Hidden Kitchen
Revolutionizing home cooking, using algorithmic solutions
What's for dinner?

We designed an algorithmic app that helps you with recipe discovery, food prep, and meal tracking. Syncing with the stores you shop at, it uses your buying history to provide you with a recipe feed based solely on the ingredients you have in your home. This project has been nominated for a UX DESIGN Award, and is currently being prepared to compete in the University of Washington's Dempsey Startup Competition.

The team & overview

While initially a solo endeavor, I expanded the team after a year and a half, bringing on two exceptional designers to help continue the development of this product.

Cameron Lee - Linkedin - Portfolio site
Michael Neese - Linkedin

This project began in June of 2022, initiated during the summer of my junior year. Since its inception, the project has undergone significant transformations, encountering numerous challenges along the way. The central challenge involved striking a delicate balance between fulfilling the diverse needs and desires of users and sustaining a sophisticated and user-friendly interface. In response to user feedback, the project underwent two UI redesigns, refining the app to meet user needs without overwhelming them. Achieving this equilibrium was pivotal in empowering users and elevating their overall cooking experience.

↓ First iteration (left), Second iteration (middle), Current iteration (right)

Thinking beyond boundaries

The foundations of this project, started one day sitting around the dinner table with my parents, where my mom began to complain about her constant annoyance with always not knowing what to cook for all of us, stating "If only something could tell me?"

In that moment I sparked an impromptu, brainstorming workshop with my parents. Trying to further her question...
What if something could tell you what to make?

Bouncing ideas rapidly not worrying about feasibility, asking what would it look like? how would it know the food you have at home. Quickly we came up with ideas like cameras that are installed in your fridge and pantry, QR codes on all goods at the stores so you can track what you buy, or even image detection software on your trashcan to know when you throw away an empty carton of milk.

After near 30 minutes of idea generation, I began to probe about how we actually could make this imaginary product exist. What form would it take? How could people access this tech? This led to a narrowing of the idea focusing us on a more practical approach to recipe suggestions and ingredient tracking. We landed on a theoretical app that could suggest you recipes to make solely based off the ingredients you buy, so you are only suggested meals you could make with the food you have in your fridge and pantry.

Very quickly after this conversation I started ideating, trying to figure out how this product would look. Landing on the idea of a feed that suggests content much like Tinder, a user view akin to Instagram's scrolling based home feed while integrating the good parts of other recipe apps like, Tasty, Supercook, and Mealtime (featured below)

Initial iteration

With the understanding of where I wanted this project to go, I worked over the summer of 2022 to create a wider version of the app at the time named "M.UK" or Meals UnKnown citing the idea that users don't know what they could be making with the food they have. While working I frequently reached out to family members and neighbors to understand how they made food to cater the app to every unique style of food prep.

Expanding the work

In finalizing the first iteration of this project I felt strong in the work specifically in the the prioritization of recipes through a user-friendly feed, facilitating seamless access to further exploration. However talking with a few design academics and many targeted users, they outlined certain drawbacks, such as challenges in navigation comprehension and a limited display of information. Additionally, the user interface revealed irregular spacing and several structural issues, warranting attention for enhanced usability and design cohesion.

The project by this phase was nearing the end of winter and early spring of 2023. I conducted more research analysis through spring and then acted upon it in early summer of 2023. Working through summer to create a new version based off of the additional feedback I have recived.

Embracing critique

Many aspects were improved upon specifically with information architecture, leading way to a recipe preview. Giving a user a sub-page to glimpse at the recipe as well as giving them an option to look over their ingredients, to assure they had all the necessary aspects to the meal. If they did not they could click on an ingredient and tell Hidden Kitchen that they were out of said ingredient, refreshing the feed to give way to new recipes not containing the ingredient they were out of.

At the time I felt this was the final polished version though after talking to some more peers and this time a few food industry professionals. There were many downsides that were identified. The UI, though improved from last time with a more unified feel, felt compact and clunky with the dark theme and small spacing overwhelming the users. Additionally a design academic questioned how much the current UI represented the current target group, worrying that the visual styles could be distracting instead of engaging to the parents looking to make meals for their family.

A needed design pivot (again)

In the final iteration, the Hidden Kitchen project made some necessary pivots. After conducting a survey on people's experience with meal preparation and recipe discovery. We found that 68% of users chose to look for recipes on video related media platforms such as Tiktok, Instagram and Youtube. This was a big pivot from the initial Tinder/Instagram feed that was first ideated. We decided to incorporates recipe videos strategically to adhere to the new data hopefully to captivate users. Relying on clear and intuitive scroll conventions to ease users into their recipe discovery.

The user interface also was streamlined with a simplified design and a harmonious color palette, tailored to resonate with the target audience. Key actions and locations are highlighted through distinctive signifiers, ensuring an intuitive user experience. Furthermore, cohesive and well-spaced components contribute to a breathable layout, enhancing overall usability and visual appeal.

Product Details

Below is a detailed infographic of the general outline of the product, showcasing the two main feeds with Home and Discovery. The Home feed is for when users want to scroll through recipe videos catered to them only being shown recipe videos they could make with the food the have in their fridge and pantry. The Discover feed is for when users want to explore recipes without the confinement of the ingredients they have, with the additional benefit of having integrated coupons to their local stores so as they scroll they can see exactly how much money they could save if they were to make that meal.

We also have the main navigation bar that Search, or take a user to their own personal Calendar for meal preparation. They also can go to the Cookbook which is where users can save all their favorite recipes they make. Shopping Lists allows users to track digitally all of the ingredients they run out, with the addition of shareable lists to make it easier for multi-person households to shop. Lastly there is Shopping Cart where users can on demand get delivery of the ingredients they need.

If you are interested in learning more about all of the product features, feel free to reach out as I have them all documented here... hiddenkitchen.webflow.io/product-features
I have them passcode protected for privacy concerns.

Product Film / Demo Prototype

Feel free to check out the demo prototype yourself, additionally checkout out the minute long product film that overviews the product.

The future...

Though this projects have had its fair share of obstacles I couldn't be happier with the work thus far, getting nominated for a UX DESIGN Award under the 'New Talent' category is an unbelievable honor. I also believe there is still more in-store. With the current team continuing the work on the project we plan to submit to the University of Washington Dempsey Startup competition, with hopes to compete in April. Additionally we plan to conduct further usability testing in late spring, with the hopes to refine aspects of the project to be really to show off in the University of Washington's Jacob Lawrence Gallery as our capstone project to conclude our senior year.

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