Planet Murple is educational program that aims to make adventurous eating easier for parents and to make healthy eating playful, not prescriptive. I worked on generative research, design, and usability testing of the minimum viable product before it was piloted by 25 Bay Area families.
Emily Yao, Co-Founder
Dave Resnick, Co-Founder
Robert Kaufmann, Developer
Misa Tanaka, Content Creator
Planet Murple is educational program to facilitate adventurous eating, targeted to kids aged 4 to 8 years old. It began as a school project by 2 students in Berkeley’s MBA and MPH programs, progressing after a successful Indiegogo campaign and mentorship from GSVLabs and Google Developers Launchpad. I worked on the minimum viable product for a few months before it was piloted by 25 Bay Area families.
Kids have fickle palates, often requiring repeated exposures before they are willing to try new food. While parents want their kids to eat well, they report being short on time and thus often losing motivation. As a result, our primary challenges were:
1. How might we make adventurous eating easier for parents?
2. How might we make healthy food playful, not prescriptive?
PROCESS: How might we make adventurous eating easier for parents?
Facilitation of kitchen safety and culinary skills.
Before I had joined the team, the co-founders had already done some interviews with parents. A common concern that came up in these conversations was the potential danger of being in the kitchen. To alleviate any anxiety around sharp knives or hot ovens, we knew that any program we created would need to address relevant kitchen concerns before embarking on each guided recipe.
Activities during wait times.
Time is continuously a short resource for parents, and young ones are often easily distracted. During a visit to Sprouts Cooking Club, a center for youth cooking classes in Berkeley, we were able to see this restlessness firsthand. As a result, we held a storyboarding session to think of multi-sensory activities to keep kids engaged during longer periods of wait times. By suggesting activities – like a taste test of different colored peppers or a cauliflower-themed dance – we encouraged kids to continue exploring fruits and vegetables independently, without requiring extra effort from parents.
Imaginative content and recipes.
During our visit to Sprouts Cooking Club, we also introduced kids to the world of Planet Murple, where the possibilities of food are endless — kale can become a forest, for instance, or sesame seeds can be sand on a beach. We showed the kids an original short film called “Big Sea Adventure,” which was intended to prime them to explore specific fruits and vegetables (pears and peppers). The kids feedback on the film was positive, and we did some generative research with them as well, gathering their recipe suggestions.
Our goal was then to present adults with 4 guided recipes with various levels of difficulty, depending on the child’s cooking abilities. By featuring kid-approved recipes, we hypothesized that Planet Murple could eliminate parents' fatigue around innovating healthy dishes for kids’ constantly-changing palates. Through the main navigation, parents would also be able to email themselves recipes in order to prepare ingredients ahead of time.
PROCESS: How might we make healthy food playful, not prescriptive?
Research suggests that kids who are involved in making their food are more likely to eat it. Turning our co-created recipes and activities into an interactive experience, we conceived of Planet Murple transforming the preparation and eating of healthy food into a mission. Kids would learn to make simple story-themed dishes to earn badges, while broadening their palate at the same time.
We began sketching flows and creating wireframes during a week-long workshop at Google Developers Launchpad. Mentors supported the idea of badges as a habit-forming mechanisms, and also encouraged us to include dialogue and key moments of reflection to foster an added sense of accomplishment.
A colorful, interactive interface.
Based on both secondary and primary research, we discovered that fruits and vegetables can have a bad reputation among kids for a number of reasons. From fear of unfamiliar tastes to the prevalence of fast food marketing, young ones often perceive fruits and vegetables as an obligation, not a treat.
To reframe healthy food as fun, our team worked to ensure that all visual elements of Planet Murple were bright and eye-catching. Interactive elements spanned a rainbow spectrum, and exploration was encouraged. To acknowledge ingredients had been gathered, for instance, their outlines filled with color when tapped. The majority of Murple media were cheerful claymation videos or painterly illustrated GIFs to engage and delight.
No wrong answers.
To facilitate fun, our guiding principle was to reinforce the idea that there are no wrong answers. We were continuously delighted by the creative suggestions of kids during our primary research, and while it would certainly be ideal if young ones enjoyed eating fruits and veggies, even just tasting a new food would be considered a “win” toward healthier eating.
We had a few unexpected development hiccups, though we were able to generate a working beta version of the app before the pilot. We tested it with families at the Kensington Farmers Market before launching, and the feedback was positive. It was immensely satisfying to see parents preparing food with their children for the first time – and to hear them express feeling newly confident about bringing their young ones in the kitchen after trying our program.
After the launch of the pilot program, I ended my time working on the project. However, Planet Murple has continued to grow, branching out into the world of kid-safe cooking implements in addition to its educational content.
In terms of logistical planning, I learned about the importance of pre-tests and considering the testing environment. During our last round of testing at the farmer's market, for instance, we encountered pretty significant glare on devices as we were outside – this made it difficult for both parents and kids to complete interactive exercises. As a result, one key takeaway was to conduct future tests involving screens indoors (e.g. inside families’ own kitchens).
A repeated theme during this project was about our primary audience: was the parents or the children? While we initially focused most of our research on children, we came to realize that parents ultimately make purchasing decisions. Thus, I learned that both perspectives were essential, and that many projects will similarly involve the negotiation of multiple stakeholders.