Duration

03/2020 – 05/2020

Role

Full Graphic Designer, Logo Designer, Web Developer

Work

User Research, UI/UX Development, Web Development, Branding, Visual Design, Marketing, Social Media

Link

Alameda Eats: connecting the community with struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic​

Working with the Alameda Chamber of Commerce, I created Alameda Eats, program to connect Alameda citizens with local restaurants in Alameda that are suffering from the shelter-in-place directive in response to COVID-19. Alameda Eats is a searchable website where you can find up-to-date information on Alameda restaurants that are offering takeout, delivery and/or curbside pick-up. New information and restaurants are submitted by the community, truly making it a community resource. Since launch, the site has over 30,000 page views and features 112 local restaurants and businesses, also being featured in local news.

Problem

I was discussing a local issue in my City with Felicia Vargas, Alameda Unified School District Career Technical Specialist. Businesses saw rapidly decreasing revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, driving many Alameda businesses potentially out of business. Many community members were unaware of this, as well as which restaurants were open and how to order from them. Local customers were unable to connect with restaurants virtually and struggled to find ways to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Work

Working with Alameda Chamber of Commerce Executive President Madlen Saddik and Alameda Unified School District Career Technical Specialist Felicia Vargas, I decided to try to find a solution to help support our struggling local businesses. I conducted a variety of interviews and strategic research to figure out how to best serve both restaurants and customers. This was followed by ideation, testing, and implementation through both a visual identity for the platform as well as web development to bring this platform to my community. This was complemented by social media outreach and strategy assisted by Nicole Kidd Insights in local community circles and through news outlets to help spread awareness about the platform and best serve my community.

Research

To further understand how to best serve both local restaurants and customers across the City, I conducted over 10 interviews with both restaurant owners and local consumers. This was followed by ideation and discussion with community stakeholders at the Alameda Chamber of Commerce and the City of Alameda Economic Development Department to understand how to best serve my community in this time of need. This, coupled with secondary research in regards to effective media vehicles, garnered key insights to take forward for my development.

Restaurant Interviews

My interviews with restaurant owners was extremely helpful in helping me recognize what solutions would best serve these vendors. My first instinct was to create a novel platform for them to fulfill orders that was updated and comment focused. However, my interviews helped me establish a variety of new needs and reframe my problem and potential solution:

  • Restaurants each had different fulfillment processes and platforms they were already using (doordash, grubhub, etc.)
  • However, communication with these platforms was difficult and they oftentimes categorized their restaurants by their own criteria
  • In addition, these platforms charged premiums of up to 20-30% for restaurants to fulfill these orders, killing local businesses
  • Restaurant owners wanted up-to-date information for community members that didn’t rely on these traditional food delivery platforms, unless they wanted to use such.
  • Make it easy to update and add to in order to incentivize owners to use and update the platform
We previously refused to use Doordash, Uber Eats, and Grub Hub because of how much they charged for us to use their platform. We were losing so much money on each order. But now, we have to rely on them as almost all our consumers use them now that they can't come in store. It's the worst of two evils.
- Alameda Restaurant Owner

Consumer Interviews

Interviews with a number of potential consumers from around the island formed the basis for my user interface and user experience. From these interviews, I gathered a number of insights to take forward with me into development, including:

  • Make the user experience as easy to navigate as possible. Getting current customers to deviate from their accustomed app and routine is difficult, so making it easy to use and accessible is key
  • Focus on mobile optimization. The majority of users purchase and find their food on their phone
  • Demonstrate the impact, and include all their options. People would be inclined to use the platform to find new local restaurants and support their community, but not if they just wanted McDonald’s
  • Make it easily filterable. Consumers want to find what they want and fast. Let them filter for type of cuisine and if they have delivery or not
Of course I want to support my community. But if its at the expense of cost or convenience, I'm far less likely to do so. I want to be able to find what I want on my phone and order, no hassle.
- Alameda Consumer

Stakeholder Interviews

In order to not only design a solution for restaurants and restaurant-goers, I had conversations with Alameda Chamber Of Commerce President Madlen Saddik, Felicia Vargas from the Alameda Unified School District, and a variety of members from the City of Alameda Economic Development Department to further understand how this can serve our community. Through this process, I learned:

  • We must work to support community endeavors in regards to food insecurity. The Alameda Food Bank and Meals on Wheels saw a 400% increase in need during the pandemic
  • Many Alamedans are unaware of this issue, so a place to donate would be extremely helpful
  • The community will rally around the issue if we find the right places to target. Utilize social media effectively and tap into these community groups
  • Make it easy to add a restaurant and have the community add places they don’t see -> the community is very collaborative!
Can we find a way to support Alameda Meals on Wheels and the Food Bank? It would not only be extremely beneficial for these groups and help a lot of people, but further the idea of the platform being a community resource for all of us.
- Representative from the City of Alameda

Key Insights

1. Each Restaurant is Different

Restaurants all have their own internal policies and ways of handling orders. The best solution for them is to make it easy to access and update, and route users to their platforms of choice.

2. Center Community

The community will band together in times of need. Tapping into this community for natural word-of-mouth awareness, letting them contribute, and utilizing this opportunity to support food insecurity across the City – are all helpful.

3. Ease of Use is Key

Consumers want an easy solution to help their community. Make the process of accessing and finding their desired restaurants easy and seamless – on both laptop and mobile.

Synthesis

Following my various interviews and brainstorming, I worked to build and design the site. This included the logo, web development, brand assets, and social media. This all occurred within a 2 week period in order to deliver this platform to the community as soon as possible. I communicated with stakeholders and mentors throughout these two weeks, but full-scale iterative testing wasn’t possible due to the necessity of a short turn around.

The entire platform, from the brand identity, visual design, web development, infrastructure, and roll-out strategy was developed and executed in April 2021.

My Goal

Develop a collective platform to organize and help consumers find updated information and an all-in-one solution to finding and supporting local restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis. This was complemented by a community-oriented rollout strategy and ideas to support local organizations focused on food insecurity.

Hero

The hero section is a direct call-to-action. It highlights the wealth of food options by rotating between them, and then asks the user to search for their restaurant or type of food they are looking for. Focusing on ease of access and accessibility, it presents a direct call-to-action to the consumer who is looking for a certain type of food or restaurant.

Directory​

The directory is the most important part of the site. It lists over 110 local Alameda restaurants, sortable and searchable. I integrated filters to sort by service type (delivery, pickup, etc.) as well as cuisine type to neatly and conveniently organize the information. When the user chooses a restaurant, it directs them to a page with updated hours, menu, phone number, type of delivery during the pandemic, and location.

Donations

Following stakeholder interviews, I recognized the necessity of assisting organizations focused on food insecurity during the pandemic given their immensely rising demand during COVID-19. This section highlights both the importance of supporting local business as well as donating to local food banks and meals on wheels in this crisis. Three tiers were used to incentivize users to share on social media and clear links were presented to push consumers to action right away.

Submit a Restaurant

As we lacked a formal list of Alameda restaurants and hours, and restaurant practices were constantly changing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a form for community members to submit new restaurants or information was essential. This not only made it easy for restaurant owners to submit their information, but also encouraged the community to get involved and add places they know of.

Social Media Strategy and Rollout

With the help and mentorship of Nicole Kidd from NKiddInsights, we identified community groups as being the most essential way to grow awareness and gain users. Through publishing in community Facebook groups such as “Alameda Peeps”, developing a Twitter account, and cross-promoting across the Chamber of Alameda and School Board’s channels, we saw great success.

1 k+
Pageviews
1 +
News Mentions
1 +
Restaurants

Results

With over 30k+ pageviews, tens of thousands of social media impressions, and multiple features in local news articles, it was a resounding success. In fact, I was even interviewed by a local news station and newspaper about the platform and how to best support our community. I was honored to be presented with the Alameda Business Excellence Awards’ Youth Outstanding Achievement Award mainly for my work on this project. The platform still remains a resource for the community to this day and is still regularly being  updated and supporting our community one visitor at a time.

Reflection

Overall, this was an extremely rewarding experience. Working on projects for social good and community involvement have always been important to me, so seeing this actualized was unbelievably rewarding. Although I don’t know if we saved any businesses or not, I know we helped get customers to local restaurants in a crucial time of need, while also supporting our local organizations focused on food insecurity.

Additionally, it gave me great insight and experience in how to launch a platform and corresponding strategy and skills required for such. Considering we went from ideation to execution in just 2 weeks, it also gave me experience working in a fast-paced environment and needing to hit deadlines quickly and swiftly (even during shelter-in-place orders).

With additional time, I would have done additional user testing and user walkthroughs to further test and ideate my platform. Additionally, I would have spent more time synthesizing my interviews and secondary research to make sure I’m addressing all stakeholder needs. Lastly, I would have focused more on the visual design. The current branding is effective and straightforward, but more playful and inviting branding would be more effective in bringing together community in the future!

This is just a brief glimpse into my work on Alameda Eats. My work involved over 30 hours of research, development and creative work, and I had to utilize a number of tools and skills to make this idea a reality. For more information about and my research, skillset, design, and creative process, please contact me!