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Food delivery services

We take a look at how food delivery services are innovating in UX & UI, chatting algorithms, automations, sustainable choices, and robots.

Joshua Lawrence, Unsplash

In this episode of The User Lab, our regular series about UX and UI in digital product design, we take a look at food delivery services and how the influence of the pandemic and lockdown living have led to a boom in alternative choices and some really interesting innovation.

We’ll be chatting about algorithms, automations, sustainable choices, robots, and what we can all learn from the milkman. Finally, designer Ula reimagines JustEat’s UX and UI with some friendly robot faces.

Find the video and transcript below.

Dinner is served

If there’s one thing that’s got us through the last 18 months, it’s the ability to have food, groceries and anything else that you need delivered straight to your house. Despite a bit of panic buying at first that meant getting hold of the basics was difficult, we quickly learned to diversify how we could take advantage of the services available.

That led to a sudden flourish of new and interesting options springing up that meant we didn’t have to resort to a daily takeaway, or eating that mountain of toilet paper that you’ve been hoarding…

We’re all familiar with the likes of Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, and while they don’t always get it right, they are behind some more of the interesting innovations happening that ensure that the right food gets to the right person at the right time. Large, tech-driven solutions like these are using real world insights to understand how people live and work with the tools that we give them.

That’s led to things like Deliveroo’s dispatch engine, which they call Frank, which uses a combination of algorithms and historical data to predict rider time more accurately and create better matches for each order in unpredictable locations.

But what about innovation outside of the usual big organisations that we’re really familiar with? And what new trends are driving how we order our food online?

Dining with robots

Postmates is an interesting example of automation. Part of a spin out owned by Uber, they’re a US based delivery service that uses a LiDAR powered delivery robot, meant as a low carbon, environmentally friendly alternative to the usual sorts of delivery vehicles.

At the slightly more fanciful end, Moley Robotics have developed a fully functioning robot chef. Powered by pair of fully articulated robot arms and motion capture system, Moley claims to replicate the exact movements of master chefs, while being linked to a library of authentic recipes and able to let you know when you’re running low on things.

Going green

At the other, more sustainable end of the spectrum, both CauliBox and Zume are developing their own packaging solutions for more sustainable takeaway deliveries, either through a loop system of reusable packaging, or with high quality, entirely biodegradable alternatives to single use plastics.

What about when you just want a better way of getting hold of raw ingredients yourself? It’s great to see that, while bad habits are really easy to adopt at times like these, there are more healthier, organic options now appearing and becoming easily available.

We’ve got companies like Riverford Farm and Abel & Cole catering for everything from custom veg boxes, to meat and fish, and even household staples, all of it 100% organic and/or sustainable, supporting local farmer sand producers with all of the same digital infrastructure that we’ve come to expect from big supermarkets.

Recent years have also seen a growing interest in zero waste supermarkets – places to get your food without any of the packaging, waste or use of plastics. And now we’re seeing more of those kinds of services geared towards online ordering and delivery as well. Companies like the Good Club, Roots and Hoots and the Refill Room are all pioneering ways to get zero waste products straight to your home. This is done either using completely recyclable packaging material or through carbon neutral, ultra efficient pickup services where they collect the delivery canisters the following day, then clean and reuse.

While all of this innovation and sustainability might feel like a wonder of the modern world, it’s actually quite refreshing to know that this kind of thing has been around since the 1950s. While we rave on about the latest eco-friendly platform that we’ve discovered, it’s comforting to know that milkmen have been doing this for years. And in electrically powered vehicles, to boot!

Reimagining Just Eat

It wouldn’t be a User Lab if we didn’t take everything that we’ve learned here and apply it to an experience that we think needs a bit of a facelift.

Ula, one of our designers, has taken all of this on board to consider what a UX facelift would look like if applied to Just Eat.

“I was excited to work on refreshing and rethinking the UX and UI of the Just Eat delivery journey, with a focus on future of robot deliveries. I wanted to improve information hierarchy on each view and explore how UX could improve robot and human interactions.

“The update to Just Eat, in my opinion, not only has to feel fresher, but most importantly, should follow laws of UX. For example, according to Jacob’s Law, we like to be able to anticipate what an experience will be like based on our past experiences. I wanted to make sure that the new layout I propose reflects that law.

“Of course, in real life this project will face multiple challenges, but let’s just assume this is a short travel delivery, the area is relatively safe, and our robot can travel for 20 minutes.

“I wanted the user to have improved sense of flexibility, allowing them to use tags and filters when choosing restaurants. I imagined a group of friends trying to find places that best fit their food cravings and possible intolerances.

“When choosing between human and robot delivery, I wanted to make it simple so that the user can change their mind before making final payment. Clean menu categories allow you to quickly swap between options, with mouthwatering images visible straightaway to help you make your decision.

“Adding or removing same type of order is simplified. Sometimes you just want the same of two, and you don’t want to go through all the toppings again.

“Offers options aren’t overpowering, making you more likely to choose one of them. Delivery information is clear and the whole user journey takes a shorter amount of time.

“I hope that robots will only takeover easy to access deliveries, and that humans will still support more challenging or longer delivery journeys. What I find most exciting is the idea of promoting positive interactions with robots – Boris Sofman claims that this is the key to improving relationships with future technology, through clarity, access to support from the company in case of problems, and the quirky messages from the robot itself.

“I think we can look at our future and these little helpers with a little bit more positivity.”

Interested in hearing more about the business models behind some of these innovations? We explore the power of platforms and look at how radical platform models are transforming the business world.

More in this series

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