CalcuCafé Coffee farmer analytics Nugget
CalcuCafé is a web and mobile app that helps Peruvian farmers track their coffee production costs. I joined the Cornell UX research team leading the project in order to redesign the tool from a prototype into a production-ready system.

Problem

CalcuCafé was created by a team of UX researchers at Cornell as part of their research focus. The researchers are non-technical, so they relied on an external group of developers to build the CalcuCafé prototype for them. They found some usability issues while user testing in Peru and wanted to make improvements for the next phase of research but their lack of technical fluency made it impossible to translate their observations into an improved system.

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The initial prototype — gray in visuals and in spirit

Understanding the user

The UX team's research is focused on Peruvian coffee farmers, so they have a lot of information on the farmers' behaviors, needs, etc. I wanted to really understand the target user before I started designing, so I interviewed some of the UX team members and had them walk me through their research in depth. I created a user persona to organize the relevant information from those conversations and help guide my design decisions:

Alejandro

Alejandro Alvarez

Male / 45 years old / Coffee farmer

Attitudes:

Passionate about coffee production (farm has been in his family for decades)

Open to data-driven decisions (eager to improve and increase quality of his coffee)

Stressed about losing crop yield to pests or disease

Favorably views collaboration and sharing information

Behaviors:

Visits co-op in the city every few months to meet with technicians about management decisions (i.e. loans, renting vehicles, etc.)

Mingles and shares "personal" information (prices, farm info, etc.) with other coffee producers within the co-op

Writes down all of his costs in physical notebooks (co-op requirement)

Needs:

Needs guidance on how to be more economically sustainable

Wants to understand the long-term economic viability of his production

Wants to learn how to increase profits

Needs to remain in good standing with the co-op (gives him access to large buyers at fair prices)

Limitations:

Very limited internet access (only when visiting the co-op and/or an urban center)

Infrequent trips to cities

Not very technically savvy

Limited economics knowledge

No laptop/desktop computer (has very low-power Android smartphone)

Goals

The research team's overarching goal is to get CalcuCafé usable in the field so they can move on to the next phase of their research. The head researcher and I honed in on the prototype's core usability issues and came up with the following goals to fix them:

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1. Phone number login

Instead of the current API-based login (requiring email and password), users should be able to register and sign in with only their phone number.

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2. Offline functionality

Users should be able to use the system on the farm (i.e. without internet). Data should auto-sync when users visit a WiFi-enabled area.

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3. English/Spanish Support

Every part of the system should be capable of instantly switching between Spanish (for the coffee farmers) and English (for the researchers).

Process

Once I understood the needs of the user and the limitations of the old system, I broke down the project into a series of smaller sub-problems. I also created a few decision matrices to keep my decisions in line with the project's goals.

Though the UX research team is non-technical, I kept them in the loop of my design decisions (and the impacts of those decisions) to avoid another UX/dev communication disconnect in the future. I found that framing my decisions in terms of their impact rather than their implementation allowed the team to understand my thoughts without feeling overwhelmed by the technical details.

Results

I created an entirely new back-end in Ruby on Rails, replacing the API functionality (authentication, chart rendering, etc.) with custom code capable of working offline. On the front-end, I brightened up the color palette and applied a consistent component style. I also made sure the new front-end — with a few minor tweaks — can be ported to a native Android app that the farmers can use even if they restart their phones.

The research team loved the new CalcuCafé, and the plan is to move forward with the redesigned system for the next phase of research.

New system
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