Smart Recipe mobile app concept design

Solve the problem of food waste at home


Food waste is a serious problem. In US alone, we throw away 40 percent of our food supply every year. Inspired by both my personal experience as well as this global issue of consumer food waste, I decided to take a closer look at the problem and see if new technologies and UX design can be applied to come up with some solutions.


Research and Design


1 month, 2018


46 initial Surveys

I started by doing survey in my friends and families to see if people care about food waste at home. The results came positive.

78.3% of people will make plans to eat expiring food first, and most people are not using any existing tools to track food expiration.

I later realized that  I measured “food waste” with relative frequency which turned out not ideal, and I didn’t take into consideration of other factors like commute time and reasons for tossing away food. Those were some deciding factors in launching a 2nd round of optimized survey afterwards.  

30 min+ interview with 9 participants

After first round of Survey, I identified some target audience with problems of food waste at home and reach out with email invites. In the end I was able to talk to 9 of them, some of which are complete strangers, and some are coworkers, friends. During the interview I was able to identify pain-points and causes of food waste during the whole food consumption experience and ultimately helps with setting up persona/user journey.

Site map after redesign
Interesting quotes from interview
“American’s fridge is so deep and big! Some families even have a second fridge and they’re packed!”
“Maybe it’s related to the car and travel culture in the states. Grocery stores tend to spread out more, so whenever people go grocery shopping they’re buying not for the day but for several days/a week.
“Age also plays a big part, elder retired people tend to have more free time to go shopping and they care more for the freshness of the food.”

50 Surveys with MTurk Workers

This MTurk HIT with the survey questions was distributed to 50 people with a full time job. This Round I studied what are the main reasons of food waste at home, whether Costco membership has impact on food waste at home, and some other factors that could help me refine my persona.

To my surprise, in my sample, ownership of Costco membership(or alike) doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in food waste amount.

However, I do find that people who’re more willing to try different recipes are more likely to toss out more food. Their rate of throwing out 5-10 items a month is at 45% compared to 25% of the opposite.

Opportunity areas
in food consumption lifecycle


Support a mindful shopping experience


Allow users to have awareness of what's in the fridge and the status of food


Empower users to feel in control of
left-over food

  • Make it easy for users to plan for meals

  • Encourage the habit of planning ahead
    of time

  • Recipe based meal planning and prepping

  • Increase visibility of fridge

  • Make tracking food consumption and expiration effortless

  • Encourage people to cook in smaller portions

  • Smart recipe suggestions for left-over/expiring ingredients

  • Use Machine learning to learn wastage patterns and advise people to buy less certain food

Initial design goal

Design a system that helps make planning for grocery shopping, tracking the things people are buying and consuming easier and more effortless, helps users make use of expiring food in order to reduce food waste at home.

User Profiles

Inspirational chef

28, living with boyfriend, blogger.
Enjoys experiment with different recipes and has a flexible working schedule that affords her to do so.
Take turns to do grocery shopping/meal planning/cooking with her boyfriend. Sometimes do small pickup of items during the week.

Tech Saviness

6 out of 7

Biggest Motivator

Being able to try different recipes without feeling guilty of throwing leftover ingredients away.

Biggest Challenge

Leftover ingredients from recipes that she doesn’t know how to deal with keep stacking up, eventually go bad without being used for a second time.

Multi-meal routine cook

35, living with husband and a 4 year old.Works as a HR in a technology enterprise company. Goes grocery shopping weekly together with her husband because they live far away from grocery markets.  Often cook large portions so that she use leftover to prepare for a quick meal.

Tech Saviness

5 out of 7

Biggest Motivator

Feel in control of everything at home while being a working mom.

Biggest Challenge

She tries to plan the meals over the week ahead but has not been very effective. Out of sight, out of mind. As things stacked up, it’s harder to remember what she has put in the fridge.

Occasional chef

45, living with wife and 2 kids. Works in consultancy. Relatively busy during the week, assist wife with shopping and cooking during weekends.

Tech Saviness

5 out of 7

Biggest Motivator

Responsibility and care for the family, being economic

Biggest Challenge

During the weekends, he can’t figure out what to cook without digging into the fridge to see what ingredients are still fresh.

Storyboards v1 — the ideal

Feedback on storyboard
“Although good planning would benefit me for sure, I might not want to be forced to do it.”
"The current functionalities seems to be a bit overkilling, and the adoption could be better if you start small and grow to  fuller scale."
“Collaborating with online-grocery shopping could get you expiration info to start with.”

MVP Design goal

Design an app that helps users easily track food they buy and consume,  provide recipe suggestions based on ingredients they have in order to help users prioritize eating the food that is close to expire to ultimately reduce food waste.

User Stories

Smart Recipe User flow

Smart Recipe Wireframe

Higher fidelity mockups


User can connect her account to Amazon so her ingredients bought from Amazon Fresh could be automatically going into her storage.


User can view storage by Type, Recent and close to expire.

Add an item flow alternative 1

User can use photo scan to add a single item.

Add an item flow alternative 2

User can use voice input to add an item and its amount.

Add items from QR code flow

This idea is designed for bulk addition of items that requires less effort from users. However,  we need to get business buy-in from big grocery stores like Safeway, Trader joe's, etc to actually open their user data.

Smart Recipes(core value of the app)

The recipes are suggested based on ingredients from your storage, and could help people prioritize which ingredients to use first.
In order for the app to suggest recipes, we also need to build a recipe system that is powerful and evolving.

Final Prototype & closing thought

Since this is a side project relying heavily on visual recognition techniques and business collaboration, I didn't really build it and test it with a large group of people. However, I felt like I still learned quite a lot and gained confidence, especially in research planning, as well as building an MVP. As technology advances, I am sure it can be improved in the future.