The Menu App(A Mobile Phone Learning Course Project)
What should I eat here? A food & restaurant app that embraces cultural awareness by highlighting ingredients in each dish and enabling ratings by each dish -
“The thing I absolutely love about food is it’s a common thread that connects us no matter what culture we come from.
— Poh Ling Yeow
The inspiration of the subject area of my project originated from my passion for food, language learning, and traveling. There are several apps that I enjoy using because of these factors: Opentable, TripAdvisor, and Yelp. Opentable is a platform for online reservation: every time I find a restaurant on this platform, I am excited because reservations become so easy and accessible. The searching-for-restaurant experience is assuring. For me, TripAdvisor, although was more places-to-visit-oriented instead of restaurant-targeted considering how it integrates hotel booking, places of interest ratings, etc. Yelp is the one I use most frequently on my phone: I can search for places to eat surrounding me wherever I am (in the United States), and the interface does a good job showing restaurants according to distance, price range, and relative direction/location, etc. Overall, all the apps I mentioned above are handy tools for restaurant booking, picture uploading, comments making, etc., and I wonder if there is anything left out from this process. My goal is to fill this space.
I decided to pin down some objectives with my own experience dining at restaurants: I have trouble understanding the menu in a lot of occasions. Sometimes I picked something, ate it, and felt really good about the dish – but later forgot about what I ate. I really wanted to tell my friend about it, but I could not. When I think about this process, there are several challenges that stood out to me: people have a hard time reading menus when it’s not in their native language, and in terms of allergies and ingredients, clearing the air is very important. Moreover, I noticed how users rarely read the comments on the restaurant social apps and focus more on the pictures and ratings. I decide to make my learning activity more focused on what the readers are more interested in reading. My audience is college students who are interested in dining out and traveling.
I tested it with a friend I visited in Boston, Nina. Before I pulled out the PowerPoint mockup, I explained the main idea of my learning activity, which is to have 1) a platform where menus are translatable among different languages; 2) a place where users are able to rate each dish they ate.
The testing started. Before I asked her to do anything on any slide, I would explain the main purpose of the slide (for example, this page is what shows up when the restaurant has not submitted any menu entries, this page is for rating the dish, etc.). I understand the major disadvantage of doing so, which takes away the process of having the user explore the app and figure out how things work to see the effectiveness and flow of each page. However, I thought it was necessary at this preliminary point of my app building development because I would like to receive more feedback from my users before I go into the wrong direction in the design. More importantly, if my users demonstrate confusions even after my introduction, it would lead me to face the questions with more concern.
During the testing, besides briefing her the purpose of each slide, I would also ask Nina to recap what I just said about the slide: What language are you choosing? What does this interface do? Where would you click? Questions like these. She said she would choose English (not Chinese), for example.
Afterwards, as I exit the mockup, I asked Nina if there was anything she would not want to use. I understand that users, especially as friends, are sometimes reluctant to give straightforward and direct critiques, so I encouraged her by telling her that I appreciate negative feedback very much because it is at a very early level of my app building and whatever she said would be very beneficial. After several seconds of silence, she told me she would love to use those functions, but there were several points where she got confused. For example, she elaborated on her confusion when she reached the following screenshot:
She told me that she got confused whether she should add an entry to the restaurant’s menu repertoire or continue with the translation. I found her feedback illustrating great clarification, and I moved the “adding” function to the very end of the app activity, to the evaluation part.
In the article “Designing Mobile Learning to Support Public Food Literacy: Constructivist Pedagogies and ICT Ecologies,” the author stated that "Food literacy can be broadly defined as the understandings, knowledge and skills relating to an individual’s food interactions. However, this emergent term has been defined and applied in varying ways. Some definitions emphasize nutritional and dietary goals” (Vidgen & Gallegos 2011, 2012). For my phone activity, this does not extend to details in nutrition or dietary, but as far as I am concerned, having an interactive and on-going conversation about the items on the menu definitely raises awareness of allergies ingredients, and similar matters. As the author continues, "With mobile learning increasingly identified as a means of facilitating dialogic, situated and distanced learning in informal settings, there is an opportunity for mobile learning to support public food literacy and extend existing understandings to a wider learner population."
In the piece “An overview of mobile assisted language learning: From content delivery to supported collaboration and interaction,” the author touches the higher/overall activity of cultural exchange through food: "a language learner visiting a target culture (say, a ‘year abroad’) could use mobile technologies to capture and share their experiences in that culture with a community of practice (e.g. language learners) at home."
In terms of language learning through mobile phones, in the research paper “Emerging Technologies Mobile Apps for Language Learning,” the researchers claim that "Cloudbank leverages not only the ability of a smartphone to exchange information with an online database; it also makes use of a peer-to-peer network. In fact, with the rise of social networking, we are seeing more language learning apps that take advantage of this trend. “The app uses GPS to determine a user’s location and supplies vocabulary information and practice appropriate to that location: food and drink vocabulary, for instance, if the user is in a restaurant. " In my learning activity, GPS is also included as one of the tools so that users can mark their location and contribute to the “repertoire of menus.”
After I published my first mock-up and before receiving feedback from my classmates and surveys, I concluded the following two pitfalls as the largest concern I had: one being that users might be reluctant to engage with the app because using phones on dinner tables are not considered polite in several circumstances; secondly, relying on phones and resorting to chatting online potentially takes away some exchanges between the customer and the waiter, which are usually beneficial for travelers in terms of challenging themselves and improving communications skills in another culture or language setting.
After receiving feedback from my target group, which highlighted the concern of not having enough active users for instant translating, I added some other features to the app.
Before I started my user testing, I conducted a survey on my pilot mock up, which received 21 responses from my supportive audience. The responses reflected a major concern of the “instant translation function” I proposed in the learning activity. They are concerned about the time it is going to take and the quality of the answers. Now I am going to spend some time to highlight some interesting points I noticed from the survey result.
In the question regarding the tactics people use when they are ordering in a language setting they are not familiar with, the most popular answers include referring to the photos, asking the waiters from clarification, and looking up the words in google.
There are 20% of the participants who do not think they would use this online translating function because of the time delay, the doubt in accuracy, and uncertainty in sources. Someone also highlighted that they want to eat what their friends recommend, which is the essence about social apps.
My pilot mockup did not include anything regarding restaurant review, but when asked of what other functions would interested the participants, 95% of them checked the option “restaurant review.” This is why I later added the function of reviewing EACH dish in my app.
After this survey, as I mentioned before, I removed the function of instant translation and added several new functions: 1): users will be able to view the menu in different translated versions if the restaurant (and other customers) has uploaded detailed items; if not, the scanner for translating through Google/Wikipedia will come to help. 2) users will be able to rate each dish after they finish the meal and post pictures under that certain dish.
I then tested the app with five friends:
1) a new friend that I dined with, M;
2) a friend I visited in Boston, Y;
3) a friend from my program, M2;
4) another girl that I ran into during the fire drill, X;
5) my roommate, S.
Here are some of the suggestions I received from them:
1. In the scanning-translating process, there should be a prompt asking for the users to select sources such as Wikipedia and google images.
2. The “proposing a question” part in the translation page is unnecessary. It should either take place before dining or in the evaluation. Posting a question during
3. Besides the opportunity to give each dish a rating, there should also be a place to upload pictures of THE VERY dish.
4. There should be more “go back” keys in the process
5. The scanning function is confusing. The interface looks too intense. Needs to be simplified.
Overall, they expressed excitement toward my project and responded very supportively. I extremely appreciate the fact that they offered me very specific feedback for me to improve this app.
Here is the default survey report:
In conclusion, I appreciate how I got closer to my goal during this design and testing process. I made changes constantly based on each feedback I received, if I found them matching my ideas. However, I see the importance of finding more people to test so that I would not get swayed and change my whole design by one piece of advice I got on a certain page of my mockup. What I need to do further is to get more opinions from different people on a single aspect (A/B Testing) so that I can come up with a design that follows the rhythm of most users. I also am extremely excited to see how my design got to be more specific when I implement skills in goal-driven design. For example, I think about why I go on to Yelp – what I would like to read more and what I do not tend to use in the app. I also asked my users about these questions so that it is not just about myself.