HENI

To help researchers launch a new method to measure nutritional value, we recommended potential business pathways after months of deep design research. 

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Methods I used:

Affinity mapping

Ecosystem mapping

Expert interviews 

Interaction design

Market research

Personas

Secondary research

Speculative design

Tool I used:

Google Drive

Google Hangouts

Illustrator 

Photoshop


 

The Context

American diets are typically full of sugar, sodium, and empty calories, which leads to obesity and other health complications. Metrics like calories and “percentage daily value” are intended to inform decision making around food, and have the potential to sway people away from unhealthy choices, however, these health metrics can be difficult to understand.

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Trying to make healthy food choices can be complicated

The Challenge

University of Michigan researchers looked to create an easier way for people to know the health implications of eating certain foods by creating a new metric called the "Healthy Nutritional Index" (or HENI). HENI calculates the number of minutes of healthy life lost or gained per serving of individual foods, as seen below:

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1 serving size of peanuts (1 oz.)

+28 mins of healthy life

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1 medium bell pepper (5 oz.)

+5.5 mins of healthy life

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1 serving size of Cheddar Cheese (1 oz.)

-3 mins of healthy life

The research team believed HENI could help consumers make wiser food decisions, ultimately shaping healthier diets. They turned to the Innovation Studio at University of Michigan's School of Public Health to understand consumer demand around the concept and potential business implementation strategies. 

To provide direction for the project, the Intern Team generated a question that we  referenced throughout the project: “How might we leverage HENI to positively impact the health of individuals and communities?”

My Role

I was the design research intern on the project, taking a lead role in developing design questions and insights.

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Me in a heavily sticky-noted room

The Design Process

Our design process followed the following steps: 

1. Ecosystem Mapping

2. Interviews and Secondary Research 

3. Affinity Mapping

4. Synthesizing Findings

5. Recommendations 

However, we also followed the Innovation Studio's design framework when thinking through our process, as seen below: 

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1. Ecosystem Mapping

Our first step was to brainstorm as many possible stakeholders as we could. Because our issue area was broad, our stakeholder list was broad as well -- including elements like nutritional education, national policy, and business. We categorized stakeholders into different categories as seen below:

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Our summarized eco-system map

We then created questions for and reached out to individuals in each sub-category for interviews. 

2. Interviews and Secondary Research

Our secondary research via academic journals and national publications informed our questions for expert interviews. We conducted 46 interviews, each lasting between 30-45 minutes, across a spectrum of stakeholders:

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...and a variety of organizations:

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After each interview and reading, we collected key takeaways on post-it notes and debriefed what we learned together.

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My teammate, Jon, jotting down key findings

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Our combined key findings list for an interviewee

3. Affinity Mapping

We took all of our key findings post-its and clustered them into key themes. This step gave us the opportunity to align our thoughts on the project and organize our ideas relatively quickly. 

The start of one of our affinity mapping sessions

4. Synthesizing Findings

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Food choices can be made in milliseconds, based on latent knowledge that took a lifetime to learn.

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Breaking habits is tough

Changing long term behavior requires a deep-seated and heart-felt commitment to change; scientific information alone is often not enough to spur that. 

After reviewing our themed clusters, we had the following realizations: 

Food runs deep

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A new metric is needed

Since current nutritional metrics are confusing and systems like calorie counting can be mentally unhealthy, many are eager to find a metric that measures holistic food health benefits. 

HENI was not popular

The majority of interviewees didn't trust HENI's scientific merit or didn't like the ideas that HENI conjured (like death) when measuring individual health outcomes.

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HENI can measure group outcomes

Some appreciated how HENI could be used to evaluate how food choices and diets can impact the viability of groups of people or communities

The idea of using HENI to project health outcomes based on food available or distributed to groups of people or communities instead of individuals seemed compelling since: 

 

  1. it would require less precision when compared to how it would be used for an individual consumer 

  2. HENI could help organizations that are working on creating healthier outcomes for groups (like schools or food banks) make better decisions 

  3. HENI could influence positive health outcomes and benefit people without their knowledge or natural skepticism of the metric

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My teammate, David, pondering our findings

5. Recommendations

Based on our synthesized findings, we recommended the HENI team partner with two organizations who expressed enthusiasm for the metric in our interviews. After additional conversations, they were both eager to partner with the HENI team on pilot projects. And, they represented the two different ways to deploy HENI: for the individual and for the group. 

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Foodstand was interested in gauging benefits for consumers, the Food Bank for their clients

Foodstand 

Foodstand is a phone app that helps build healthy eating habits and was an ideal partner for HENI to help individual consumers. 

The app was created to "nudge" users to make healthy choices through fun, community based challenges, like eating four servings of vegetables a day for five days straight. The challenge would "level up" afterwards, holistically building the user's healthy habits over time; leading to longer, healthier lives. 

 

Rather than focusing on short-term outcomes like number of calories users ingest, Foodstand looked for other ways to "reward" users making healthy choices -- and they believed HENI could potentially do that.

For the HENI team, Foodstand would be a way to A/B test the metric with an existing user base, improving the way HENI is communicated and evaluating if consumers are at all interested in using the metric -- all with minimal investment. 

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An image from Foodstand's website

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A Foodstand reward notification we mocked up

Food Bank of Eastern Michigan (FBEM)

FBEM's innovative network of kitchens and pantries serves 28 million pounds of food and 300,000 clients annually and was an ideal partner for HENI to help marginalized groups. 

HENI could be a consistent and simple metric that would inform public and non-profit organizations like FBEM which foods are, in essence, good or bad for their clients. They would choose foods that add healthy minutes of life because they want their clients to live longer, healthier lives. 

 

FBEM could also use HENI as part of their evaluative toolkit to track progress over time, guide future investment dollars, and demonstrate success to funders. In this sense, HENI could help FBEM attract more resources to better help their clients. 

For the HENI team, FBEM would be a way to validate the group measurement approach, while serving traditionally underserved populations -- all with minimal investment.

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An image from FBEM's website

Next Steps

The next steps were for the HENI research team to continue conversations with Foodstand and FBEM, who were both eager and readily available to collaborate. The research team also had to collaborate with the university's Office of Technology Transfer to negotiate partnership/pilot details. 

Impact

HENI could help people make wiser, healthier food choices; and also has the potential to help mission-driven organizations get the resources they need, bringing healthier food to those who need it most. HENI could be improved, honed, and expanded after launching the pilot projects we recommended; helping people live happier, healthier lives. 

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The team on our final interview field trip 

The Team 

David Corneail, BFA Communication Design

User Experience Design Intern

 

Jon Halpern, BA Business Administration

Business Design Intern

 

Chris Lezama, MPA and BA Sociology and Literature

Design Research Intern

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