A culture cookbook for college students


Minority groups do not feel as close to their own culture and family roots, and a lot of Americanized students want to discover tangible ways to get in touch with their culture again.

Currently, however, there are only a few services that connect individuals to their culture via cuisine, and there is not a single unified hub for discovering cultural recipes.

I created an open-source, UGC (user-generated content) cookbook that consolidates recipes from students of all cultures, containing various features that all are aimed towards making cultural discovery through a food context more accessible and streamlined for college students.


10 weeks


Product Space Capstone (UX Research/Design, Interaction Design)


Figma, Miro, Maze


Web documentation with the evidence of research and human-centered design process and a functional prototype that demonstrates interface design, interactive walkthroughs, and usability testing. The final report on Reciculture will comprise all of the documentation down below in a formal research report.

Setting the stage

"I have always been able to find a common thread between me and my relatives through food."

Back in college, I found a huge problem within many first-generation students: they all felt detached from their culture due to language barriers and cultural assimilation.

Looking to my own life, I thought about my grandma and I, remembering how connected we are whenever we would make spring rolls together despite our language barrier. This common thread we shared through food is what sparked the idea for Reciculture, an open-source cookbook that consolidates recipes from students of all cultures and backgrounds.


Minority groups do not feel as close to their own culture and family roots, and a lot of Americanized students want to discover tangible ways to get in touch with their culture again.


Create a global, accessible recipe hub where individuals can share their own cultural experiences through food & contribute to an overarching collection of cultures.

User research


As most of my research deals is more qualitative, I will be conducting a competitive analysis of existing recipe discovery apps, contextual user interviews, and create a user survey that investigates how people feel towards culture and cooking. Additionally, I will be conducting guerrilla research on my roommate to find features that users like him feel are salient in recipe apps.

All methods will provide me with the insights necessary to create a UGC cookbook design catered for college students.

View the user research plan




Market analysis

Prior to jumping right into design, I decided to audit popular recipe discovery apps to better understand the current market of millennials and college students, where these curated collections have essentially been widely used for those living in apartments or off-campus housing.

TASTY ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑

Tasty (4.9) — similar to most recipe apps on the market — is a digital cookbook that lets you discover 4000+ recipes at your fingertips. Its features contain facets like step-by-step instructions on how to cook meals, recommendations for meals, and even is inclusive of individuals with dietary restrictions (e.g. vegans). Coming into the app, individuals immediately are greeted with a fun, colorful, and bubbly UI that appears to be geared towards both teenagers and young adults (due to the simplicity and gamification aspects). Additionally, they market themselves with its super-short cooking tutorials that are all personalized and curated for you. Tasty doesn't have many options for exploring new cultures.


Kitchen Stories (4.8) does an excellent job at augmenting the cooking experience with one of the features that they leverage culture: uploading your own recipes. However, the overall app is convoluted in being able to find the appropriate cuisines (they limit the overall culture to 8), rendering filtering for specific cultures useless. Still, they have features that are more niche, such as filtering in by occasion and curated lists that are updated weekly and seasonally. Kitchen Stories does focus a lot on community and culture as opposed to other recipe apps in the market, and its usage of the like button is conflated with how good a recipe is. The autoplay of videos really also helps drive user engagement, as they’re segmented into simple 8-10 second loops.


Epicurious (4.8)  is a recipe app that markets itself on discovering “the world’s best recipes." With over 35,000 recipes, individuals have an assortment of features with videos of expert chefs cooking, timers to track what they’re making, and an assortment of recipe reviews from people. The main feature that stuck out was its abundance of filters with cultures (which, although grand, was still limited in its options). This app was more simplistic and rigid, catering towards more of the young adult audience as well. Additionally, Epicurious has the functionality to create shopping lists on the fly so individuals can easily track their unpurchased ingredients for better ease of use — all of which are perfectly nested within the global tab bar on the bottom.


NYT Cooking (4.9) is a recipe app from The New York Times that is arguably the most premium in its features; it contains facets like an always-on app screen (for the times cooking becomes too intense where you can’t reach your phone) and advanced search that parses over 20,000+ recipes based on meal types, diet, and cuisine. Where they excel in is with the app's personalization with the editors of the NY Times — many of the chefs within the app are writers, developing a bond with many of the individuals who are loyal to the brand. They have guides and videos from those same chefs, which go on to create a relationship with the user. NYT Cooking centralizes itself on its community based for regular readers and draws on psychological things we do every day, like jotting down a note.


Data mining

My first go-to strategy in aggregating user data was through user surveys.

I managed to reach out to my network of college students to get ~50 survey insights about their personal cooking habits and cultural values. Through surveys and my own data analysis, I was able to find several things:

1. Almost all students (98%) felt that food was important to connecting to their culture, and they have the deepest resonance with food over all other cultural aspects.

2. In regards to cooking, the primary way (93%) students engage in recipe discovery is online, but more than half (63%) also found recipes through friends and family.

3. Students were essentially split on the frequency that they cook traditional cultural recipes, as well as on cooking meals related to their culture.

4. In regards to cooking habits, the majority of users (73%) collect or save different recipes, and most cook intermediate recipes that take ~20-60 minutes to prepare.

"I grew up in the US, and my parents didn’t really enforce the culture in our household."


"I don’t know the recipes, and they’re really time consuming and expensive."


These insights aimed to dig deeper into making the user experience more tailored to college students' needs as I can integrate their wants into Reciculture. This data confirmed present-day behavioral patterns found in my literature review and helped me realize that college students are looking for recipe discovery apps that gives them diversified options to personalize their dynamic and variable cooking habits, as deduced from the data split. However, what remains consistent is the types of recipes that are being created, which reveals that students place a lot of value with the quality of the recipe (and on a broader scale, quality of the content) as opposed to the time it takes to create it.


One-on-one interviews

Upon analyzing the data I received from my user surveys, I interviewed two college students who have lived away from home and asked them the same questions pertaining to their cultural background from the survey. This sought to provide more contextual information on their behavioral patterns on cooking as well as their general attitudes towards culture in a more direct manner.

Since both culture and recipe discovery go hand-in-hand with one another based on my user surveys and past research (Almerico 2014), both participants tried out a recipe discovery app prior to their interview. Their responses were extremely important to me as it helped design the app:

Interviewee #1 found the reviews of the recipes and shareability to be the most fundamental aspects of the recipe discovery process, and she feels discouraged to post recipes since the feel of current apps made her feel like only expert cooks should share (despite growing up with expert cooks!). Step-by-step breakdowns of recipes were her proposed solution to this.
Interviewee #2 focused more on the personalization and content of the apps (e.g. interactive videos, shopping & ingredient lists, etc.) and valued features that gave them opportunities to engage in real-life interactions. This also follows the findings from Kim (2018) and Hennequin (2020), who placed brand loyalty the most important part of the millennial engagement process for stronger retention via a more psychological connection to a product.

From their feedback, I created a prioritization matrix to better understand the design space, where I plotted all of the key features I found within my competitive analysis and novel ones that my interviewees found really useful. Here, I measured which aspects were crucial for connecting to one's culture and/or useful to the engagement process as well as ideate new features prior to design.

By asking the right questions on what features worked for them and what didn't, I would be able to pinpoint the value proposition of each component, and these features would serve as the groundwork for feature discovery (which will be useful later on upon producing my first working prototype).


Apartment dinners

Guerrilla research is a quick, low-cost way of learning about and understanding experiences.

I had decided to conduct some guerrilla research on my former roommate, Quinn (who is not a chef, by any means), when I came up to visit him at UCLA, where I was able to see the end-to-end process of his cooking process for dinner, as I had asked him to prepare me one of his favorite dishes the day of.

From this ethnographic research, I recorded key observations as to how Quinn went about cooking a garlic shrimp concoction that his mom taught him (a HK seafood delicacy). The most important notes that I found salient were his reliance on recipe directions, his need to do math to proportion appropriate serving sizes, his stylistic approach towards combining directions from multiple recipes, and his taking of own notes to purchase all of the ingredients that he didn't have in his refrigerator.

As a result of these observations, I was able to reprioritize key features I had jotted down in my prioritization matrix for some aspects were not as critical to the cooking process as others were. Additionally, Quinn's inability to get the appropriate dish and needing to reference various websites to find similar delicacies helped me ideate new explorations for Reciculture.


Targeting the user

Upon finishing my user research, I created user personas to characterize the typical users of Reciculture. This ensured that the designs that I would be creating later down the line reflected the behaviors and attitudes of the demographics focused on in my research.


Athena is a 21-year-old Vietnamese American girl from Anaheim, CA. She really enjoys cooking foods with her friends at college, and coming home, she wants to surprise her family by cooking a Vietnamese dish that they would all like. She goes onto websites but the information is scattered across the page and is difficult and convoluted to understand.

Athena goes onto Reciculture, where she sees a category specifically for Vietnamese foods. She clicks on this category and is immediately greeted with interactive videos and curated content of some of the most obscure dishes that is custom-tailored for her. Athena chooses her favorite dish, mì quảng, and proceeds to use the active checklist feature to check off ingredients she has before she goes to the store to buy ingredients. Athena cooks the meal for her family and is happy that she was able to find a dish that interests her almost instantaneously.


A hopeless romantic, Quinn is looking to prepare a childhood dish (garlic shrimp) from Sai Wan that his mom used to make for him growing up, only now for his girlfriend. He goes onto Safari on his phone and tries to find recipes from his hometown but is unable to find any results. He stumbles across Reciculture, a recipe discovery app where there's a feature to look up recipes from specific geographic locations. Quinn enters the query, "Sai Wan" and he finds the garlic shrimp recipe from a user from Sai Wan, and he's able to see all of the ingredients he needs to purchase from the store.

Quinn goes to the store, and using Reciculture's active checklist feature that autosaves ingredients from recipes as well as the built-in proportion measurer, he quickly is able to purchase the right amount of ingredients to cook the garlic shrimp dish for him and his girlfriend. Later that night, he refers to the step-by-step feature to make the perfect meal.


Roger is a 21-year old Chinese American UCR student from Pasadena, CA. A full-time influencer, he has garnered a social media platform of aspiring chefs on TikTok from recording him and his dad's foods on social media. As a result, he constantly is on a search to find new mediums outside of TikTok to have more functionality in documenting his dad's and his own recipes, but there are very few apps that allow him to showcase his platform.

Roger comes across Reciculture, where he creates a profile and shares his first recipe to the world. The creation process in making a recipe was seamless, guiding him step-by-step on specific aspects to document for the recipe. Additionally, the recipe Roger created appears on his profile page, where he is able to put these recipes and even upload his own videos into private collections for personal use or public collections for his fan base globally.

Vanessa is a 19-year-old Vietnamese American girl from Los Angeles. She really enjoys cooking foods with her friends at college, and coming home, she wants to surprise her family by cooking a dish that they would all like. She goes onto websites but the information is scattered across the page and is difficult to really understand (some are in Vietnamese that is wrongfully translated to English).

Vanessa goes onto Reciculture, the new food recipe app she recently downloaded. Here, Vanessa sees a category specifically for Vietnamese food, and an array of cultural recipes crowdsourced from everyone appears. She begins cooking the recipe for her family.

First ship

For the first design explorations of Reciculture, I created different user flows for each of the scenarios described in my user personas in order to document the standard user journeys throughout the app.

From there, I developed preliminary wireframes and wireflows that consolidated features found within my literature research, competitive analysis, and prioritization matrix. These wireframes set the foundation prior to jumping straight into high-fidelity designs to ensure that the user experience for all flows is frictionless.


Iterate, iterate, iterate

For my first iterations on my low-fi wireframes, I wanted to give special attention to cards.

The recipe cards are arguably the most important part of Reciculture — it contains all of the contextual information necessary for what a student would want to see prior to clicking into the recipe, so it's important that this viewer experience is seamless.

However, we can see above that when recipe titles are long like "Carne Asada Mexican Street Tacos", there is not enough context to see what the recipe is for the smaller card when ellipses are implemented in lieu of the missing text. Additionally, as this card heavily relied on darker overlays to allow the text to appear on images, it reduced the visual imagery that other recipe discovery apps in my competitive analysis leveraged.

For all of these reasons, I had decided to redesign the card entirely — I focused on how the new card redesign can improve the accessibility of my app as well as potentially optimize the site information architecture.


Cards of all sizes

As all of the contextual information is important, it was important for me to retain all of the components as seen in the first iteration.

In redesigning the new card(s), I adopted a rigid, more rectangular design style and separated the image from the main parts of the contextual information to make it more accessible for vision-impaired individuals.

I also opted for difficulty level as opposed to experience level in order to achieve greater real estate on the card for the visual element. Additionally, I removed cost, as my user interviews and surveys had actually found that this was not as important to college students (they care more about quality).

Finally, given that college students are exceptionally busy with school, I decided to maintain the prep time as a functional element that appears across all cards.


I decided to introduce the concept of a medium recipe card in my transition to adaptive design, which uses static layouts based on breakpoints. By adopting an adaptive design approach, Reciculture's components would be mobile-accessible to be a progressive web app (PWA), truly making this app global for everyone all over the world if you have Internet.

In addition, I was able to explore different types of design layouts, which was extremely effective in consolidating the curated selects with an infinite scroll of recipes on the Cuisine page. Medium cards served particularly well as a way to keep college students engaged on the Recipe page by allowing for a carousel with infinite items as a section.


Back and better

Upon conducting rapid prototyping sessions, I did my final rounds of iterations on my lo-fi prototype to ensure that all user flows were frictionless and had no hiccups in all processes.

Aside from making significant changes to the card design, I also optimized the layouts of the content and found several usability issues in the first iteration, where individuals did not have the option to create new collections and/or lists.

Additionally, following Nielsen (2010) and Cimpan (2020), I also added functional, localized copy in this final version of Reciculture, which was aimed to craft an accessible experience for users globally by making the jargon more simple to understand. These final iterations have made all the difference in customizing the layout of Reciculture. All wireframes and wireflows here now were completely functional and ready to be shipped to the next step with design, in which the design system will be implemented.


Establishing visual identity

Now having fully revised the UX part of Reciculture, I created a design system that encompassed a technical feel which aimed to develop a relationship of trust with the user — something especially important as many young adults are skeptical of information on websites (Moran 2016).

This new design – coupled with good copy – elicits a brand identity that accentuates the quality of the content itself. By reducing the amount of colors and typeface applications to a select few as well as using uniform, simple components and iconography, college students can focus on recipe and cultural discovery.


Final ship

There are many features in Reciculture that augment the user experience for minority students, but in my final ship, I focused on four pages in particular: culture, recipe creation, for you, and profile. These would serve as the backbone for showcasing one's cultural heritage, identity, and engagement, encompassing the tradition-sharing aspect as well as customs through a different lens of recipe discovery.

You can try out the interactive prototype of Reciculture down below. ↴


Cuisines of all cultures

[short description about flow]


Traditions for everyone

[short description about flow]


Embrace your heritage

[short description about flow]


See what's cooking

[short description about flow]


Testing it all out

To ensure that my designs are fluid and run effectively, I conducted usability testing to identify potential roadblocks on Maze, a usability testing platform that allowed me to retrieve quick, quantifiable insights remotely based on user heat maps and questions.

Take the test

I tested five of the user flows found within my high-fidelity prototype: searching/filtering for specific cultures & cuisines, creating a recipe, saving recipes to collections, adding ingredients to lists, and accessing lists. Out of the 7 users I sent the Maze test to, I found that:

1. Most users struggle the most with creating a recipe, adding ingredients to lists, and accessing lists with less than half (42.9%) of users being unable to successfully complete any task.

2. For adding ingredients to lists, heat maps reveal that (shown right) most users (71%) utilized the AmazonFresh call-to-action (CTA) that was below the ingredients rather than the list icon. 

3. Searching/filtering for specific cultures & cuisines and saving recipes to collections were the most efficient tasks, earning an average success rate of 85.7% and an easiness level of 4.7/5. 

4. There was a striking amount of users clicking the search bar as opposed to the tab bar (from a heat map analysis) in their attempts for creating a recipe, with 57.1% of users getting lost in their attempts to find the recipe creator

5. Across all screens, the duration spent navigating to the correct screens were all less than or equal to 16 seconds, earning an average usability score of 57.

Analyzing the results from my usability test, there is clearly room for marked improvement on these screens. There are a variety of factors that may play into this relatively average usability score of 57, which indicates moderate struggle navigating through the prototype.

Taking into account factors such as the prolonged time it took to create a recipe (due to the functional capacity for Figma prototyping) and the fact that the usability test was conducted on a desktop as opposed to mobile (causing users to emulate unnatural gestures with clicks as opposed to taps) may have caused some roadblocks for some users.

Regardless, from these insights, it is especially important to use heat maps to our advantage as the places where the most clicks occurred serve as the most intuitive amongst users. For example, integrating the recipe creator into search and augmenting the primary AmazonFresh button with a secondary add-to-list button may yield significant changes in usability scores. Perhaps even more localized copy may help clarify some areas of confusion for users, but in all cases, further usability testing must be conducted to ensure that these hypotheses are valid.

Closing remarks

Moving forward, as usability testing can only go so far digitally, I would like to conduct guided usability testing through guerrilla methods to see if Reciculture extends not only to college students, but also to adults who feel disconnected from their heritage. As this was designed for young adults, I wonder if the social aspects and niche culture pages would be something that mature adults also find valuable. Additionally, as previously noted, there are some significant changes to feature prioritization that need to be iterated on to ensure that the overall usability score improves.

This case study on Reciculture is by no means finished. It is a work-in-progress ready to be iterated on for better refinements. Altogether, all of this amalgamated research offers a potential solution to the growing problem of cultural displacement felt by first-generation and minority college students — all through the lens of food.

Read the research paper