Recognizing What Is Right Under Your Nose: Making Home Cooked Meals More Accesssible

In Spring 2016, Emily Altman, Mor Goldberger, and Simone Saldanha worked with Josephine, a food start-up, to develop strategies to engage potential customers with disabilities. 

How… underwhelming. After hours of interviews and energetic post-it brainstorming, our team reviewed our “innovations” and felt…well, under-whelmed. Being part of Eat.Think.Design. we expected to develop mind-blowing ideas yet none of our solutions seemed groundbreaking. We wondered, what had gone wrong?

Our mission. Josephine, a food start-up that connects people to their neighbors for home-cooked meals, had tasked us with developing strategies to engage potential customers with disabilities.

“Resist the temptation to go with the first idea” was the message our teaching team had emphasized. Despite this, our team excitedly began running with a plan for how to tackle the problem. Since Josephine required customers to pick-up meals from their cooks, we assumed people with disabilities (PWDs) would want food delivered to them. We figured the main pain point for a PWD would be difficulty getting to the pick-up location… we were wrong.

Our “aha” moment. The most prominent theme in our interviews turned ou to be loneliness and stigmatization. We learned that for many PWDs, their main motivation for purchasing food outside the home was to connect with others and enjoy social interactions. If this was the case, developing a solution that would deliver food to PWDs would only keep them away from cooks and diners. So we pivoted and developed a powerful question… How might we make Josephine meal pick-ups reminiscent of a family gathering?”.

Imitation is the best form of flattery…Equipped with this question, we brainstormed simple solutions to facilitate social interaction. Many of our ideas were borrowed from other businesses we loved that fostered social comfort. For example, we applied Airbnb’s badge system to Josephine. Some Josephine cooks we observed were already inviting diners to eat in their home but diners didn’t know what the cooks’ preferences were, which led to some awkward conversations. We thought that with a simple online badge symbol, cooks could indicate when they were willing to have diners eat in their homes, versus when they preferred a quick and simple meal pick-up. This might motivate PWDs looking for social interaction to sign up.

What does innovation look like? we wondered, as we looked over our wall of brightly colored post-its. Could innovation be as easy as applying another company’s features to a different context? Could innovation be as simple as Josephine including images of diners socializing on their website. The ideas didn’t feel 100% new or sexy enough. They were nothing that would shock our partners at Josephine.

Going back to the drawing board Perhaps we hadn’t conducted enough interviews to find an exciting enough theme. We went back to work on this, hoping it would lead us to the brilliant and intricate solution we were after. However, several brainstorming sessions later, we felt even more lost.

“THIS is the problem with your generation” our mentor Nap pressed… The team glanced at one another, but with his sing-song Jamaican accent, and friendly demeanor, it was nearly impossible for Nap to offend. We sat outside and talked with him about our process and how we were stuck. Nap helped us realize that we were exactly where we were supposed to be, and that the “innovation” we were trying to find was already under our noses. We realized, innovation does not need to come in the form of a never-before seen creation. It does not need to shock and awe. It can be simple. It can be a borrowed, re-purposed idea.

Returning to our under-whelming old stickies we pulled our favorite ideas together and mapped them onto the process of getting a Josephine meal. The changes we proposed were not earth-shattering but together they shifted the experience and would be meaningful to some PWDs.

For us “innovation” was not creating one mind-blowing idea, it meant truly understanding the Josephine experience for a PWD every step of the way. It meant knowing we could not solve every problem and focusing on theme. It meant suspending judgement and addressing the underlying pain point most meaningful to our customers. It meant creating simple tweaks in features, messaging, and images that together evoked a different experience for some.

Simple. Unsexy. Meaningful.

Alissa BernsteinRecognizing What Is Right Under Your Nose: Making Home Cooked Meals More Accesssible