Sous Chef App - Prototyping for Research

Design Challenge:

For our final prototyping assignment of the quarter, we were asked to use at least two prototyping techniques to find the answer to research questions for a project of your choice. 

The experience design question that I set out to explore was, “How can we make cooking with multiple recipes easier?”

I had some assumption about how to tackle this question. However, I first needed to further understand how people organize and manage preparing a meal using various recipes. So, I developed a number of prototypes to test in order to get more clarity on the following research questions:

  • What types of information do people need while planning and cooking a meal using multiple recipes?
  • How do people come up with a game plan for tackling multiple recipes?
  • What is the best way to organize the information they need on a tablet sized interface?


Along with the paper prototype, I developed a three-part evaluation that included:

  1. A card sort exercise to understand how users might bucket, or chunk, different types of activities involved with planning and preparing a meal.
  2. An organization activity asking users to talk through and create their own master timeline to simulate how users might approach the task of cooking four recipes for a meal, and to help identify important qualities of a recipe that might inform the order in which the steps in a recipe might be tackled.
  3. User evaluation of a paper prototype to understand the interactions on a tablet that make the most sense to users.

For these tests, I selected four recipes that were likely to be chosen for a Sunday brunch. Next, I developed a number of scenarios to walk through with users, and finally created a paper prototype to test the interactions. To help document my findings and implement changes to my initial paper prototype to use in further testing, I developed a low-fidelity tablet wireframe using Balsamiq Mockups. 

What I learned:

Here is what I found from my evaluations with users:

From the card sort exercise, a key insight was that users go through the process of taking an inventory of what they have on hand before creating a shopping list. In users eyes, this step between planning and shopping was identified as a separate part of their process. Because of this, I added a way for users to be able to keep track of not only the ingredients they need, but also what they currently have, and what they need to buy.

From the organization exercise, I found very quickly that there is no single right way to arrange the steps in the recipes. Each user had a very personal way of thinking about how to plan and organize a large meal. There were some characteristics of the recipes that users did consider, which included: make ahead options, things that could sit verses things that needed to be served hot, cooking times and temperature in the oven. While some weighted baking time, oven space, or difficulty to assemble more heavily in their considerations for how to arrange steps, others focused on whether or not a dish could be prepped beforehand or sit a while before serving as starting points for arranging the steps.

Knowing these qualities will be extremely helpful in identifying the qualities of recipes that should inform how a system might suggest the order of steps for a master timeline.

It would be interesting to get more input from more experienced home cooks and also get advice from professional chefs to see whether further patterns emerge in terms of best practices for tackling multiple recipes at the same time. Research and testing with cooking professionals, both trained chefs, line cooks, and experienced home chefs as “expert” users may help to further inform the way recipes are arranged in a master cooking timeline.

What I found from the paper prototype evaluation was also extremely informative. In all cases, users preferred a vertical scrolling timeline because it allowed them to see what steps were coming next. They felt that the horizontal scrolling version, which only showed one step previous and the next step didn’t provide enough “look ahead” options. Since, users’ preference for the vertical timeline was so strong, I didn’t bother to create this interaction on my mobile prototype.

From the paper prototype, I also noticed that users struggled a bit with understanding what “Meals” meant in the menu bar. For the mobile prototype, I changed “Meals” to “Menus”. Hopefully, this will make it more clear where users can find their recipe collections for various events.

Another important feature of the app was the count down timers. When testing users with the paper prototype, I wanted to understand how they might expect to pause or continue when the recommended times from the recipes didn’t match their actual cooking times. In both, cases users knew they could tap on the time to pause and restart, but they also wanted a way to add time or re-adjust the timer themselves if they needed to.

Overall, the feedback for the application was extremely positive. Both users I tested mentioned that they would definitely use an app like this and had particular interest in a synthesized or aggregated cooking timeline.