Foodmunity is a social networking site that provides communities with a platform through which its members can share experiences over meals. We leverage the comfortable medium of food to expose the differences in backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences inherent in every community by physically getting people together to meet and talk. People create and share themed events based on their personal experiences around food, serving as a cultural representation of those individuals and a method of bonding between neighbors.

Our team tied for 2nd place with Foodmunity in the CHI 2011 Student Design Competition, in May 2011. We were challenged to “to design an object, interface, system, or service intended to help us appreciate our differences.”

The design process

We began our design process by using an affinity diagram to clarify the CHI problem and identify some core issues we could address. We then moved on to a series of interviews with students studying abroad in the U.S. and expert on the topic of diversity to help narrow the problem space. This research exposed how experiences can be shared through food and how the process of sharing meals can be a powerful method of introducing new people and cultures. One interview pointed us to Grimes and Harper’s 2008 paper on Celebratory Technology [1], at which point we chose to focus on helping people appreciate their differences over food and shared meals.

Foodmunity affinity diagram

Our affinity diagram in action.

Initial Foodmunity prototype creation
Foodmunity usability test

Initial prototype creation and testing.

We used personas and a series of brainstorming methods to develop a wide range of possible concepts from which we could pick and choose functionality that would help us achieve our goals. Our twenty-three generated concepts were narrowed down to ten possibilities based on feasibility and applicability to the design problem, which were modified and combined to create Foodmunity. We evaluated our designs using a series of critical questions, continued to whiteboard and sketch through ideas, pursued expert reviews both within and outside the classroom setting, finally using Valerie Casey’s Lenses to evaluate our concept before testing.

Our initial design was evaluated using a low-fidelity paper prototype which was placed under peer and expert review in a classroom setting. For the second round of the design, I created a new low-fidelity prototype in Powerpoint, which allowed users to interact with our solution during the testing process. We performed a usability test with four participants to evaluate the usefulness of and engagement with our design. In these tests, participants completed a series of scenarios and were asked to respond to a pre- and post-test questionnaire and interview. Our usability testing pointed out a range of issues which we addressed in our final design, which was again created in PowerPoint.

The final step in our process was to test out the events themselves. We attempted to set up various events, but due to the holiday season ran into a number of scheduling issues with our participants. We eventually found an event created in another social network which we observed, then collected responses through a questionnaire to evaluate its effectiveness. The event, while not perfect, helped to verify that these events could be effectively used.

The final concept

The online Foodmunity experience begins in an interactive map of the user’s neighborhood called the Local Map. This screen centers around the user’s community, displaying available and past events and other Foodmunity users–if they have agreed to show their location. For further details, the user can navigate to the Event Details screen, which displays information about the event, conversations around each event, and a visual representation of the dishes that will be present for the event, as well as dishes that attendees can volunteer to contribute.

Local Map screenshot

The Foodmunity Local Map screen.

Event Details screenshot

Event details screen displaying an event the user is attending.

Each event in Foodmunity has a theme, intended to extract elements of meaningful experiences that users have had with food so that those experiences can be translated to event attendees. Personal experience is used as a basis for these themes, adding a sense of investment by hosts and creating an easy conversation point among guests.

Foodmunity world map

The Experience Map, zoomed in to show event details.

Foodmunity experience map

The Experience Map, zoomed out to the world view.

Finally, the Experience Map displays a holistic narrative of the origins of the cuisines for each event. This map displays information on events the user has experienced, displayed in a heat map-style, highlighting the geographic origins of foods and events as specified by the host of the event. It additionally adds information and conversations collected by users about hosted events to the map, including comments, recipes and pictures, which appear as the user zooms in to the map. Users are prompted to enter a review and pictures of the event after its completion, which are then displayed on the Experience Map as a reminder of the experiences users have had.