Contribution: Design Research
Collaborators: Marianna & Michelle
January - May 2019


USC's social innovation design lab, associated with the Marshall School of Business, invested in dozens of products and services for older adults that reflected the diversity of Los Angeles' population.  Spending hours in the field with older Korean adults who had immigrated to America in the last five years, we came up with a recipe for a dietary-conscious sweet potato cookie that reminds them of home, and distributed it to a Korean supermarket for sampling. 



01 Immerse

As a part of USC's Social Innovation Design Lab, we were simply told we to create a product for older adults, aged 65+, in Los Angeles. My group spent over 100 total hours in the field, visiting aged care centres, fitness centres, libraries, and parks. Through observation and 93 contextual interviews, we attempted to understand the most pressing problems older adults faced. We used various methods such as plotting a day in the life, contextual photo sharing, physically mapping their lives, and explaining what was in bags (spoiler alert: lots of snacks).

Skills: Contextual inquiry, field research methods.


02 Define

As we documented our conversations, we became interested in the idea of loneliness. We had a large affinity map that we rearranged once a week to capture the spectrum of loneliness and how the people we met experienced it, as well as a spreadsheet in which we captured quantitative data from our interviews. Through this, we became specifically interested in older adult immigrants and how they use food to feel less alone. Additionally, over 90% of the older adults we interviewed had eating restrictions that prevented them from eating common snacks -- whether those were low sugar needs, lactose intolerance, or lack of teeth.

Skills: Affinity maps, thematic analysis, spreadsheets


03 Ideate

We started our ideation based off of the question: "How might we use soft foods to inspire solutions to older adult immigrants feeling displaced?". Our conversations kept coming back to just how many older adults who carried snacks around daily, and the lack of American snacks that suited all the most frequent eating restrictions we found -- low sugar needs, lactose intolerance, and missing teeth. We were inspired to try making a soft snack ourselves.

Skills: Mind mapping, secondary research.

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04 Test

I batch produced the first samples of Cup O' Love -- a brand of lactose-free fruit puddings with no added sugar -- in my kitchen. In short, we missed a critical blind spot by assuming we could make a snack that suited all immigrants. The pudding wasn't as familiar as we thought it would be, so few people wanted to test it. The 5 people who liked it asked if we had considered other flavours, and suggested flavours from their home country -- including Yakult, durian, and curry. Due to the scope of the project, we decided to focus on a specific immigrant population.

Skills: User testing, field research, baking.

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05 Defining a narrower user population

We decided to focus on a population close to campus: older Korean immigrants at grocery stores in LA's Koreatown. Here, we honed in on a specific observation: camaraderie between grocery shoppers and in-store samplers. Yan, who had immigrated from Korea only a year ago to be with her childrens' families, but had started learning English through her part-time job sampling her favourite snacks at Hannam, her local Korean supermarket

We were also able to focus our conversations on comforting, familiar flavours, as learned from testing Cup O'Love. To our shock, 100% of the older adults we interviewed at Korean grocery stores up yams as a comfort food from home.

Skills: Contextual inquiry, observational study.


06 Iteration

Partially because cookies are my personal favourite sweet treat, our first idea was creating a yam cookie -- and when we realised we could easily make it dairy-free, gluten-free, and easy on the teeth, we made 100 of them. And, after a weekend back in Koreatown and a session with the rest of the design lab, all 100 were gone. 

Skills: User testing, field research, baking.


In the end, we distributed boxes, samples, and the recipe for Yam-Yams to Hannam Supermarket. Even though this project was very scrappy, it was the project that defined my approach -- focusing on going beyond empathising to immersing with user populations in their natural settings, a north star of community-centred design, and letting the users drive key outcomes and define my metrics of success.