A digital application to process EBT at farmers markets, saving time and helping fresh, local food be more accessible.
My team worked with Community Farmers Markets, a non-profit organization in Atlanta, to re-design their EBT (formerly known as food stamps) processing system. Because EBT is expensive to process, the farmers market exchanges EBT funds to physical wooden tokens to be used at market. While the wooden tokens have benefits, they come with a number of issues—they’re bulky, they get lost, and they take a long time to count and report.
How can we approach re-designing the EBT token system to mitigate the issues it has while retaining and highlighting its strengths? Can we do it so that Market Managers are able to spend less time doing something that dislike (reporting) and more time doing something they love (helping their community grow)?
August 2018 - Dec 2018 (in progress)
Primary designer, user researcher, community liaison
Kelsie Belan, Rachel Feinberg, Suyash Thakare, myself
What I Did
Aside from team activities like brainstorming, ideation, and collaborative design, I was the primary visual designer for our prototype, developed and executed interviews, and lead usability testing sessions. I was the primary contact and managed the relationship with our non-profit partner.
What I Learned
Use appropriate technology at the right times: not everyone has the time or even wants to use tech. When designing, address this by making it as simple and easy to use as possible.
Simplicity out of complexity is not easy: it takes a lot of work to distill exactly what is necessary for the user, and designing for simplicity isn’t in and of itself simple.
Designs aren’t perfect—iterate often from feedback! User research is a good basis to start your design, but prototype testing and research helps validate your design and bring new changes.
EBT (formerly known as food stamps) is accepted at local, outdoor farmers markets by converting the electronic funds to physical wooden tokens. While the token system has its benefits, the physicality of them comes with issues—the tokens take a long time to be counted, they single out EBT users at market, and they make the reporting process time consuming. We looked at alternative ways to accept EBT in order to alleviate the issues of the wooden token system experienced by the three user groups: EBT Users, Market Managers, and Market Vendors.
Process – User Research
Because this project was intended to be used by a very specific and niche group of people, we started by conducting research a lot of background research. Desk research helped us understand EBT, SNAP, government regulations, farmers markets, and how they all intersected.
We understood that the EBT system is used by three primary groups of users: EBT Customers, Market Managers, and Market Vendors.
To build user profiles, we interviewed members from each group. Our team visited farmers markets to interview EBT Customers and Market Vendors, and we also interviewed Market Managers. Market Managers ended up becoming our most valuable participants—many of them had previous experience as EBT Customers at market as well as previous experience as Market Vendors. In total, we conducted 15 semi-structured interviews. We distilled our interview data to gain primary user goals and motivations for our designs:
Simple and straightforward
Efficient reporting, currently it takes too long
Want markets to be inclusive (tokens draw attention to them)
Counting tokens takes time—it could be faster
Simple and straightforward
Ideal if they did not have to deal with reporting
From there, we also performed a task analysis on the entire EBT processing flow at market to understand where each user interacted with it.
Process – Design
Our design process began with directed brainstorming—our team came up with over 35 ideas total for each user group, and for this process, we specifically focused on quantity. In the end, after measuring our discussing with each other about our ideas, we felt that we had landed on some good ideas to move forward with:
Market Managers – A digital payment processing app (everything was done by hand, so an app made the most sense to speed up the process)
Vendors – Vendors would use the same app as Managers would
EBT Customers – EBT Users were flexible. They could use technology or not, so we settled on three main design concepts to move forward with: Basket Wallet, QR Card, and a digital application for EBT Users.
We then individually storyboarded how each EBT Customer design would impact the flow of the the user process, and we also each sketched our own features and designs for the EBT Customer ideas. Essentially, we wanted to diverge in our ideas between team members and then converge to vote on which had the best features. The following are a few of many sketches as well as one of many storyboards.
Essentially, for this stage, we were working on divergent thinking to come up with quantity of ideas in order to be able to choose the best features. Each of us also did extremely low-fidelity wireframe sketches, and each team members’ sketches to evaluate which of had features we felt were very strong.
Ultimately, we settled on a design for the EBT Customers: Market QR Card. The Market QR Card uses a QR code instead of a traditional mag-stripe, which reduces the equipment load needed from the small business vendors and farmers. It is also simple and straightforward with many real life counterparts that help users with developing a familiar mental model: loadable gift cards.
So, our chosen design consisted of a QR card with an accompanying digital app for Market Managers and Vendors. EBT Users would have access to an app, too, but to keep the system accessible, it is an optional app.
From there, went from our low-fi sketches to higher fidelity wireframes, and then finally, to a higher fidelity interactive prototype. In between each step, we evaluated features and design choices to ensure that we were still thinking about our users’ needs and wants—primarily, the fact that many of them wanted simplicity.
Using these wireframes that our team created, I designed the screens in Sketch and helped with creating the interactive prototypes in InVision. I also created a prototype of the physical card that EBT Users would use, so that for our next stage of evaluation, we would be able to really get the feel of our new system both digitally and physically.
Below is one of our InVision prototypes. We created three: one for each user group, and since they are more or less very similar, the one I am presenting here is the Market Manager one, which was the most important and labor intensive for us. Using these InVision prototypes allowed us to test the designs with our user groups.
For the next phase of the project, we are evaluating the prototype through heuristic evaluations, a mock-farmers market, and a usability test with the non-profit farmers market managers. Please note that this is a work in progress and will be updated soon!