The Taste of a Heartwarming Gift


CMU 05-651
Interaction Design Fundamentals
Instructor: Karen Berntsen


Samarth Bahuguna
Sherry Wang
Zhaorong (Jerome) Zhong

This is a class project for Interaction Design Fundamentals. We iteratively designed a mobile information system for token gift giving in 4½ weeks, based on the design brief and two personas provided by a fictitious client.


Digital Token Gift Giving

While the digital has disrupted much traditional gift giving, it has failed to have much of an impact on token gift giving. Token gifts are usually small and inconsequential. People will send an Amazon gift or a gift card for a friend’s birthday or wedding, but they rarely send a gift to help celebrate the small victories or small defeats that make up many moments in people’s lives. 

The client defined two personas based on market research: Julie Tang, 61, a mom of two children in Las Vegas and Daisy Tang, 24, Julie's daughter who recently moved to Seattle. The mom and the daughter wants to share more day to day with each other while they are 1,000+ miles apart. Our task is to design a mobile app to bond them through token gift-giving.

We analyzed the problem space through ecosystem collection, identified unmet needs and defined touch points, opportunities and constraints for our design.

Synthesis of ecosystem collection


A Mutual Experience with Personal Touch

Based on our analysis of the problem space, we identified three goals of our app:


Food as Expressive Medium

After several rounds of brainstorming, we settled on the idea of using food as an expressive form of token gift. Food can be a very expressive medium that communicates subtle sentiments through a richness of gustatory experiences. It is also universal bond of love, affection and friendship. 

Our initial food idea was a DIY kit of mom's secret recipe. The mom can create her own special recipe, and order online single-serving ingredients wrapped in a beautiful bento box. Local grocery stores that we partner with can help prepare the ingredients, assemble the bento box and deliver it to the daughter's house. With her mom's recipe and the toolkit the daughter can learn how to make her favorite dishes and better take care of herself.

Storyboard for Mom's secret recipe DIY kit


Scoping Down to Cereal

To test our DIY kit idea, we produced a storyboard and collected feedback from our instructor and classmates. In general, people liked the idea of food as a gift. However, they hated receiving raw ingredients and having to spend two hours cooking it. Token gifts are meant to be small and inconsequential. The DIY kit burdens the receiver, ruining the delightful moment of receiving childhood favorite food.

In reaction to the feedback, we decided to make our idea more light-weight while keeping the same sentimental and “nurturing” connections. After more ideation, we finally decided to work on a particular type of food: cereal. Different ingredients in a cereal mix can be used to compose very personal messages: an extra handful of cranberries can make your friend's day sweet; chocolate chips for your loved one's big interview day can be your way to say “Go for it”. Besides, cereal is easy to transport and preserve, and can be instantly consumed by the receiver.


Sketching Out a Workflow

After deciding on the cereal idea, we started to produce low-fidelity scenario-driven wireframes on paper. This process allowed us to give form to our big idea, and discover potential problems along the way. Our wireframes focused on one workflow: creating a cereal gift for a loved one. We covered recommendation, shopping ingredients, managing shopping cart and checkout.

Wireframe showing the workflow of creating a gift and sending it out


More Social, Less Retail

Feedback on the wireframes from our instructor and classmates made us realize that we focused too much on the gift shopping logistics, but what really mattered here is the communication between people that cereal enables. We started a new round of ideation trying to emphasize the social aspect of cereal gift exchange. This reframing led to a series of crucial design decisions:


Towards Pixel Perfection

We took a lot of time iterating on our high-fidelity design. The image below shows the evolution of the user's bowl (social homepage) and our constant attempt to minimize information on this screen.

Evolution of "the bowl"


Introducing Gift-a-bowl

We introduce Gift-a-bowl, a social gifting app that connects people through the simple delight of a bowl of cereal. Here we present a scenario-driven walk-thourgh of our final design:

Knowing Daisy has a big interview coming, Julie decides to gift a cereal mix to Daisy. She opens Gift-a-bowl and navigates to the “send” tab. She selects Daisy from her list of friends, upon which she is presented with an ingredient choosing screen. She drags Lucky Charms into the bowl because she knows it is Daisy's childhood favorite. She drags some other ingredients, checks out, adds a personal message and sends the mix to Daisy.

Daisy receives a pop-up in the app saying that her mom Julie has sent her a mix. Upon tapping “view” button, she sees a mix of Lucky Charms and many other delicious ingredients from Julie and expresses her thanks as a comment below it. She goes to her settings and switched off “Fill me up” button, indicating her friends not to send her more cereal for now. She then taps the friends tab to see what her friends are gifting each other.


On Iteration and Others

In this 4½-week process we iteratively improved our idea. Between iterations we constantly went back to our three original goals to see if we strayed from them. We used personas to constantly ask ourselves what value we could deliver to Julie and Daisy.

We also learned a lot about mobile design patterns and why mobile design was fundamentally different from designing for desktop. Being mobile is about skimming information to the minimal, keeping all the essentials. It is about progressive disclosure and explicit calls for user action.

Our final design was not perfect and there will never be a perfect or “finished” design. Design is a very schizophrenic field, in that a designer needs to be enthusiastic about his idea, but he should not be too attached to it and should always be open to changes.

Thanks for reading!