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UT FoodPal

A digital solution trying to help tackle food insecurity at UT Austin


Course Project

Information Architecture and Design | INF 385E

My Role

UX Researcher

Interaction Designer


4 months

Aug'22 - Dec'22

Team Size



1 out of  3 UT students is food insecure

Food insecurity is defined as:
“as a lack of consistent access to enough nutritious food for an active, healthy lifestyle.”

The problem of food security is slightly more complex for the student population. With a busy class schedule and limited earnings, students may struggle to consistently afford and consume healthy, nutritious food. There are several resources available to offer support to students dealing with food insecurity. However, several reasons may prevent them from fully utilizing these resources. 

Barriers to accessing food resources 




Dietary options




Healthy options





Awareness of existing food resources

  • Information is often scattered and unaccessible

  • Food resources may operate at restricted operation hours

  • Meal plans still expensive

  • Busy class schedule

Reduce stigma related to availing resources

  • Hesitant to appear in need

  • Scarcity mindset

  • Unaware of their eligibility

Efficient meal-prep with local produce

  • Unfamiliar with local produce

  • Unfamiliar with ways to use and store local produce

Access resources given time and monetary constraints

The UX Process


Research Phase 1:

Secondary Research

Preliminary user interviews

Competitive analysis

Stakeholder interviews

Research Phase 2:

Secondary research


Research Synthesis



Content Inventory


Low-fidelity wireframes & heuristic evaluations

Mid-fidelity wireframes & concept testing

Hi-fidelity wireframes

01 Research

Our research phase was divided into two phases.


  • Conducted exploratory research to identify problem space

  • Secondary research consisted of literature review, and exploration of standard definition of food insecurity

Questions for initial research

How do we improve awareness and promote UT Outpost?

How do we improve the user experience of UT Outpost as a service?

How do we promote awareness about all food resources provided by UT in addition to UT Outpost?

Preliminary User Interviews

  • Interviews with 7 UT students to understand their experiences with food insecurity

  • Questions from USDA Food Insecurity module and general questions about food and grocery habits

  • Additional questions on awareness and use of UT outpost


Out of 7 participants was mildly food insecure


Out of 7 participants never used UT Outpost

Time & Awareness

Were primary barriers to accessing resources at UT Outpost

Competitive Analysis

We then conducted Competitive Analysis to understand other initiatives and organizations working to address this problem space. 

Some of our key competitors were the following:

Stakeholder interview

We met Valeria Martin, the program coordinator at UT Outpost, along with members of the UT Communications team.

Key insights from this interview are below:

Part of Student Emergency Services

No separate website

Funded by University grants, donations

Operation challenges - Inconsistent donations, stigma

The stakeholder interview was instrumental in shifting our research focus due to the following reasons:

  • We understood the constraints under which UT Outpost operated

  • UT Outpost will not be able to have its own website due to University regulations and branding constraints

  • We needed to reassess our problem areas of reimaging the UT Outpost website and overall user experience

  • Additionally, other concerns such as inventory management constraints, irregular donations, etc made us realize that in order to begin to address the problem of food insecurity, we may need to look beyond this one initiative

Therefore, we decided to proceed with the third problem area:

How do we promote awareness about all food resources available to UT students?


  • Understanding how to promote awareness about food resources

  • Design solutions to address the pain points that students faced in terms of food insecurity

  • Identifying specific challenges students faced in accessing support provided by UT

  • We created a survey to learn about food resources-related awareness and behaviours

  • Received a total of 16 survey responses from students all accross UT


Out of 7 participants was mildly food insecure

Social Media & Word of Mouth

Out of 7 participants never used UT Outpost


Were primary barriers to accessing resources at UT Outpost

Part of Student Emergency Services

No separate website

Funded by University grants, donations

Research Synthesis

With the research conducted so far, we decided to synthesize and uncover recurring themes throughout our research with affinity diagramming. For both our research focus areas, we arranged our research findings into the broad themes as shown below:

What are the challenges that UT students face in accessing timely, nutrituous and healthy meals?

Lack of time to prepare meals

Lack of time to visit grocery stores

Lack of access to groceries due to distance

Lack of access to affordable, healthy meals around UT

Lack of awareness about available resources

What are the barriers faced by UT Students in accessing food resources available at UT?

Lack of awareness

Scattered information

Time constraints to avail resources

Not eligible for some resources

Limited dietary options

Stigma and hesitation


With the research insights gathered, we created two personas as shown below:

Empathy Map

We also created an empathy map to synthesize our user’s pain points, frustrations and needs from all the research that we conducted so far.

How might We statements

In order to effectively guide our ideation phase, it was necessary to distil our insights into concrete actionable questions.

The following How Might We Statements are a result of our synthesis:

How Might We enable students to access resources keeping time, distance and monetary considerations in mind?

How Might We increase the exposure of food resources to students?

How Might We design a welcoming platform so that students feel comfortable using these resources?

How Might We ensure timely updates of inventory for students to effectively make use of these resources?

How Might We enable students to prepare healthier meals with the locally available produce?


We began by listing out the features we each imagined being present in the platform that we designed. We broadly grouped them using affinity diagrams as shown below:

Group 4396.png

Next, in order to visualize and share our ideas, we created a set of sketches as shown below:

With all of the features in mind, we proceeded to make a Content Inventory of our proposed platform.

The Content Inventory can be accessed using this link.

03 Prototype


This led us to our first set of low-fidelity prototypes. Shown below are some screenshots of our low-fidelity prototypes.


After conducting a thorough Cognitive Walkthrough of our screens, we developed our mid-fidelity prototypes as shown below:


While most of the desired content as well as the information architecture was in place, we needed to further refine the filter terms as well as the terminology used such as events, resources and initiatives. In order to do that, we determined card-sorting to be the best method. We performed card-sorting with 16 participants and the results helped us finalized our filters and other terminology.

The card sorting can be assessed using this link.


We then moved on to creating our high-fidelity prototype. The first iteration included the following web-based screens.


In order to validate our high-fidelity prototypes, we conducted usability testing with a single participant. This test gave us the following insights:

  • The user needed more personalization which gave rise to the need for creating a profile and saving events, adding events to calendar etc.

  • The user also felt that using a mobile application would be easier for navigating on the go

  • Additionally the user’s feedback helped us in reassessing the hierarchy of our application’s features.

Based on this usability testing, we decided to switch to a mobile application. Our final screens will reflect this decision.


With the site map in place, we decided to transfer the hierarchy to our mobile application. 

Final Designs


The first screen that the user comes across while using the app is the splash screen, followed by the login and sign up screens which are included in order to increase the degree of personalization for the user.


The main categories present in the bottom navigation of our app include Home, Resources, Community and Profile. The home screen contains a list of events, food pantries and other food resources present in and around UT. It also allows the user to customize the location by setting a radius. The search and filter feature allows the user to personalize their feed based on food categories, location, cost and type of food resource.


The map and calendar view screens allow the user to easily access the different food resources present in and around UT. The map visualizes the different events and initiatives through which the user can quickly find information on resources that are relevant to them. The calendar provides information for the user to plan their schedule efficiently based on real time information.



The Resources page presents information on 3 main categories like Food initiatives which presents a curated list of all the initiatives present in and around UT, the Know your Food category enables the user access to specific information on food items along with recipes, and finally the support resources includes information on emergency funds, SNAP benefits etc that are important for students facing food insecurity.

Resources- initiatives.png
Know your Food.png


The community dashboard screen contains posts created by organisers and community members, which allows students to engage with each other to efficiently convey information on resources in and around UT. It also provides real time information which allows students with time constraints to quickly access information on events happening near them. The dashboard also contains a social media plugin to provide up to date information present in different communication medias.



The profile page allows the user to access their account, items that they have saved from the resources page or community dashboard, access to FAQs from other students etc.


Rationale behind IA Descions

As the main purpose of the application is to present information to users in a seamless way, majority of our information architecture decisions were focused around organisation and search categories of the system.


Our application has categorized different features based on the 4 main sections. This decision was made to maintain clarity in the different offerings of the app. This also formed the global navigation system of our application


The categorization of food resources formed the basis of our search and filtering system.
Three ways of categorization took place -

  • Type of resources distributed/given

  • Affiliations of these resources

  • The way these resources are being accessed by students

1. Based on type of food resources being offered


We decided to provide filters based on the type of food resources being offered for users to get the opportunity to choose the kind of food resources they would like to avail.

Filters - check for non ut.png

Categories like canned food, fresh produce, diary products, non-dairy products, meat products, prepared meals, snacks, etc

2. Based on affiliations of these resources

All resources are categorized into two types - UT-affiliated and non-UT-affiliated. This decision was taken based on user feedback from card sorting. Almost all users categorized UT-affiliated organisations separately from non-UT organisations.

3. The way that these resources function

From our card sorting activity, we discovered that users categorized recurring events or proper established organisations together and one time events separately.


Based on our navigation system, users can access information on food resources in two ways -

  • they can learn about different events taking place near them that are currently or in the near future distributing different types of food resources

  • users can learn more about different initiatives that deal with food insecurity

As home is the landing page, we prioritized currently happening events. These could be one-time events or recurring events that are carried out by different organisations.

Any user can easily look at all the events happening near them, get directions to them, add them to their calendar, and RSVP to them if required.

Next, the users should be able to get information on different initiatives that are in place that are trying to overcome food insecurity or at the very least distribute or sell food products at a subsidised rate.

Most of these conduct recurring events or provide students wIth a grocery store-like system to access food resources.


Resources are listed in 3 ways on the homepage

  • list view

  • map view

  • calendar view

These different views have been integrated to allow users to see all resources in a go, view resources on maps to get a sense of their location, and add upcoming events to their calendars.

Conclusion and Reflections


  • Complex problem space

  • Changes need to be more systemic - a lot of surveyed students mentioned subsidization of UHD meals, reusing meal plans, etc

  • Restrictions identified through insights gained from the stakeholder interview played a major role in changing the course of the project

Reflections and Future scope:

  • Changing platforms from website to mobile applications to incorporate user needs was challenging yet rewarding

  • In-depth usability testing could be done to further improve the design of our applications high fidelity screens

  • Time to test with more participants to detect any usability issues that are present

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