nomzi: turning yuck to yum

course: adv. design studio // time: 8 weeks // my role: research & concept dev. // team: 3 people

the challenge

Large amounts of food is wasted daily, with fruits and vegetables having the highest rate--especially among the young. To address thid problem, my team took on the challenge:

how might we make the experience of eating fruits and vegetables attractive to kids?

the outcome

Simply put, Nomzi creates a fun & meaningful flair around the perception of fruits and veggies for kids.Grounded in practices of sustainable behavior change, Nomzi uses repeated exposure and flavor-flavor conditioning1, instilling a value-based relationship.

Interactive prototype of final outcome.

Interactive prototype of final outcome.

how nomzi works

Nomzi hosts a personal pet which grows stronger and happier when fed healthy items. As kids scan foods to make choices on what to feed their pet, they visually experience the consequences of their decisions.

continue reading to see my process.

01. exploratory research & territory definition

40% of food losses in industrialized countries happen at the retail and consumer level, with fruits and vegetables having the highest rate.

The situation is exacerbated by the convenience, heavy marketing, and overall sensory appeals of junk food. It's no surprise that it's usually harder for most of us to resist a piece of brownie over a carrot.

how are others tackling this issue?

There are overarching similarities in the strategies among most tackling food waste--many take the angle of driving change through the means of services offered to businesses and consumers to assist with mitigating food waste through external quick fixes. Very few aim to reduce waste through affecting individuals through behavioral and emotional change. 

This creates an opportunity for us to explore ways food waste can be addressed at the consumer-level through user-driven actions.


leading us to ask the question:
how can we design for behavior change? 


After some research, we found a model that shed light on proven ways to approach our intent.

02. discussion with experts

With the objective of learning how sustainable behavior change (illustrated in graph above) can be applied to the context of food, we interviewed several experts in the field. Our main takeaways were:

Flavor-flavor conditioning, an idea based on nutritional psychology that states when things humans do not like are paired with things they do like, they begin to grow positive feelings towards it. 

Repeated exposure is key. It takes humans 12 + times of experiencing something before they  begin to like it, thanks to the comfort of familiarity.

                                 Juliana Cohen                             Professor of Nutrition                       Harvard Public School of Health

                                 Juliana Cohen
                            Professor of Nutrition   
                   Harvard Public School of Health


start early, start young

At this point, we decided to narrow down our scope by identifying our target user.

From research and SME insights, we learned it's most impactful when behavior change methods are applied to those who are young and still forming their view of the world. 

Thus, we limited our design to reflect the needs of younger kids, ages 5-10. 


03. day in the life observations

It's difficult to get feedback from interviewing young people. Instead, we followed them around for a few days.

We discovered young people have short attention spans and generally prioritize other activities over food, unless the food is something they are excited about such as candy or cake.

In moments when food comes in between an activity they enjoy, kids will actively reject or abandon food or incorporate food to satisfy a different need. 


04. defining the user

 We translated our research into fictional story illustrating our primary user, allowing us to depict our findings in a memorable and concise manner. This ensured our user's needs, motivations, frustrations, and goals were always at the forefront of our decisions as we proceeded through the design process.  

meet Stephen, the stimuli-sensitive 8 year old. 

In the home...

Stephen’s mother tries to feed him as he watches his iPad. He becomes annoyed each time the food blocks his view of his iPad. 

Insight: Kids have varying levels of excitement towards things which can directly affect engagement. At any given time, kids will focus on what is most exciting to them. This can create rapid fluctuations in engagement levels.

At school...

During lunch, Stephen is more interested in chatting with his friends than making sure to finish his food. When the bell rings , Stephen throws away the remainder of his food to maximize playtime.   

Insight: Like the recess bell, certain stimuli can create situations of decision-making in children where preferred activities are prioritized and non preferred activities are abandoned.

During playtime...

During playtime, Stephen uses orange as a baseball. Eventually, the orange is bruised and left lying on the ground. 

Insight: Children will give new meanings and purposes to things to serve their interests. In this case, they objectify food to utilize it in a new form to enable them to have fun. 


05. setting constraints: design principles

Completing an affinity diagram exercise allowed us to identify themes from all our data, which we translated into design principles to maintain focus and guide the future of our decision-process.

quick & easy goals

young people are distracted easily. 
Our product should allow for quick actions.


young people have taste preferences. Our
product should be sensitive to these. 

ownership & responsibility 

young people care more when they own and take care of something. 

tinkering & making 

young people are imaginative, giving new
meanings to their surroundings. 

06. going wide, developing rough concepts

With the mission to build a solution our problem, each team member brainstormed multiple ideas. We internally voted to test the best ones. Below are two concepts that had the highest success rate during testing with users.



Concept A: Sensor enabled technology to feed a tangible "pet."

User feedback: enjoyed live feedback from a physical "toy-like" thing, but confused by its relation to physical bracelet.

Challenge: physical pet limits usage to only areas near it.



Concept B: Redefining food with superhero qualities.

User feedback: gamification of power-building motivated kids to want to scan more items, but lost interest quickly.

Challenge: how can we retain their attention once the novel fun factor wears off?


addressing challenges & combining the best tested ideas, we created: a portable sensor-enabled food+pet pairing


This new version offered portability by combining pet + scanner into one device.

The growing digital pet solved the challenge of user retention and super powers created excitement around food.


06. developing the ecosystem + interactions

To refine the interactions, mapped out an ecosystem of the functions, processes and feedback. The parent/guardian would use supplementary Nomzi app to choose most preferred fruits and veggies by their child’s pet. This tackles the issue of different cultures and demographics storing different foods within their homes--we want Nomzi to be inclusive of all backgrounds.

When the child scans and feeds his pet the preferred foods, the pet becomes happy and grows strong. The opposite is true if the child feeds the pet something it dislikes, such as a candy bar. This data of choices made by the child is transferred to the parent who can view their child’s activity and progress.


06. setting the interactive architecture

With such a small screen space to work with, we wanted to make sure we could execute Nomzi's functions in as simple and few interactions and screens as possible. 

We tested over several dozen architectures  using paper prototypes, and moved forward with better developing those that resonated best with young people's mental models.

Moving forward...