Using preexisting technologies and tools, I devised a series of rapid, lightweight experiments to investigate the question: "What prevents people from cooking?"
MixHeatRepeat was a personal project inspired by my love of cooking. My goal was to understand what got in the way of people who wanted to cook more, but can't.
I started with a hunch based on personal experience: people weren’t cooking because they open their fridges, get overwhelmed by indecision, and decide to order takeout.
So I made a Twitter account called The Fridge Whisperer:
I quickly learned that it wasn't so much that people were feeling overwhelmed. It was that they lacked confidence about the state of their ingredients:
I hypothesized that people would cook more if they knew how to effectively fill their fridges with fresh, usable ingredients.
So next, I sent out a box with a base ingredient: pasta. It came with a companion booklet that explained a simple framework for grocery shopping, so people could feel confident that they were buying things that they would use when they got home.
I ran a survey of those who had purchased a box, but a new problem emerged: it turns out the boxes sat and sat on people’s coffee tables for weeks. There was no sense of urgency.
So my next test was to create a sense of urgency through a real-time game. I sent players daily "quests" via SMS:
Each text linked to a Tumblr webpage with more info, including mini cooking lessons:
At the end of the week, the final winners were announced:
This prototype was by far the most successful. By creating a friendly competitive atmosphere and a limited time frame within which to complete the tasks, people were highly engaged and, more importantly, actually cooking!
Through this process, I found that interacting with real people in the messiness of the real world (as opposed to test subjects in a lab or fictional characters in a thought experiment) is where the best learning occurs. Rapid prototyping by piggybacking on pre-existing technologies (SMS, Twitter, the Post Office) allowed me to arrive at those learnings early on, without investing too many resources in or getting too attached to any one idea. Each prototype took less than a day or two to design and less than a week to test.
The result of all this rapidfire experimentation was that I identified a promising path for further exploration: the use of game mechanics and positive social pressure to motivate a complex behavior such as cooking. That gave me the confidence to invest more resources and eventually led to my next project, Scratch House.