Inspiration, Research, Design, and Design Principles

We began by trying to understand and empathize with the people who will eventually use our web application. Though it is inescapably natural and _ human _ of us to form our base assumptions about the experiences of end users from our own personal experiences with government forms and applications, we actively sought to question and critically dissect those base assumptions. We talked to friends who grew up having to rely on subsidized school lunches, teachers with low income students, and other people in our community. Behavioral and consumer research also served to guide us.

We found that low income households and individuals were less likely to own broadband internet or a desktop and were heavily dependent on their smartphones and other mobile devices. This NBC News report offers a good summary of the research we uncovered. While we already knew that low income Americans depended on smartphones, we were surprised by the ubiquity and high importance of the devices among them. The penetration of smartphones in that segment of society is driven in large part by the Lifeline Assistance Program (under the FCC) which subsidizes phones—low-end Android smartphones are popular—for eligible low income citizens. Coincidentally, the Lifeline Assistance Program conveys categorical eligibility for citizens who also participate in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Given the diversity of low-end non-flagship Android phones, their varying screen sizes, and the dependence of our end users on those phones, our team decided designing for the mobile platform would make the greatest impact.

We found that children often fill out applications on behalf of their siblings and adult relatives, especially when the parents aren't native English speakers. We realized the importance of a multi-lingual application and placed language localization at the center of our design. We also understood that low income adults were busy: often working multiple jobs and taking care of children. Long stretches of uninterrupted free time are rare. We broke down the application from one large form into many small forms in digital "cards" that come up in succession. We did this because we found that by limiting the form 'horizon', users felt less intimidated by the length of the form. Users found It easier to complete one small form on a card after another than it is to tackle one long continuous form all at once. In addition, the application can be saved and users can later pick up on where they left off.

How we built it

Chris worked on the design, target user engagement and interviews, user experience research. Hayden worked on the front end and back end.

Challenges we ran into

On the design side, we struggled to create a design that could fluidly scale across displays of all sizes while maintaining coherence and informational hierarchy. On the technical side, we had an implementation crisis where we butted heads about our front end implementation philosophies: dynamic JS-driven versus CSS event-driven.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We're proud of a web application design that was created to meet user demands and needs instead of aesthetic dictates. We're also proud of the robust backend architecture we built.

What's next for LunchUX

We will be refining the application as we gather more user feedback. We will polish the design, adding appropriate animations that help gently guide the user, and ensure the application's universal compatibility across all devices.

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