The Holidays are Here. Are Online Food Sites Meeting User Expectations?

It is that time of year when many of us pull out our cookbooks or go online to our preferred cooking or food websites to find just the right meal to adorn our holiday tables.  Some of us just want our old favorites, not bothering or caring about nutrition.  But trends show many of us are paying more and more attention to our family’s health and that good nutrition is becoming a key ingredient in our food preparation, even during the holidays.

A survey conducted by the American Dietician Association shows the percentage of people who don’t want to be bothered about diet and nutrition has decreased substantially from 2002 to 2008, dropping from 32% down to 19%.  This segment was as large as 40% in the mid 1990s.

By and large, this trend significantly impacts websites whose primary objective is to provide recipes, menus, culinary information and cooking techniques to the consumer.

In usability studies we’ve conducted on two popular cooking and recipe websites, it was revealed that health and nutrition were important concerns.  In particular, site visitors voiced two distinct requests when it came to healthy living:

  • Visitors wanted a robust selection of healthy recipes, grouped together and easily located by searching or browsing.  In fact, on one site, 40% of the visitors reported healthy recipes were among the most common type of recipes sought, including recipes to accommodate people with special health concerns.  Some comments:

    “Your website has a pretty good ‘healthy eating’ section, but it would be nice to see it explained a little more.”

    “Recipes suited to diabetic exchange.”

    “Add gluten-free recipes for people with celiac disease”

    Healthy Recipe content access from a
    top level navigational button


  • Visitors wanted to see nutrition information included for all recipes, and not just for recipes classified as healthy. On one site, 15% felt they had an unsuccessful visit because nutritional information was hit or miss as nutrition information was not provided for all recipes, except for those in the healthy category. Some comments:

“I would like nutrition information with all recipes.”

“I didn’t see any nutritional information for the recipes.  That’s very important to me.  I would like to see that included with the recipes.”

“A huge drawback for me is that nutritional information is not included for any recipes (except, I believe, those from Healthy Appetite)…adding nutritional data would make me much more likely to visit your site.”

Recipe with no nutritional information,
found outside of “Healthy” Category


Recipe with nutritional information,
found in a “Healthy” category


It was also revealed through these studies that there was not always an adequate amount of nutrition information with the recipes to make a decision. Following are examples of more elaborate nutritional “panels” found with recipes on other popular cooking and recipe websites:


So, when it comes to health and nutrition on cooking and recipe websites, keep the following short list of best practices in mind to satisfy your growing number of health conscious visitors:

  • Provide a “Healthy Recipe” category as well as categories to accommodate visitors with common health concerns, like diabetes.
  • Provide adequate nutritional information to satisfy the greatest number of visitors.  The most common nutritional requests are information for fat, calories, cholesterol, carbohydrates and sugars.
  • If possible, elaborate on nutritional information to include daily values, vitamins and other supplemental nutrients.
  • Provide nutritional information for all recipes, not just for the recipes that fall into a “healthy” category.
  • Ensure nutritional information abuts the recipe, ideally on the left or right side.
  • Ensure nutritional information is well designed, using an easily readable format such as the labels found on product packaging.

Your efforts to give your site visitors a healthy and nutritious perspective could be one of the most important ingredients in a culinary website.


How to Build a Usability Lab – Part 2

This is the second in a series of ongoing blog posts aimed at giving you a blow-by-blow account of our upcoming move to our new offices and the ensuing adventure of building out our new state-of-the-art usability labs.

When building a usability lab, you have to take into account some basic physical considerations such as:

  1. You need two adjacent rooms to represent the control room and user room.
  2. Sound proofing between the control and user rooms.
  3. Sound-proofing the usability lab from the outside and vice versa.
  4. A two-way mirror that allows observation of the user room without being seen.


As the floor plan included in the first part of this post showed, of the four usability labs with the paired control/user rooms, three share a wall with one or more labs and one shares a wall with an office.  When sound-proofing the lab as a whole, one of the major structural changes to keep in mind is to ensure the walls go from the floor of one level all the way to the deck of the floor above. Normal office buildings have 2-3 feet between the ceiling of one floor level to the deck of the floor level above, usually with panel/grid ceiling tiles. By taking the wall all the way up, you keep the sound from reaching into empty spaces above.

There is extra cost involved in building these walls but the major cost incurred is to ensure that 1) the HVAC is designed to go through the walls, and 2) for special sound dampeners to be placed in the ducts between the rooms.

Lastly, where the labs share walls with other labs, we have to ensure the walls are constructed with extra sound insulation inside them. Two major sound-proofing options we have chosen to forgo until we test out the new labs are the sound dampening of ceiling tiles, and a installing a type of sheet rock called ‘quiet rock.’ Together, these two options could add $5,000 to the cost of each lab. The decision was made to wait on these options because they can be easily added after initial construction if it is deemed necessary at a later time.

Two-Way Mirror

What is the first thing that you think of when you think usability labs? For fans of Castle or The Mentalist, it might be watching Beckett or Cho (this character really needs his own show) conduct interrogations on the show from behind the two-way mirror.

The design of our current two-way mirrors has been very effective and we intend to utilize the same design.

For two-way mirrors to work effectively, you need to limit the sound that travels through the mirror between the lab and control room, and you need to limit the amount of light in the control room because with the wrong lighting, you can still see through a two-way mirror. Glass obviously is a great conductor of light but it happens to also be a good conductor of sound so the effectiveness of the mirror coating and dark flat paint in the control room help with most of the light issues but not the sound issues.

One of the most effective techniques to address the sound issue is the use of a unique double-paned window approach. This also helps diffuse the amount of light from the control room.

As you can see from the architectural diagram above, the two-way mirror is set flat in the window frame on the side of the user room and a second piece of plain glass installed on the control room side is set at an angle starting about ½ inch from mirror angling so that at the top it is 2 inches away from the mirror. (I’ll save you from a riveting physics lesson on why the angle of the glass disrupts the sound and light waves more than a normal double-pane window! Let’s just say it works.) The result of this is that voices are muffled so no normal conversation can be heard between the two rooms.

One structural requirement for our new usability labs not listed above is the need for dedicated HVAC in one of our labs. In most office buildings, air-conditioning and heating are only turned on during regular business hours. For our new office space, we have set up one of our labs with a dedicated HVAC system so we can run studies nights and weekends. Not all labs need this option, but with the increase in international remote-testing that we have been doing lately, and the vast time zone differences and having to work on weekends, and all night, when doing international testing, this is an option that would make sense for us. This of course adds additional costs and design considerations to the build-out.

We currently are in the process of getting bids on the audio-visual portion of the new usability labs and focus group room.  The next blog post in this series will be about this process and the options we choose.