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Nurturing long distance friendships

Indiana University Bloomington Masters thesis project  |  August 2023 - May 2024 | Domain: Social Interaction Design within the context of Food Sharing Application

Minimize digital overload with our "On Your Schedule" feature, which lets you share bite-sized updates of your culinary journeys. Enhance the fun by marking future dining locations on the map for gatherings with friends and family.

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What was the problem?

Nearly 60% of people who move abroad for work or study frequently feel isolated because they are separated from their usual social support systems & face difficulties in maintaining social connections in new environments.

This project focuses on giving our foodie long-distance friends a one-to-one authentic and non-intrusive way & non attention grabbing of sharing their food updates.

Why long-distance friendships?

I started this project for a personal reason, recognizing the complex problems surrounding me, particularly in human relationships. The subjective nature of human connections offered a fresh area for exploration and a chance to deepen my understanding of human psychology —a cornerstone for my future career.

With many people around me moving abroad for education or better job opportunities, the impact of migration on friendships became evident. These relationships, built on shared experiences and memories, often deteriorate due to distance and life changes.​

My project aims to explore how we can nurture these long-distance friendships, focusing on maintaining these important connections through shared culinary experiences, despite the physical distances caused by migration.

Why Culinary experiences as shared activity? 

Food brings people together and forms communities. When I was speaking to interviews and tried to understand what they talked about, they mentioned that a lot of it was a random conversation on life updates, and the majority of them mentioned that they talked about food. When people move to a new country, their point of conversation becomes about food, as they are experiencing a new food culture and are also cooking for the first time. 

Food becomes a point of conversation; telling friends about different kinds of food becomes a new shared activity, and also reminding them of old food that they used to have becomes a new norm. 

Secondary research shows food plays the following role in migrants' lives (Naidu & Nzuza, 2014).

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How might we...

How might we create a platform that allows food enthusiasts living abroad to authentically bond over their culinary experiences and plan future meets, fostering connections and reducing the loneliness of new environments?

Design Process

I believe the design process should be non-linear and iterative to develop the best solutions that truly address the needs of our core audience. This philosophy guided my approach throughout the project.

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Main Research questions...

  1. How people connect in the modern world and understand their psychology 

  2. Food's relationship to humans and its psychological impacts

  3. What are people's intrinsic and extrinsic incentives, and how can we use these elements to promote these interactions? Why do individuals even upload images on social media?

What were the design activities and what did I find out?

I conducted eight user research interviews, user research surveys, co-design workshops, and user testing sessions. Here are some user quotes that helped identify the key problems they face:

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Research Insights

When I started this project, I knew I wanted to bridge the gap in establishing authentic one-on-one connections for long-distance friends. I wondered how friendships could be sustained through shared activities. To understand this better, I began by asking people about their typical conversations, and here's what I found...

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/ 21 participants 

said that social media is an overwhelming and inauthentic way of connection. 

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/ 8 interviewees  

Food primarily being their point of conversation with their long-distance friends. 

Workshop Insights

We tried to understand and see what journey a user takes in this design solution, This uncovered a lot of pain points and where there could be bottlenecks in the flow. Insights from this workshop are as follows:

  1. We recognize the reasons behind users wanting to post pictures and how we can keep them engaged in sharing and interacting with their friends. This led to a discussion about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Exploring these motivations further underscored the importance of meeting emotional needs, not just facilitating social interactions. 

  2. The results of this codesign workshop showed, that features that evoke nostalgia and authenticity are important for enhancing the user experience. 

  3. Micro-interactions between these friends daily could simplify and make it enjoyable for friends to maintain contact from a distance. 

  4. This underlined the value of creating an inspiring story that puts genuine relationships before.

Identified Themes 

I conducted both secondary and primary research, identifying the following themes which also represent the user pain points...

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Design Solution 

Watch how it works...

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Discover "Snackable"

Find quick updates from your friends about their food experiences, sent right to you. Enjoy a personalized selection of your friends' food adventures!

Food Map

This feature lets you find and save new places to eat when you visit your hometown with friends. This design solution creates a custom map for you, so you can easily locate and enjoy these spots when you're in town. It's perfect for your next food adventure.

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On your pace

Enjoy receiving fun, food-related surprises from your friends whenever you choose! Set a time to get these treats and see what surprises your friends have in store for you.


Earn coins and adorable characters at each place you eat! Every meal adds to your experience and increases your points, making eating out a fun and rewarding adventure.

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Memory Lane Feature

Feeling nostalgic? Relive treasured memories from your meals at different food spots with your friends.


I feel the major outcomes of this project were not its features, but I, as a designer, was able to find the true points, understand the situational context of these primary concerns, and come up with a non-intrusive way of keeping in touch with friends over common interests in food.


  1. Busy Schedules: During user testing, I realized it was challenging for our primary users, who were busy with significant life transitions, to fully engage with the project. This insight helped shape the project's approach to fit their schedules more realistically.

  2. Diverse User Needs and Expectations: A major challenge encountered was the diversity of needs and expectations among migrants aged 18 to 29. This variability made a one-size-fits-all solution impractical. Instead, the project required a flexible design approach to accommodate as many users as possible.

  3. Limitations of Research: One limitation of the project was that insights were drawn from a small sample size, specifically eight interviews with individuals aged 18 to 29. This may not fully represent the broader population's experiences and needs.

What did I learn from the experience as a designer? 

Storytelling: Initially, I was ineffective at storytelling, merely listing features. However, by the end, I could vividly convey my ideas, capturing the audience's attention. Professor Michael noted at my capstone presentation that he could visualize and engage with my story, marking a significant improvement in my storytelling skills.

Connecting People Over Food: The project enhanced my understanding of food's universal appeal and its power to strengthen long-distance friendships. I learned how food evokes deep emotions and connects people to their cultural roots and identities, particularly benefiting those with a shared interest in food.

Value of Research-Driven Insights: Grounding the project in user research through interviews and surveys was crucial for understanding users' needs within their contexts. This process deepened my appreciation for genuine empathy in design.

Leveraging Technology to Meet User Needs: I utilized technologies like location pinning and gamification to engage users and facilitate connections, overcoming significant project challenges.

Embracing an Iterative Design Journey: Adopting a "fail fast, learn fast" approach, I iteratively developed the project based on user and peer feedback. This experience taught me to consider feedback critically, rather than implementing it verbatim.

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