An estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies – and 1/3 of that population is allergic to 2+ allergens.
As someone who has had food allergies their entire life, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to go out and enjoy a meal. If you don’t prepare a dish yourself, you’re putting your life in someone else’s hands. While awareness and regulations have improved drastically since I was a kid, it can still be difficult to ensure that restaurant staff understand your medical needs and how to take proper precautions.
Allergista is an ongoing side project that aims to make life easier for people with food allergies – starting with a card that they can use to express their condition to restaurant staff.
After moving to Boulder and connecting with a team of super supportive designers from Datu Health, I realized that we could use our design skills to help people in my community with food allergies.
We pulled together our networks and found a group of 10 remote people willing to help us figure out which of our many allergy-related ideas had legs. I drafted a few surveys meant to determine a baseline range of allergies and how people tackled going to restaurants. My hypothesis was that I wasn’t the only one getting blank stares from waiters when I asked how they handled contamination in the kitchen.
What the surveys revealed was a universal need to calmly, succinctly communicate with restaurant staff, school administrators, and their own family members the severity of their allergies. The common thread was that most people deliver this info verbally, and it left a lot of room for miscommunication.
I set out to design a simple input UX flow that was specifically made for people with single or whole families of allergens. The output of this would be a digital allergy card that people could directly show, send, or print for others.
I took three different use cases identified through my research:
1) going to a restaurant and giving a list of allergens to the staff
2) traveling abroad and communicating the above ^
3) giving a reaction instruction set to a school or family member
Over a period of several months, I perfected the data, hierarchy and formula for the first (most common) use case. When I went to Europe in the summer of 2018, I used Google Translate to easily make my own allergy cards, which worked like a charm.
What I learned from these paper and digital prototypes was that I could make a simple product with existing tech that would drastically improve the experience and safety of people with food allergies.
The next step was to scale my prototypes. I took the min and max amount of allergens from my research data set and designed a template in Figma that could accommodate the full range.
As a challenge, I also started to create an icon language using the Material Design grid system to add visual interest. I used a very simple design and red to communicate urgency; less is more in this scenario.
The end result of this first phase of experimentation is 2 sets of Moo business cards (one set for me, another for my best friend Audrey) that can be used out in the real world. Already I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my experiences at restaurants, and I’m excited to automate the process of creating more cards soon!