introducing reusability to the world of takeout through the digital space




Mel deVivar (UXR LEAD)
Krista Soriano (UX LEAD)


the goal

Designing a mobile app for a Bay Area startup that provides consumers and restaurants with returnable, reusable packaging for takeout and meal delivery.

Climate change. Carbon footprint. Susainability. These are just a few of the terms that our society is getting very familiar with and rightly so. We (at least most of us) truly care about this daunting and extremely consequential topic and genuinely want to DO something to help. But as individuals, we’re sometimes finding ourselves at odds with what we value and what is convenient and accessible in our day-to-day-- a prime example being ordering takeout meals; or I should more accurately say, the containers they come in.

During COVID-19, the world was in lockdown and the consumption of takeout food increased along with the environmental impact from packaging waste alone. Optimistically, there are plenty of startups being conceived who are attempting to grapple with this issue in innovative ways; one being returnable, reusable takeout containers. Amazing! But there’s just one problem: returning them tends to be inconvenient and a nuisance.

So, I began to do my own grappling...

How can we make the process of returning reusable containers more convenient and delightful for users, while making sure it’s feasibly sustainable in their daily lives?

the background

This all started from a hackathon in early 2021 that my team and I decided to participate in together. The prompt we chose was to create a mobile app for local restaurant takeout and we decided to add a sustainability feature for opting into reusable containers to our concept. Through the hackathon experience, we unanimously felt that our team dynamic was strong and that we harmonized well together as designers-- we also discovered that we each were passionate about solving the particular sustainability problem that addresses the short lifecycle around disposables. So, a few days after the hackathon was over, one of us discovered Dispatch Goods-- a startup located in the Bay Area that provides consumers and restaurants with returnable, reusable packaging for takeout and meal delivery.

Excited by the discovery, we further learned that Dispatch Goods didn’t have a mobile app (at least at the time);  this led us to designing an iOS proof of concept for an end-to-end mobile app.


first, let's identify our problems

As a team, we started off by digging into industry standards with secondary research and looked into competitors and the market by conducting a SWOT analysis. The most pivotal piece of data that we found:

of Dispatch Goods’ containers are never returned.
This gave us clarity on the problem at hand from the business’ perspective-- in order for Dispatch Goods to properly scale, they would need to lower their return losses.

In turn, this also addresses the goal of making the process for returning reusable containers more sustainable for users, therefore minimizing takeout waste.

We then conducted a survey on the topic of returnable takeout containers-- based on their interest in the concept, we recruited a total of 10 participants for 1:1 user interviews; we wanted to learn people's attitudes towards the concept of reusable containers and understand what will motivate users to use the mobile app. We identified the top priorities for our participants:


Finding methods to practice sustainability in convenient ways.


Conveniently ordering food online, particularly via mobile.

This is where we began to pinpoint these major challenges surrounding the concept:

"Am I even making a difference?"
40% of participants want to know the sustainability impact of their contribution(s) and would like positive reinforcement.
"If it's inconvenient for me, then I won't do it."
100% of participants have given up sustainable practices due to inconvenience.
"I need to be reassured that the containers are thoroughly sanitized."
50% of participants need reassurance about the cleanliness of using returnable, reusable containers and want to know the details of the sanitation process.
"I consider the amount of effort that comes from my end."
50% of participants have questions about how much extra work from their end is involved.

Some intense affinity mapping ensued in FigJam on user behaviors about ordering food online and practicing sustainability:


second, let's define our users

After synthesizing our findings, we made sense of the data and identified our target users broken down into
2 archetypes with corresponding personas-- these were primarily based on the topic of sustainability:

These are the types of people that have had climate change on their minds for a long time and make it a point to prioritize and practice sustainability, even if it means going out of their way. While they’re concerned for the future of the planet, they’re also critical of trends and greenwashing and rely on their own research and hard data over a brand’s marketing to understand the true impact of a product or practice.

• Lower their environmental impact
• Research and validate the intent and impact of companies with sustainability claims

• Fatigued by eco trends and greenwashing
• Lack of impactful sustainable options
These are the types of people that are casually aware of sustainability practices and trends (plastic straw ban!). For the most part, they care about the environment and like the concept of sustainability, but their knowledge level is low and they’re easily influenced. They also typically do the bare minimum: If a practice is too much work or too inconvenient for them, it won’t stick.

• Fit sustainability into their lifestyle

•Lack of time and low internal motivation to invest in sustainable practices/products
• Overwhelmed by how much effort it takes to be sustainable
Using our overarching business goal for increasing container returns to guide us, we decided to primarily focus on designing for our Eco Novice archetype.
Eco Novices require more convenience to regularly follow through with sustainability practices.

If we design for Eco Novices, our designs will also affect the Eco Advocates who are already willing to go the extra mile to lessen their carbon footprint.

Wider range, bigger impact.
So, how might we support eco novices in their efforts to be more sustainable?
Eco novices need accountability and affirmation to make sustainable practices a consistent part of their lives because they lack internal motivation.
Our solution should positively reinforce their small wins.


third, let's explore some solutions

After a few rounds of crazy 8 sketches and developing a prioritization matrix, we began to get more clarity on what our solution consisted of but things weren’t quite fleshed out yet.

We then further clarified what our MVP would consist of as a proof of concept by creating a hybrid journey map + user flow to better empathize with our users.

This is when we reminded ourselves that despite food-ordering being a part of the user journey, we weren’t designing another DoorDash for Dispatch Goods.
After creating a sitemap and listing out what our app would need, we identified what we would be designing and eventually testing for this to be an MVP; in other words, a proof of concept.


fourth, let's do some early testing

As we moved further along, we made the decision to conduct some rapid testing in order to prioritize the function and flow of our MVP before diving into styling. Using the advice, “Test early, test often” to the best of our timeframe, I led our team into our first usability test:

Low-fi usability test, specifically for the drop-off flow _____________________________
6 participants, 5 in-person, 1 remote

When ideating on our flows for scheduling a pick-up and checking rewards, we realized that the steps were familiar to flows on other apps out in the wild. Take ordering items on Amazon for instance: you will most likely add your personal info and specify where you’d like the package to be. Or when scheduling a dinner reservation, you’d most likely select a date/time. On apps that have reward programs or track your points, you may have seen dashboards where you can view your progress or redeem rewards.

But when ideating the drop-off flow, the team and I had encountered more nuances and questions for what the steps should be. Despite some of the drop-off screens using steps with familiar design patterns, we realized that the concept for dropping something off wasn’t as common.

With this in mind, we decided to test our drop-off flow’s low-fi wireframes early on to evaluate whether or not the flow was intuitive. These were the top insights I wanted to carry over into our design opportunities:

Most participants felt that the flow was straightforward and intuitive, despite the concept being unfamiliar.
Out of all the steps, participants had the most questions during the QR scanning portion.


fifth, let's make it visually delightful

Now, for the fun part: developing Dispatch Goods’ brand identity to bring our MVP to life. This is where I led my team as the Visual/UI Design Lead for styling our screens.

Note: Dispatch Goods currently has their own branding on their site-- however, based on our user interviews from participants who have visited the site, they felt that the styling was cheerful but a bit outdated and lacking colors that evoke sustainability. So we decided to take a stab at it. 😉
🌱 the mission at its core
Heavily influenced by user interviews and color psychology, our branding contains nature-inspired colors of our planet; the heart of the palette being shades of green.
🍋  fresh and bright
Mix of vivid and soft colors that evoke a gentle cheerfulness, friendliness, and approachability to the brand and concept-- standing out in the food takeout/delivery app landscape of bold or monochromatic colors.
🍲  keeping the identity
Despite changing most of the branding, we wanted to keep the simple, bowl logo in the branding to uphold Dispatch Goods’ essence.
❖  modern and minimal
Clean and simple in styling with thin and sleek sans serifs bring a polished, no-fuss aesthetic.


sixth, let's design and test some more

Taking our low-fi usability findings, I led my team into more iterations-- at this point, we were ready to start expanding the design of our flows. We previously found inspiration in many places: from industry leading food-ordering apps (i.e. DoorDash, Yelp), habit-tracking apps, credit card apps, fitness apps, and more. Gathering screenshots and discussing these ideas early on helped us to integrate familiar design patterns into our wireframes to keep our screens as intuitive as possible.

Mid-fi usability test, including all flows in our MVP _______________________________________________________________
4 participants, all in-person

Heavily focused on testing our proof of concept in its entirety, we decided to conduct another usability test using our
mid-fi wireframes in greyscale
; this allowed us to test our product’s usability without too much influence from our styling. Recruiting both Eco Novices and Eco Advocates, we were able to refine our MVP using the interview takeaways.


finally, we have our solution

A mobile app that provides convenient ways to practice sustainability and rewards users for staying accountable.
Return screen

This is the first screen when selecting “return” on the bottom task bar; the user’s “outstanding” balance of remaining containers that need to be returned is immediately displayed. Users can also select the amount of containers they’d like to return for each return cycle, along with the preferred method of returning.

Users mentioned that the idea of returning containers is already work from their end. Thus, the app tracking the number of containers they haven’t returned yet offloads the mental work off of users.
Drop-off start screen

When starting a drop-off, users are prompted with the options to either start scanning their container(s) or search for the nearest drop-off bins to their current location.

During our lo-fi usability test, we had the flow to go directly to turning on your nearby location services to keep in mind first-time users. This got us thinking about users who would regularly drop off their containers at local bins-- which means they would probably know where to go without needing directions. Thus, giving users both options to make the process more efficient depending on their situation.
Drop-off bin profiles

Users can view important information on each drop-off bin location by selecting a profile; this includes the address, hours, parking info, as well as the option for getting directions using Google Maps integration.

This lets users avoid any extra research or unnecessary frustration surrounding finding and accessing a drop-off bin.
QR code instructions
confirmation screen

Once users are at the drop-off bin, they are instructed by a half-screen modal on the QR code screen on next steps as well as a confirmation screen with the number of bins they’re returning. They are also allowed to edit the number of returns before finalizing the return.

Users had the most questions during the QR code/ending portion of usability testing and were hesitant about what do next. Providing clear instructions, a progress bar, and confirmation provides user confidence during the process.
Saving address as default

When scheduling a pick-up, users are conveniently given the option to save the inputted address as default.

This allows users to save time when scheduling pick-ups in the future.
Pick-up notifications

Users are able to turn on/off push notifications for when the pick-up is complete.

Users are given the option to stay informed of when their containers are collected.
Rewards dashboard +
impact data

The total number of lifetime returns is displayed at the top of the screen, followed by each user’s accumulated points and redeemable rewards. Scrolling down, users can see a chart view of their individual sustainability impact along with an aggregate of all Dispatch Goods’ users and their city’s impact. When toggling to stats view, users can see some high-level facts of their community’s impact as well as their personal impact.

The most feedback and positive reactions we received from test participants was regarding the rewards/impact dashboard. Users mentioned that being rewarded gives them incentives to staying accountable, but more importantly, understanding the direct impact of their efforts fuels their motivation to continue practicing sustainable habits.


before we finish, let's go over the results

Designed with Eco Novices in mind, all Dispatch Goods’ users can easily pick up the app and start implementing sustainable habits conveniently and efficiently.

100% of participants were able to successfully complete all tasks.

“I didn’t have to think too much. The sequences were nice and simple.”
Most participants had positive reactions to the rewards and impact piece.

I see the positive reinforcement with the rewards and the impact on how much good I did, which is great.”
Most participants said that they would use the app if it existed.

“The app is clear cut and does its job, I’m impressed.”

“I love the rewards—I would use this!”
To further measure impact, I would recommend collecting metrics post-launch to further reach business goals and continue scaling the product:
• Number of returns
• Return rate
• CSAT (customer satisfaction)
• Customer retention


key learnings

Convenience will (almost) always take precedence.
“I automatically want to click pick-up because it’s convenient for me.” 💬  
We all tend to prefer and will often choose what’s convenient and easy for ourselves, even when it doesn’t align with our values. Many interview participants mentioned several times that between the two return methods, they would more than likely choose the pick-up option due to ease.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” -Jim Rohn
“Once I get used to it, the process would probably get easier.” 💬  
On a philisophical note, human beings have proven to be flexible, malleable, as well as resilient when looking at the story of our existence thus far. As bigger institutions, political systems, and businesses continue to collectively be environmentally conscious, the more we’ll see feasible and ethically sound solutions such as this one.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
-Ken Blanchard
This project couldn’t have found me at a more opportune time, when I was seeking and craving more knowledge-sharing and community; collaboration was the answer. The three of us worked on this completely remote and across changing time zones, which never hindered this rewarding experience. Working on a team of fellow designers (and friends) helped shape my overall experience through challenging each other as well as upfliting one another as new designers.