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Meal Connector

An Application that Plans to Bring Restaurants & Charities Together to Make Donating Food Easier


IDEO started OPENIDEO in 2010 when they asked themselves:


How might we open up our method, enabling people everywhere to spark innovation where it’s needed most?

OPENIDEO hosts challenges year-round for anyone to participate in. There were many topics to choose from, the one that I selected asked the question:

How might we dramatically reduce waste by transforming our relationship with food? 


I spoke with two restaurant managers and two volunteers to find out what their pain points were around food donations. The idea for Meal Connector came from those conversations. 

1 Month

Project Timeline


Interview Subjects


Usability Tests

Problem Statements
  1. Restaurant managers find it easier to throw out excess food, as opposed to donating it.

  2. In large cities, food bank volunteers find it time-consuming to locate and establish relationships with restaurants for consistent donations.


This application serves two audiences:


  • Restaurant employees

  • Donation center volunteers


Through user interviews and online research, I discovered that many restaurant managers are technology shy and busy. They don’t have time to call food banks to find out who is looking for donations.


The food bank volunteers are mostly high school and college students, looking to get service hours. They are overloaded with school work and don’t have time to establish relationships with different restaurants.

My Role

I am responsible for all of the work in this case study.


The scope of Meal Connector was to create the following deliverables and design an app for iOS and Android:

  • Research

  • Card sorting

  • Information Architecture

  • Sketches

  • Prototypes

  • Usability testing

  • Visual design

My Process

I followed IDEO’s Human-Centered Design process to generate the project deliverables.

Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test

To understand their needs, I interviewed four people:

  • 2 restaurant managers

  • 2 foodbank volunteers.


I looked for people that were both new and established in their respective industries. People new to the restaurant industry provided insight into their thought process about what to do with leftover food.  People that had been donating for a while would be able to explain how they selected the food banks that they were using.


For volunteers, I wanted to understand how they felt when they had no experience asking for donations. I also wanted to chat with someone that had been volunteering for a while, to see how they established relationships with restaurants. 


After conducting the research, it was easier to understand why both sides struggled:


“I close up the restaurant after the lunch crowd leaves so I can go pick up my daughter. I’m new to owning a restaurant and haven’t given much thought about what to do with extra food. If the bagels are hard in the morning, I’ve just been tossing them,”

- N.D., Restaurant owner


“I go to the food bank after school and on the weekends. I hate talking on the phone, and really don’t want to go door to door on my own asking restaurants for donations,”

-R.B., Volunteer


I went into this project with no preconceived notions as to what either group needed from the application. Doing the user interviews gave me a much better idea of the constraints that both types of users encounter. For example, not all donation centers have the equipment to keep food cold during transport. I also learned a lot about the people that work in both environments. Based on the data, I created two personas:​

Mary Manager's persona displaying her personality metrics, goals, frutrations, motivations, favorite brands, and a biography
Mary Manager

Mary is a 43-year-old local coffee shop owner. She hates throwing out perfectly good food and wishes there were an easier way to donate it.

Joanna Volunteer

Joanna is an 18-year-old student & soup kitchen volunteer. She is passionate about helping people, and it breaks her heart when the soup kitchen doesn’t get enough donations to serve everyone that comes to it.

Joanna Volunteer's persona displaying her personality metrics, goals, frutrations, motivations, favorite brands, and a biography
Ideation & Sketching

The app needed to eliminate how intimidating it is to establish relationships between restaurants and food banks. That task should become a simple button tap. I sketched out a few of the ideas shortly after the interviews while everything was fresh in my mind. I then met with 2 of the interview subjects to review the initial concepts. R.B. had some particularly insightful feedback. He asked if the app would be able to plan out a route, to make pick-ups more efficient. Recognizing the tight timeline and budget, I added that to the list of phase 2 features. Both gentlemen provided a lot of valuable feedback to help me settle on the concept.

Hand-drawn sketch of a tabbed interface with placeholder content and the aility to search. A second screen shows a calendar and controls to schedule a food pick-up.
Card Sorting

Once I had the concept, I needed to determine its features. I ran a card sorting session with three new participants. On the original cards, I named the section for volunteers “Food Banks.” Two of the three participants suggested renaming the “Food Banks” topic to “Donation Centers.” They thought it would eliminate confusion, and make more charities and donation centers feel like they are allowed to accept food.

Card soting session with the cards organized accordng to login/sign up, a column of sections for restaurants, a column with features common to both user groups, and a column of volunteer featues.
Information Architecture

The data I gathered from these sessions became the foundation of the information architecture. The app needs to serve two different user types, but be simple and straightforward. Volunteers made it clear that they didn’t want the interface to be cluttered with additional options only for restaurants, and vice versa for the restaurant workers. I determined that the users first needed to start with the registration process that sorted them. To the app, each user is either a restaurant worker or a volunteer. This way each time they log in, they will only see what is relevant to their user type.

Information achitecture diagam based on the results from the card sorting session.
Job Stories

After thinking through the different solutions, I created the following
job stories:

When I have leftover food to donate, I want to be able to press a button to schedule a pick-upso I don't have to think about anything.

When I get ready for a donation pick-up, I want to see the list of places donating for the dayso that I can plan the most efficient route.

When I am looking for a place to donate to, I want to know that they are reliableso that I won't be late for my post-work appointments.





Prototyping In UXPin

This is always one of my favorite parts of the process. I used UXPin to create a mid-fidelity interactive prototype. This made the workflow in the prototype as realistic as possible. I achieved that by always thinking through what should happen when a button or link is clicked. Having all of the details thought out in advance always makes the development process easier.

A single image containing thumbnails of all of the screens from the wireframing session.
Testing & Validation with Usability Hub

Once the prototype was ready, it was time for testing. I wasn’t concerned with using a mid-fidelity prototype during this phase because it resembles a high-fidelity version, minus the color. This made it easier for the users to instantly understand what they were looking at. I conducted several tests remotely with UsabilityHub. This particular experiment was the most informative. The initial question asked the testers if they would know how to locate a donation center. The testers easily understood how to do that. However, they wanted to know more about the centers. They also suggested showing:

  • The donation center’s phone number

  • A brief description about what the organization does

  • What the organizations need at a glance

  • Ratings for the donations centers and the restaurants


After reviewing the results, it was time for wireframe revisions and then on to the design phase.

Heat map showing where people clicked during the usabilty test, along with a screenshot of answers to the question, "What other information would you need in order to decide which donation center you would want to select?"
Visual Design in Sketch

I wanted users to feel comfortable when they open the app. This meant it had to feel familiar and be easy to use. The interface also needed to be scannable and have good visual hierarchy.


I achieved this through a soothing color palette of blue-grey with hot pink as the action button color. The hot pink ensures that important actions catch the users’ eyes. The selected images all have warm hues to reinforce the welcoming feeling. If we add the ability for people to put their own food images in the app, we’ll consider adding a limited set of filters. I’m hoping that filters with warm settings will help keep the visual consistency once it’s out in the wild.


I also made several changes based on the usability testing sessions. I removed the chat feature from the "Find a Center" page to simplify the interface. I
also added a short list of what the donation centers need, and created detail pages for them. 

Two examples of visual design for the Meal Connector app. One set shows the Find Centers and Donation Center detail page for iOS, and the second set shows the same screens, but designed for Android.
Outcome & Lessons

Donation centers and restaurants face two main concerns when trying to connect:

  • Restaurants need reliable places to donate to.

  • Volunteers find voicing their concerns to the community to be very time-consuming.


The people that I interviewed were excited about the concept. I'm looking to getting it developed within the next year to make their jobs easier.

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