part of education, not a break from it" 
Masahiro Oji - Government Director of school health education

Talking with the teacher and reading this article helped me to discover some problems and opportunities.

Something clicked my brain when she said, "kids won't remember if grilled mackerel is healthier than stir-fried pork cause they don't get to make a choice and commit to it. "
The teacher explained to me how difficult it was to link her lessons about nutrition and a balanced diet in a kid's real life. Kids learn about theory of food and get fed with healthy meals provided by the School, but most of them don't realize the connection since they are not in deciding for themselves. For example, the teacher made "meal-cards" with nutritional values and distributed it to the kids. Then she asked to sort by dietary values, and she notices kids were struggling to remember what food was healthier than another. 
Japan's system seems perfect, but kids don't have a choice. They passively must accept whatever the School decides for them, without a deep understanding of what is healthy and why. It might not sound like a huge problem, but somehow, the consequences are visible in society (aka the infamous "Salaryman Diet").

Problem - Kids don't know why a choice is healthier than another.
What is taught at School get lost in real life, and in general, they stop following healthy food behavior whenever they have the opportunity to select their meal.

"School lunches provided by the School are mandatory. There are no concessions for those who have a special dietary requirement or are vegetarian. Since the meals are mandatory, students don't have a choice but to consume the healthy and nutritionally-planned meals provided."

How Might We

How can I help a student to remember which food has a higher nutritional value and can a kid's can remember easily? A kid would probably be able to remember the strongest Pokemon and not the highest nutrient food. How can I associate the nutritional value of Mackerel to Pokemons?


At this point, I spent some time iterating with How Might We type of iteration:
- HMW let the school influence students' choice for the long term?
- HMW make kids remember which food is healthier?
- HMW defines at what age students become self-conscious of the importance of nutrition?
- HMW give kids a choice to select their food and learn how to thrive for balanced meals?

Solving the problem 

What if kids were in charge of the food they eat, and this food was associated with a defined number of health points?
By associating the points with the meals, it would be possible to create a mental link to food with high nutritional value.
Kids will eat what they select, so the commitment is real. If the kid goes for the points, he's going to eat healthier. If the kid decides to have "less" healthy food, it will come along with a smaller amount of points and rewards. 
In short, to help kids linking what they learn about nutrition and the meal they eat, I want to introduce a digital experience that allows the students to select their lunch through an app.
Goals
1) Allow kids to pick their meals.
2) Raise the kid's awareness of a balanced diet and healthy ingredients.
3) Make parents informed of children's' choices.

Target
- Kids in Junior High and High School in Japan.

At this point, I sketched some User journeys cause the system should be integrated seamlessly with schools' kitchen processes and directly under the management by the School's nutritionist or the person in charge of nutrition.​​​​​​​
More things to consider
After defining the journey and writing some simple User Story, I start sketching wireframes of potential features. It was was a good time to validate some of the assumptions about the feasibility of this system (which indeed requires quite a lot of effort from a school's network).
I interviewed my experts again and came out with an overall process timetable where every "actor" has a very specific job to do in a given time.​​​​​​​
The meal selection app I created has to support the nutritionist work from the beginning of the month. 
The nutritionist or the kitchen staff should also manage the App CMS to upload the weekly/daily available choices for the kids. The kids have a limited window of time for selecting the meal, let's say from the evening before to next day 10:00 am a time when kitchen staff starts portioning the meals for each student.

Ideation


The necessary features were already pretty clear at this point so I jumped right into sketching and review phase. I decided to have a look at foodservice types of apps like Uber Eats, to understand how showcases the choices and to get a sense of how deep should we go in details. 

I made a simple flow to explore the idea and quickly understood it was way too complicated as structure, with a steep learning curve.
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Targeting kids requires a different mindset.
So I decided to change my approach and simplify the overall experience.
First of all, I needed some data about kids and smartphone usage in Japan, like age, type of use, most familiar digital experiences.
The research gave these results:
- 93% of Junior and High School students own a smartphone in Japan
- 61% of parents use to communicate with their children when they commute to School.
- 85% of students in japan use LINE messenger.
- The most popular App in Japan other than LINE is Pokemon GO.
My second round of sketches was way simpler. 
I abandoned the Uber Eats type of approach for a more direct and simple interface that could also work as an onboarding.
A wizard of three steps drives you straight away into the selection of the three components of the kids' meal: Base Carbs, Proteins, and Side Vegetables. I decided to trigger the kids' attention to healthy choices through a point system. 
In this case, the popularity of games such as Pokemon Go gave me the idea that collecting points would commit the students to stick with healthiest and seasonal choices, with the outcome of imprinting the difference between unhealthy choices (low in points) and healthy/seasonal (high in point).

The overall meal selection shouldn't take more than 30 seconds.


Parents should also have their App where they can access to kid's profile, and review their daily choices, potentially adjust their grocery store list. ​​​​​​​
After few more iterations on paper I moved to Figma for the more detailed wireframe.​​​​​​​

(Play) interaction animation video

Interactions in details

While iterating with wireframes and prototypes, I had the chance to develop deeper the function of the Kid's App.

A "friendly" wizard should function both as on-boarding as well as for selecting your first meal.
Home page
I decided it was necessary to have some kind of Home page the kid can visualize outside the "Pick your meal" time. Selecting the meal is possible only in weekdays mornings, from 6:00 to 10:30, for this reason outside of "Pick your mealtime" and after, the home screen shows a dashboard with few contents: 
- "Pick your meal" deselected button + countdown until next mealtime.
- Few entries about seasonal ingredients or school fairs related meals
- Setting button
- Main navigation 

Collected Badges
Eating healthy gives you points. Points make you earn badges. Badges should be earned weekly and are collectible. The points gained are proportional to the nutritional values of the food. Let's say if this App were connectible with Google Fit, it would deliver the students' meals nutritional value data. 

History
This page should be a list of all the selected meals.
Kids should have a reminder of all the most point (nutrition) profitable set meals they picked up.
​​​​​​​

High Fidelity 

Since the App is supposed to target kids in Japan, I've tried to define an interface and colors that could be "catchy" enough for a junior high but also not too childish for a high school student.
Inspired by popular apps like Pokemon Go and Line Messenger, I decided for a paring of pastels color and the Google font Rubik.
For the logo, I wanted something that could look like a mascotte, after a few sketches, I decided for a bowl of rice with sour plum (umeboshi) on the top — typical Japanese basic meal.​​​​​​​
After a few color and typeface iteration, I went for this chromatic approach.
App login is performed by entering the student's Name and School ID.
After the friendly "Start," the wizard proposes the first dish to select.
The star simply indicates the highest score meal when the green badge indicates whatsoever a meal contains seasonal ingredients. The user will discover, later on in the wizard that seasonals are limited in the number of available portions and also deliver more health points.

The logo/mascotte of the App uses a "talkative" approach and gives suggestions to the user.

After the three choices, there is a recap where the user can decide if going back on his steps or "Order" the meal as it is. 
This recap screen also shows the total of gained points for this order.

Sending the order to the kitchen is emphasized by this loader/countdown. It gives the perception of completing a task and actually communicating your order to someone. It also offers a chance for a last-second "cancel" of the order. The "sending order" screen is in blue to represent a visual interruption from the ordering flow.
In the case of "abort," the App redirects to the home screen where the "order" button can be tapped to start the wizard again.

For the badges screen, I opted for a tile view where the kid can admire all the collected badges and aim to unblock the others.
When "tapping" on a badge, it opens into a card with a carousel horizontal scrolling that shows all the other catches.
It would be nice if a badge card was thematic for types of ingredients: ex " Chicken Baron - badge explain in detail some of the nutritional properties of Chicken". 
I made a "Meals history" screen with card components; the card should show just the list of dishes and expand to a detailed list of nutritional values + health points when tapped.​​​​​​​
UI is not complete without a user setting page where is possible to edit the profile, take a picture as an avatar or eventually Log Out.

Home 

Settings

Parent App
Due to the lack of time, I didn't iterate so much the mockups of Parent's App since it would function as a dashboard where kids' choices are weekly reported as analytics. Apps to monitor analytics are many and very customizable. I believe that in the Google huge ecosystem of products, there is already one that could be the perfect match for it.
CMS for School's staff

Ideally, it's a simple CMS, customizable with custom fields as a control panel for the App. The API could be shared with other schools of the region/nation.

Final considerations

I spend quite a long time at the beginning of this exercise to consider if a system like this could be integrated into real life.
Of course, in a world where the economic crisis of nations inflicts, the goverment must cut out expenses. Most of the time, solutions like this one would require quite a lot of effort, at least in the very first phase, to reorganizing all the processes and management flows. 
Sometimes kids do not have a choice just because there is NO choice for them. The budgets for School's kitchen are often organized by taking into consideration so many variables and unknowns. I definitely believe that, in theory, this is a digital experience applicable to those schools that believe in shaping the future of a nation.

Risks
During the process, I made a list of risks possibilities for this project to fail:
R1) Some schools will not join the initiative because of budget issues or effort required from the kitchen staff/administrators.
There isn't a real solution to this when introducing new products, systems, or experiences; there are always early adopters and ladders. I guess it is essential to test a prototype with the right audience, from the very beginning.
R2) Some students will not have a smartphone or eventually won't have access to it every day.
We don't want to cut out anybody. We could consider a desktop version of the App, or an analog system based on cards that teachers can distribute to the students without a smartphone.
R3) System Fail, app crash.
In case of failure, the standard procedure will be to switch back automatically to the old model where the kitchen decides the meal.
R4) Parents do not use/care about this app
world is not perfect, and people are busy. Even without the parent's effort, the system will work for the students who want to pick their meal.

To complete the overall exercise I spent around 20 hours, spread in 5 days week. I've tried to follow my design thinking process, dividing each day into a specific set of tasks (like a Design Sprint). 
To work on UI design I spent 6 hours on the last day.  
I spent further hours to chat/interview/test a Japanese School Teacher, a Japanese Junior High School student, read articles on the Internet, edit the grammar spelling of my notes.

Thanks for reading!

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