Designed 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 involved (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.
After a week long synthesis of findings collected through the above mentioned research methods, we transitioned into the design stages by hosting an interdisciplinary co-design workshop with individuals who identify as growers and consumers to generate ideas and solutions that address the key areas highlighted by our research: over-commodification of food and lack of food and land connection.
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.
Mapping Complex System
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.
People of the Ecosystem
We decided to use mindsets over personas to capture and represent the multidimensional facets of each stakeholder involved in the food system. While personas are effective at capturing a high-level view of users and their needs, mindsets deepen our understanding of each stakeholder by adding value through the dynamic representation of users’ desires, needs, behaviors, attitudes, and motivations that drive them.
The food value chain is incredibly complex with numerous stakeholders who often possess conflicting values and attributes. We used mindsets to explain why these differences occur in addition to supporting data through direct quotes and themes drawn from subject-matter-expert interviews, contextual inquiry, and co-design.
By understanding each stakeholder as a unique individual with changing needs and distinct motivators, we were able to make informed design decisions while creating our service. Mindsets enabled us to anticipate the ever-evolving needs of each user and ensure that our service was engaging and adaptable enough to maintain engagement and satisfaction of our users over an extended period of time.
Design Question, Values, and Principles
Mapping the system, its human and more-than-human stakeholders, and adopting a transition design approach helped us refine our design direction to: How might we enable producers and consumer to overcome the commodification of food and build a deeper, more direct connection with the land and their local food systems?
Radicle is a seed exchange service designed to nurture meaningful growing experiences and deeper food connections through the cultivation and collaborative exchange of rare, heirloom, and culturally diverse seeds.
We share seed collections, curated in partnership with farmers and botanists, with aims of spreading knowledge, skills, and stories to preserve agricultural heritage and biodiversity in our food system.
Radicle encourages growers to engage in mindful food production and consumption. From seasoned farmers to hobbyists, we leverage rich seed legacies and genome mapping to create a future-oriented food system that supports community collaboration, food appreciation, and celebration of diverse vegetation.
Cultivating a Cultural Movement
Radicle is more than a seed supply service. We designed the service with the intention to initiate a cultural shift towards a more sustainable and connected food production and consumption lifestyle.
From the collection of seeds and its packaging to everything in between: a community newsletter, produce-adorned postcards, nature activities, and quarterly zine. Each individual item was carefully curated and designed to instill knowledge and excitement for members to get hands on in the garden, kitchen, and out in nature.
You can view each artifact in higher-fidelity here: zine (overview and e-zine) packaging, nature activities, and postcards,
Service Evaluation and Reflection
Desirability: Radicle’s inception can be tied directly to cross-functional stakeholder research and interdisciplinary co-design workshops however, given a longer runway, we would run a multi-stakeholder concept test with growers (professional), consumers (hobbyists and novices), and CSA subscribers to assess Radicle’s current state desirability.
Viability: Our current state competitive research showed that there are services that exist today that offer rare seed sales and genome mapping. The success of these services shows promise for Radicle’s existence and its potential to flourish given its vision and mission to scale beyond specialized growers and hobbyists. Given more time, we would map out the financial flow through the service and its actors in more detail.
Feasibility: Radicle leverages a number of existing technologies and service models to drive behavior change at scale. CSAs, box-delivery services, and social knowledge-exchange forums, among others, are all familiar to each of the actors in our service. Given more time, we would assess the feasibility of our rare foods CSA in more depth in order to better understand its financial opportunity.