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SXSW Interactive 2014

Pixels, Plows & Personas: The UX of Food Deserts

According to the USDA, a “food desert” is any part of the United States where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain, either due to low household income or poor accessibility. In order to close the gap between farm and fork, mobile apps and shopping sites must be barrier-free for both consumers and small-scale suppliers. Although government spending encourages food purveyors to set up shop in food deserts, these interventions are a gamble — and some feel that our increased “Walmartization” of consumer behavior will negatively affect food distribution and quality. Recent trends in urban farming point to an emerging optimism, and it’s likely that virtual grocery stores will soon be the primary driver in improving nutrition literacy. This presentation will examine the cultural and societal impact of technology on food communities, and we'll explore why user-centered design may be the key to solving one of our most fundamental human dilemmas.

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  1. What is a “food desert” and why do they exist? Where are they and who lives there? What populations are most at risk?
  2. What barriers exist for grocery stores doing business in neighborhoods thought to be food deserts? What barriers exist for people with disabilities or low-income families to access these sources?
  3. Assuming that digital technology can intervene, what types behavioral and economic trends do we need to understand in order to improve food access for everyone?
  4. What can we determine from usage trends among people living in neighborhoods thought to be food deserts? What challenges will future-thinking apps and sites have in distributing better food options to our communities?
  5. Why are e-commerce websites, digital “club cards” and mobile shopping apps so critical to moving the needle when it comes to improving global food access?



Kel Smith, Principal, Anikto LLC

Meta Information:

  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Solo
  • Track: Diversity and Emerging Markets
  • Track 2
  • Level: Intermediate
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