Food for thought, cooked by Clint

After Friday night’s thesis prototyping, I had a chance to chat at length with one of the participants. Reluctant Cook was… are you ready for this?… none other than SVA IxD’s own alumnus Clint Beharry! (Okay, you knew all along, Twitter people.) Anyway, this meant I got some damn good feedback after we all settled down to nosh on the soup.

I recall back in October, I had described my thesis idea to him and he said it would be a miracle if it could get him to cook. Now it’s November and he has officially cooked! Not only had he cooked, he enjoyed himself! So this first bit of feedback is very encouraging and gives me even more momentum to push forward. But there is a lot of work ahead, too:

Clint noted that one of the reasons this worked so well was that he happened to be cooking with someone with endless reserves of patience. Because he was a first-time cook, he had to be walked through the recipe step by step. He wondered if other, more experienced cooks might get impatient or bored. Is there something I could design so that people with different experience levels can all have fun and not get bored? Or would the inherent sociality of the experience ensure fun, no matter what? It would be good to test this out with more prototypes where there is that student-teacher dynamic.

He also noted opportunities to incorporate more “mindfulness prompts” into the experience. For example, on a certain step, text could appear saying “Now smell the onions as they are frying—doesn’t that smell great?” Perhaps people could tag steps with certain sensory words as they go through. All this would allow everyone to enjoy cooking as a sensory experience, rather than just the tedious following of instructions.

The language of the recipe itself could be tweaked a bit, too. I had used the standard, rather terse and formal-sounding recipe language, albeit lightly reconfigured for maximum helpfulness for novice cooks. Clint pointed out that it’s pretty soulless, and could be pushed even more to sound like it has a personality. It could even include reasons for why a certain step is what it is: “Now you are adding chicken broth to start turning this into soup.”

There is also the possibility of a metaphor for the entire interaction: “everyone throwing their ingredients in the same pot.” This could give rise to a special visual treatment of the interface, or influence the service’s content/features.

At some point, the conversation turned to game mechanics and badges. Clint’s reaction initially was one of guardedness, as we all know what empty meaningless gamification looks like (and it ain’t pretty). But in this case, if the badges could actually stand for something meaningful, it could be super gratifying for the user. We discussed the possibility of awarding badges every time you have a cooking session, so what they represent—good times with friends—would give them positive meaning. Also, the idea of letting friends award one another badges (“World’s Most Patient Teacher,” “First Time Cook,” “Master of Bacon”) could be lots of fun.

He concluded his feedback with advice to focus on the aesthetic layer and the charm, not the technology. “Technology will catch up; don’t worry about the video quality too much.” And I think this is true. Part of what made the evening so fun and engaging was that cooking is actually a very charming activity when done with friends. I definitely need to focus on what would enhance this quality more.

Whew. A lot to chew on. So to speak.

In any case, all this feedback made me realize that I had gotten very caught up in the technical implementation of things for the past few weeks, and now it’s time to zoom back out again and reconsider the reasons and meanings behind what I’m doing. What value am I creating, really, beyond just a suggestion for a new way to use video chat? How can I take it to new places?