Shelf Life is an app and physical product that work together to keep track of the food items in your kitchen.

How might technology be utilized to encourage consumers to waste less food in their households?

This is the question that began my senior thesis. It led to a year long journey into understanding consumer habits, rapid prototyping and iteration, experimenting, many sleepless nights, debugging, sketching, and animating in preparation for my senior show. Shelf Life is the product that came out of this process. A mix of my passions for design, development, and physical computing, it was my capstone project for my degree in Interactive Multimedia.

Time Frame

Fall 2015 - Spring 2016

Skills Utilized

User Research
Secondary Research
Affinity Mapping
Rapid Prototyping
User Testing
User Interface Design
Motion Graphics
Programming in Arduino and Javascript

Consumers have a hard time keeping track of the food in their kitchens.

This was one of my key findings and one of the many reasons I found explaining how food in the home went to waste. Either food items were forgotten about or expiration deadlines slipped by before ingredients could be used.

Existing apps and technology had a shared flaw that led to decreased usage and lack of accuracy: manual entry. Users would have to manually type in the names of food products they had purchased, and remember to remove them when they were finished. I found that this extra effort was not worthwhile for most users and the applications would quickly be abandoned. I focused on alleviating this manual burden and thought about how quickly a cashier scans groceries in a supermarket.

What if devices that could scan our food just like in the supermarket existed in the home, in convenient places so that products could be scanned in and out of our kitchen “stocks” without any additional effort?

This is the concept behind Shelf Life.

An app and physical product that work together seamlessly to keep track of the food in your kitchen.

Little devices called “Shelfies” scan your food as you put away and take things out of your kitchen storage

Stick Shelfies in your cabinets, shelves, and fridge and let them do their magic as food items pass by.

Keep Inventory

With Shelf Life, you will always know what you've got in your kitchen. The item list is updated in real time, and shares information such as expiration date and how long you've got to use the item.

Generate Recipes

Select different ingredients from your item list to generate recipes, and find a use for leftovers or food about to go bad. Shelf Life will let you know what else you'll need.


Filter to find the exact items you need quickly.

Check out the full interaction video on Vimeo

The Functional Prototype

Shelf Life is possible by the use of RFID tags on food items. During my early research I became really interested in the tags. There are many who believe RFID will replace barcodes in the future, and although there have been many explorations as to how this will change the shopping experience, Shelf Life explores how RFID tagged products can continue to be useful after they leave the store.

As part of my thesis exhibit I built a functional prototype of how Shelf Life would work, built with Arduino, Firebase DB, Javascript, and HTML/CSS

Wireframes and Other Materials

Research Phase

The Target Audience

The first step of the process was to figure out a target audience for my solution. Food waste in America happens at a variety of levels, spanning farming, post-harvest, packing, processing, transporation and distribution, retail, food service, and households. I decided to develop a solution aimed at consumers and their households. This was the group I would be able to reach most easily, and as food ultimately ends up on the plates of consumers, sparking change here has the potential for impact continuing up the "food chain" as a result.

Secondary Research

According to American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, consumers end up wasting an average of 25% of the food they buy. And According to Wasted Food: U.S. Consumers' Reported Awareness, Attitudes, and Behaviors, a report published by Johns Hopkins in spring of 2015, consumers self-report a relatively high awareness of and interest in preventing food waste, but their behaviors don't align with what they say. American consumers typically over report awareness and understanding of how to reduce food waste and under report their own waste. In terms of motivation to reduce food waste, saving money was at the top of the list, while environmental concerns ranked the lowest. From this research I learned that the solution would have to focus on cost saving factors rather than environmental motivation or "guilt" factors, and that the solution should encourage education on how to reduce without being overimposing.

Primary Research

Next I went out and talked to some consumers. The interviewees were split into four groups: cost conscious families, environmentally conscious families, individuals in shared living situations, and households without kids. Talking to consumers confirmed some of the secondary research related to financials: saving money is a huge priority and was always valued over environmental consciousness. For example, multiple participants said they would often buy portions sizes that ended up being too big to finish because it ostensibly provided more value. Another commonly reported reason for wasting food was because it was forgotten about and spoiled before it could be used. Households with families and shared living spaces were especially prone to this issue because of their busy lifestyles.

Affinity Mapping


After talking to a number of different families and homeowners, I went back through my research notes and organized by observations, pain points, inferences, and opportunities. Then I mapped these notes by affinity, along the way uncovering several underlying themes and insights that were common amongst those interviewed. Even the most environmetally conscious people waste, and people rarely feel personal responsibility or guilt for wasted or spoiled food, it just happens. Nearly ever participant admitted they had trouble keeping track of what food they have and when to use it by. Technology was not a first choice because often it was obtrusive and tedious to upkeep. And most participants were only partially knowledgeable on steps they could take to prevent food waste.