Project Introduction

Problem Statement

Leverage the current cooking experience with emerging gesture control technologies and refine the user interfaces and interaction patterns.

The presentation of portable digital tools such as mobile phones, tablets is changing the landscape of cooking experience in most families. People start using digital cookbooks in kitchen for many reasons.The reasons include but are not limited to the following: creating enough space for food and cooking, being more accessible than traditional cookbooks, etc. However, there is still a number of problems involved in the digital cooking age due to the limits of current mobile technologies, such as screen interaction recognition and the design principles for mobile apps in HCI. In these years, emerging technologies such as gesture recognition and motion analysis are offering a lot of room for explorations and possibilities as cooks find themselves struggling with the current experience in following cooking instructions in many ways when their hands are not available.

Problem Description

Interaction Issue

One of the major problems of current cooking experience is, even though people take advantages of the mobile device portability and content accessibility, they still find it hard to interact with screens when they are cooking because their hands are typically busy with either preparing ingredients or cooking. Digital cookbooks which, to some extent, solve the problems of traditional cookbooks in terms of content accessibility, reusability and portability, bring up new generic issues in adopting new technologies. In order to make the human-screen interaction happen at anytime in a natural way, I will explore the possible opportunities with emerging technologies such as motion recognition and gesture control, and figure out a specific interaction pattern for cook experience. In this situation, how could we overcome the usability issues of mobile devices, leverage the cooking experience and create a no-touch digital cookbook, is the major problem that I will be exploring through this project.

Kitchen Culture and Environment

Even though people start using mobile devices and digital cookbooks to replace the traditional, paper-based one in kitchen, it is still worth considering where it should be. I visited several kitchen with various use cases in different places, including a home kitchen and a dormitory kitchen, to observe how people learn from cookbooks, interact with them, and how they cook in that environment. I also invited people with different culture background to cook in order to locate where the problems are in different situations.

Based on my observation, I addressed two concerns with the environment of kitchen and cookbooks. First, I found out that people from different cultural background have different ways of using cookbooks. Some chinese users quickly scan through the key steps and then start “creating” their food. They like to weigh the ingredients vaguely such as “a bit salt” and “some soy sauce”. In this process, users mostly rely on their instincts and experience with food. Things are different in american cookbooks, where the ingredients are described with precise amount, such as “15g salt” and “1.5 cup soy sauce”. Second, I am concerned about user behaviors with different kitchen physical layout. By comparing how users behave in a large dormitory kitchen (which has big enough space) and a relatively compact apartment kitchen. I realized that there is not a big difference in behaviors as people tend to arrange everything including various ingredients and digital cookbooks as closely as possible so they do not need to go back and forth to get them.

Navigation Problem

Another big problem that I identified through my observation is that people find the navigation of most digital cookbooks is problematic and easy to lose user’s situational awareness. The most common scenario is people read through the first several steps and instructions, then proceed to the corresponding ingredients. When they are finished, they come back to cookbooks and continue to next steps. Sometimes, however, when they come back to cookbooks, they could not remember where they left and have trouble finding the proper steps they want to continue with. The current design of digital cookbooks tends to include as many sections of content as possible in order to create the consistent learning experience, which is appropriate for most educational applications. But in the very specific field of learning in kitchen, this design pattern is not applicable and feasible to most users. So, how to create an easy-to-use navigation system which supports situational awareness is where I will be focusing on in this project.

There are two types of users that we also need to take into consideration when designing the navigation system. Some users strictly follow the instructions step by step, while some others (improvisors) quickly go over all the instructions and then start cooking based on their memories. In this sense, the navigation system should be serving both strict followers and improvisors. Based on my interviews, strict followers care about the explicity and accuracy of the instruction whereas improvisors need the navigation system to allow skimming.

The Knowledge Gap

The current design of most digital cookbooks assume the users have the basic knowledges in cooking so they use terminologies in the description and skip over some key steps which the designers think users should have been quite familiar with before. However, it turns out that there is a small portion of novice users who know nothing about the terminologies been used in the cookbooks. These people easily get confused especially when there is no explanation on some keywords they never heard before or they could not continue with the instructions due to the missing “common sense” steps. Therefore, how to use terminologies and describe key steps in a way which neither confuses novice users nor annoys experienced ones deserves more attentions and considerations.

Arrangements and Media of Content

When I talked to my observees, I found some interesting insight with how to effectively and efficiently educate users and manage time in cooking. Most current cookbooks include textual descriptions and images to help with understanding. Users could read the descriptions and refer to the images in order to better understand the steps. However, if they want to check the cookbook instructions while cooking, it comes to be harder because they do not have enough time to read the textual description. The images used in cookbooks are not self-explanatory so the users are not able to figure out what is going on and what to do next by simply looking at images. In this case, the key question is how to make images self-explain the key steps without extra attentions on the texts.

Another problem with current cookbooks is time management. Currently, cookbooks display instructions step by step so that users could follow them, which is a good solution in introducing a sequential process. However, when it comes to the cooking instructions, it might slow down the whole process. For example, the “official” sequence of cooking is firstly preparing ingredients, and then turning on stove until water in pot comes to boil. It usually takes 10-20 minutes to boil water and users have to wait and do nothing in that period of time. So it is also worth considering reorganizing key steps in another way which make more sense to users and time.

Design Criteria

  1. It has to be including different types of users, and cover different levels of knowledge in cooking experience.
  2. It uses simple gestures to control elements and navigate through the application.
  3. It is self-explanatory-image-oriented which allows users to quickly understand instructions.
  4. It allows users to play/pause music, adjust volume through hand gestures.