Designing a service at the intersection of food waste, climate-smart agriculture, and environmental stewardship through the lens of small- and mid-sized growers and consumers. Project involves (1) exploration through literature review, SME interviews, field research, and surveys; (2) ideation thru interdisciplinary co-design sessions; and (3) validation thru narrative prototyping and concept testing.
Service Designer • January - June '23 • Seattle, WA
Current mainstream farming practices, food distribution, and food consumption models create excessive strain on the environment. Food waste in the United States is estimated to be between 30-40%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This scale of waste has widespread impacts on water, land, energy, and other limited resources.
Our project aims to explore the complex problem space of food waste, climate-smart agriculture, and environmental stewardship through the lens of small- and mid-sized farmers and consumers.
In this project, we define environmental stewardship as the responsible use and protection of the environment through active participation in sustainable practices by individuals, small groups, large organizations, and broader collective networks.
Goal and Research Methods
Our goal is to create a service centered around the natural world that encourages consumers and producers to (1) act intentionally to reduce environmental impact along the food value chain, and (2) Deepen connections with food products and the land through which they are grown.
Over the first of the two 10-week sprints, we employed a mix of primary and secondary research methods to inform our understanding of the domain space and its stakeholders, and engage in problem framing.
We interviewed SME’s across the food value chain, including farmers, soil experts, distributors, conservationists, food activists, and other hands-on experts.
While our interviews varied based on who we were talking to, our overarching research question for all SMEs remained anchored in understanding the relationship between their actions and behaviors within the food production and consumption system, and their mental models of their relationship to the natural world.
We decided to do a qualitative survey to understand consumer behavior at scale. It also allowed for an opportunity for us to triangulate pain points and areas of inquiries highlighted in our other 3 research methods.
We conducted a thorough review of existing literature and work related to food and farming systems to form a basic understanding of the ecosystem before diving into SME interviews and field research. We continued to use this method as a way to triangulate findings from the other research methods listed below.
From planting trees along river banks to gorilla interviewing farmers at farmers market to attending regenerative farming conventions – one of our collective goals as a group for this project was to spend as much time in the field as possible. Not only has it been personally gratifying but also it has played a very important role in contextualizing several pain points our SMEs had brought up in the interviews.
Our research uncovered a network of themes across actors in the food value chain. They're all wicked, systemic problems. Our goal for the spring quarter is to adopt a transition design approach in an effort to scope down on 1-2 systemic issues and design a service that addresses these issues in the short- and long-term.
As a precursor to ideation, we leveraged ecosystem mapping to visually define the actions, behaviors, and core needs of our 2 main key stakeholders: grower and consumer. Additionally, we also drew an Emerging Trend Map to identify, both positive and negative, long-term trends in the system.
Service Values & Design Principles
Over the last 10 weeks, we've formed a deep understanding of the ecosystem, key players, their values, and the tensions within them. Our research findings and ecosystem mapping have helped inform not only the values of our service but also our design principles.
Here's our plan for the Spring quarter. Stay tuned for end of quarter updates in June! If you'd like to get involved with this project, please don't hesitate to reach out to us using this contact form.