Cooking can be a comfort, but, according to food journalist Michael Pollan, “nearly a third of Americans spend more time thinking about what to cook than actually cooking.” This means that a large percentage of the population rely on prepackaged products, fast food, and takeout for their meals, sacrificing nutrition and health in favor of speed and ease.
But what will bring them back to the stove?
The majority of the cooking-phobic stay out of the kitchen due to two primary factors: lack of cooking knowledge, and frustration over meal prep. Most don’t understand basic techniques or flavor pairings, which cookbooks rarely detail, or how to plan for a supermarket trip. Cooking videos can be a good resource, but remain daunting for novices; furthermore, an electronic device near food and liquids is never a great idea.
Enter Nom. Nom, with its cheery, user-friendly interface, aims to alleviate kitchen obstacles and take the fear out of cooking. The application leaves nothing to guesswork, and allows users to move at their own pace. Utilizing projection technology, Nom works on any flat surface, eliminating the need for screens near the stove and sink.
The Nom team formed from discussions at our own dinner tables. We run the gamut of cooking experiences and are (respectively) a former chef, a foodie who readily tries new recipes, and a takeout-loving novice cook. While we are increasingly aware of the limitless potential of our kitchens, others are less sure. The kitchen-shy view cooking as a chore best left to friends, significant others, family members, or restaurants, while those with more prowess are often unsure of how to sharpen their skills.
Nom can help both nervous novices and seasoned vets. The application, which features detailed visual information, enables the inexperienced user to acquire skills and comfort, while the more knowledgeable can use Nom to gain confidence in their improvisational cooking and challenge their palettes.
We think of Nom as kitchen GPS, a guide that leads cooks through a range of situations at their own level by providing relevant instructions within close reach.
After identifying the most frustrating, off-putting, and disheartening problems encountered for people new to kitchens or new to a recipe, we developed Nom to alleviate them as follows:
Problem 1: Cookbooks don’t serve cooks of all levels
* Display an instructional video beside the work surface
Problem 2: Cooks need help with meal-planning
* Display information from existing recipe sites
* Display suggested pairings for selected dishes or drinks
* Show what meals can be made from ingredients cooks have on hand
* Rank recipes by time and level of expertise
Problem 3: Electronics can be damaged by food and liquid/screens in the kitchen get messy fast
* Projected interface turns any flat surface into a touch-screen display
Problem 4: Planning grocery shopping is a pain
*Connects existing grocery ordering services with the application interface
* Accompanying app keeps track of purchased ingredients still in stock in cooks’ kitchens
To test Nom, the team selected tasty recipes of all levels and observed as inexperienced, amateur, and skillful cooks followed them in their kitchens. We watched as they faced – and worked through – ambiguous instructions, incorrectly ordered steps, missing or mistaken ingredients, and more. Through this process, we found many, many instances where recipes were inadequate, inaccurate, or needed to be communicated differently. From these insights, we prototyped projected interfaces with an overhead projector, HTML/CSS/jQuery pages, and the communal kitchen at the Products of Design studio at SVA.
Our experience in test kitchens led us to tweak and add many features to Nom, but two of the most important aspects we included were:
* Breaking down recipes into steps, organized by actions, and ingredients, upon which actions are performed, to ensure a consistent way of relaying information.
* Common or confusing actions are explained via tap-triggered instructional videos, shown next to the work surface, to guide cooks through complicated steps.