hcd cover

Human Centered Design


May 2018 - July 2018

LemonAid is an app providing local food options for people in need. This is a group project with Ideo.org and +Acumen. Based on the topic of providing healthier food options for people in need, my team conducted research, brainstormed ideas, prototyped the idea and brought it into use.

How It Works

LemonAid helps people fight hunger and find the right food for them by connecting them with food resources.

Find the nearest free food

Options for special diet

Meal reminder

Share tips with others

Clickable Prototype

Curious about how it looks? Click to find out!


Design Process



Soup kitchen

Soup kitchen meal

Shelter meal menu

Through phone interviews, face-to-face chat and on-site observation, we collected information from a soup kitchen, a shelter, a food bank and a university food service business.

What We Found

People want a variety of food

People want a variety of food. Most of them care about what they eat. However, most teenagers don't care.

Over 50% people throw away more than half of the food they get from either soup kitchen or the shelter.

Over 50% people throw away more than half of the food they get from either soup kitchen or the shelter.

Food presentation matters.

Food presentation matters, especially for kids. They will be happier eaters if the food looks good.

No place for homeless people to store or cook food.

There is no space for individual (mostly homeless people) to store or cook food. It is also an issue for community services and organizations who receive food donations.

Homeless individual is not able to carry food he/she get from food pantry.

Homeless people are not able to pick up food from food pantry because that's too much to carry, and they have no place to store.

Food is easy to get expired.

Food expires. How to provide food to the people in need in time before it goes bad is a big topic.



To transfer the problems into design opportunities, we asked several HMW questions to brainstorm solutions and transferred them into scenarios:

"How might we empower people to create their own healthy meals?"

"How might we reduce the food waste at food bank, kitchen soup and food pantry?"

"How might we provide secure food storage or place to prepare the meal people really want to eat?"

Eventually we decided to create an app or website for homeless and low income people who need any food information. We call it "LemonAid"


Possibility & usability for the internet among homeless people

Do homeless and low income people have internet access? From research online, we found a vast majority (94%) of homeless people currently owned a cell phone¹, and they can access to the internet in the public libraries and Starbucks, just like any people without home internet. In the mean time, the low income service providers bring cheap broadband internet plans for people on government assistance or who are low-income.

¹ Harmony Rhoades, Suzanne L. Wenzel, Eric Rice, Hailey Winetrobe & Benjamin Henwood (2017): No digital divide? Technology use among homeless adults, Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, DOI: 10.1080/10530789.2017.1305140

Prototype & First Round Test

Experience map

We broke down the experience in to scenarios and drew a simple user journey for it, from which, we came up the following questions:

  1. Do people have problem on looking for place to eat around them? Is there enough places offering free food?
  2. Would they download the app and use it?
  3. How to build trust on this app? Why would I follow the map?
  4. Why would they leave a review?
  5. Why do they share to a friend?

We used the simple prototype about this idea and tested 3 people. They are able to understand the product and willing to try it out. we also decided to add the meal reminder function so people don't miss the place they are interested.

test material
white board

Start to Design the App

The first round test confirmed that the app idea would work, people would use it and gained benefit from it. Next step was to think of how to build the app.

What functions and features should this app have?

  • Find places providing food right now
  • Guide the person to the place
  • Rate the place and the food
  • Invite friends/Share information with friends
  • Set up reminder of the time and place for food

The first one find places to eat is the function, and the following 4 are the features. When I started to wireframe, I was not able to build all of the features at once. A user might not use all of the features in this app, so there could be different use case and user flow. To avoid redundancy and conflict in the flow, I had to design each feature separately.

I was planning to do the main function first, then adding features one by one. This is the concept of MVP.


I listed the function and its 4 features.

The last 3 features brought the question of if it is necessary for users to create accounts. I was not sure if it was necessary to create the account feature, but it did not affect the plan to build the app from the beginning.


User flow

It was very easy to miss details while wireframing if there's no user flow as a guide. For example, we knew that people usually used the meal app when they were hungry, and they wanted the food immediately, better be around them. They had to let the app know where they are, say, giving the app access to the current location. What if people don't want to tell the app? I would ask for the zip code.

User flow also helped me figured when to show the walking distance and walking time and reminded me there should be multiple spots leading people to write reviews.

find place diagram
review diagram


I created different user flows for features, in addition to the main function, which convenience the real wireframing process.

In the following process, green line is the main function; rust-red line is map guide process; blue is rate process; purple is setting up reminder process.



Second Round Test

After second round testing, I found people are not crazy about the rating feature, however, they prefer to have some tips for visiting the places. I updated the tips part.


The union of food resources for people in need

LemonAid is aiming to be the resource hub for free food. What makes it different is LemonAid covers the free food providers as well as the local occasional free food events. The filter option informs people the place and food provided ahead of time, so people with special needs won't waste time and energy going to wrong places for meals.

The new tool to reduce food waste

Food pantry, soup kitchen and food bank usually get too much free food. Preserving the excessive food is always a problem. With LemonAid these organizations are able to inform people the access to the food they need and how to get there. With the number of actual users organizations or event planners are able to estimate the number of people attending and plan better ahead of time.