Dispatch Goods mobile app case study screens


Love the meal, hate the plastic. That’s the plight of ordering takeout while our planet is (to put it lightly) in trouble. The hopeful news is that a number of startups are attempting to tackle the increasing amount of takeout waste with returnable to-go containers for reuse. But these containers are often a pain to return. 

I wanted to know: How can we make this model more convenient and actually sustainable for busy people? For a project to design an end-to-end mobile app, this iOS app proof of concept for Dispatch Goods—a Bay Area startup that provides diners with returnable packaging for food delivery, but does not currently have a mobile app—is our solution.
My Role
UX designer
Interaction designer
UX strategy lead
iOS mobile app
May - July 2021
My Team
Mel deVivar
(UXR lead)
Christie Kim
(UI/visual design lead)

The Problem

Discover (find the problems)
My team and I conducted a survey about returnable takeout containers and then recruited 10 people for in-depth interviews. In the survey, these 10 people said that they’re interested in the concept—making them our hypothesized target audience.

We identified five primary user problems with the model:
1. Too slow.
People want the easiest option for takeout and want to avoid learning a new process.
2. Too gross.
People need assurance on the containers' cleanliness to assuage their hygiene concerns. 
3. Too inconvenient.
People don't have the time, energy, or motivation to return reusable containers.
5. Too pointless.
People wonder, "How much difference am I actually making? What’s the point?"
4. Too little reward.
Long-term adoption of sustainable practices is hard and slow without immediate gratification.
And in learning about the business, we uncovered one key problem:
of Dispatch Goods’ containers are never returned. 
Define (prioritize the problem)
Immediately a lightbulb went off in my head: If we can focus on making returns as easy as possible, we can potentially lower the Dispatch Goods’ loss rate—an important KPI for becoming a sustainable business—while addressing a major point of pain for those who want to reduce their takeout waste. (Not to mention in the bigger picture, it can be an opportunity to move the needle on wider cultural adoption for returnables and reusables in other applications.)

So for a Dispatch Goods mobile app, we decided to dig deeper into the problem of barriers for returning reusable containers. 

In other words, our goal isn’t to design the next UberEats—it’s to make returning your takeout containers as easy as ordering takeout.

Getting inside our users' heads
We dove deeply into who our users are to better understand their goals, needs, motivations, and frustrations in two main areas: ordering takeout and practicing sustainability. Here's what that looked like with my two teammates in FigJam:
Figjam collaboration with UX design team

Again, we wanted to stay focused on the subject matter of sustainability since the returns piece differentiates this app from other food delivery apps. We know that sustainability is a complex subject, and we all have different attitudes, motivations, and behaviors towards it.
"It's like composting—it's another thing I have to think about and bring somewhere else.

Even now, I just moved into a new apartment and the trash is outside, and I'm like, really? I have to carry it all the way out there? So taking my avocado peels and bringing them to someone else is not something I'm always eager to do because it's inconvenient."
Depending on the situation, people respond to their circumstances in different ways, and it's our job to design products that meet people where they are.

We used archetypes to help us do just that. This tool is the "who does what, when they do it, and why" of our user research and helps us design better experiences for people. Based on their attitudes and relationships with environmental responsibility, we divided our target audience into two main archetypes: the Eco Advocate and Eco Novice.  (Click to enlarge below!)
Personas for returnable takeout containers app
While both of these archetypes may face barriers to returning their takeout containers at any point, we focused on centering our design around the Eco Novice—the strongest convenience seeker—as our primary archetype. Doing so would help us design an app that's impactful and useful across many situations and contexts—not just in cases where someone is more motivated to go out of their way to keep up a sustainability practice.

Once we had a deep understanding of our users, we developed three Eco Novice points of view and accompanying problem statements, and by ranked choice voting, we landed on one that would be our design's north star.

Problem Statement
Eco novices need accountability and affirmation to make sustainable practices a part of their life because they lack internal motivation. Our solution should positively reinforce their efforts and small wins.

The Design

Ideate (explore the solutions)
In order to get as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time, I conducted several rounds of crazy 8s during a brainstorming session.
sketches for crazy 8s brainstorming
We then plotted our top ideas (voted as most potentially viable for our problem statement) on a prioritization matrix for feasibility and user value.
prioritization matrix for sustainability app
Based on what we knew about Dispatch Goods' business goals, our users' attitudes and behaviors, and the problem we set out to solve, we aligned on designing an app that rewards users for returning their takeout containers. This gave us direction in determining the key features to design in order to test and validate our Proof of Concept.
Defining the mvp
But to ground our concept, we first needed context. When would users experience the rewards, and how? We clarified how our app, realistically, would function using the following UX methods:

→ Creating a user journey map and user flows for ordering food and returning the containers to visualize the decisions, interactions, and emotions that a user could have while completing their tasks.

→ Outlining the app's sections and navigation on a sitemap. From there, we had a clear path forward in determining an MVP's Must Haves, Nice To Haves, and what can come later, all of which we documented on a feature roadmap.
Must Haves
→ Sign in/sign up
→ Onboarding
→ Home feed
→ Restaurant search
→ Restaurant profile
→ Check out and payment
→ Delivery tracker
→ Schedule collection flow
→ Drop-off flow
→ Drop-off location search
→ Drop-off location profile
→ Order/return history
→ Rewards related to returns
→ User account/profile

Nice To Haves
→ Favorites
→ Pick-up map flow
→ Return tracker
→ Social media integration
→ Referral feature
→ Dispute feature
Can Come Later
→ Buy the bag/container
→ Enterprise
→ Partnership deals/promos
Develop and test
From our feature roadmap, we parsed out what we needed to design and then test to demonstrate the viability of our Proof of Concept with real users.
Proof of Concept
→ Home feed
→ Schedule collection flow
→ Drop-off flow (with return confirmation push notification)
→ Drop-off location search
→ Drop-off location profile
→ Rewards dashboard

low-fi wireframes for returnable takeout container mobile app
Concept Testing
Using a lo-fi prototype built in Figma, we tested our most complicated flow in the Returns feature (a.k.a. our hero feature): the container Drop Off, which allows users to return their empty containers at a drop-off site (usually a participating restaurant).

We wanted to evaluate three things:

→ Is the interaction design intuitive?
→ Is the overall flow natural, clear, and realistically feasible for completing frequently and infrequently?
→ What are the attitudes and reactions around the rewards that are triggered upon completion of the task?
5 in-person usability tests
1 remote usability test
The insights from this preliminary round of testing led to a pivotal iteration in our design.
"The burden is on me to do this errand. I don’t need an app to gamify it. I need an app to take as much work off my plate as possible."
– Usability test participant

The Results

Shifting Focus
We quickly realized a few critical inefficiencies and confusions with our design. While most participants appreciated earning a reward at the end of the task, the task itself required a lot of work from the user—not just in personally lugging their containers over to a drop-off site, but in the mental work the user had to do before even interacting with the app. That's a big barrier to returning we hadn't thought of yet. So we asked:
How might we "do the work" for our users?
This led us to make the following changes to the Returns feature:

1. Taking mental guesswork off the user → The feature provides users with their "balance" upfront, so they would never need to keep track of and remember how many containers they have at home and need to return.

2. Making the process more efficient → The feature allows for a more immediate pathway to scanning at the drop-off site (users will most likely frequent one or two regular drop-off locations and wouldn't necessarily need to "find a nearby location" and go through the search process every time).

3. Giving the user more confidence in completing their drop-off → The feature has a final confirmation screen to confirm (or edit) the number of containers being dropped off before completing the task.
returns feature iteration
The Drop-Off flow went from this:
proof of concept wireframes for sustainability mobile app
To, ultimately, this:
Our goal in our second round of usability testing was to assess whether our Proof of Concept as a whole is viable in real life, with real users. We tested both Eco Novices and Eco Advocates on their smartphones for a true-to-life experience, and all four users successfully completed the tasks of dropping off their containers and scheduling a container collection. Here were some responses:
“I didn’t have to think too much. The sequences were nice and simple.”

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

“I love the rewards—I would use this!”

"This is a pretty cool app—I wish there were more options like this in real life. I would definitely use something like this."
As people and businesses collectively become more environmentally conscious and seek out solutions for living more sustainably, we can expect similar business models to continue emerging in the market. The exciting thing is, each solution in this problem space can be a great opportunity to help sustainability practices like these scale in big, meaningful ways.

At least for now, returning containers is—at the end of the day—an errand, and testing was an excellent reminder that what many people need most is help eliminating the burden of that errand as much as possible vs. incentivizing them with rewards—though rewards certainly help! After all, who wouldn't want $10 off their next takeout order?

See the final prototype
Dispatch Goods mobile app case study