LunchBox: Healthy meals over good conversations

Project Overview

The city of Pittsburgh, in true sense, is an old city but new. On one hand, it takes pride in its rich traditional heritage and local community bond while on the other hand, it is rapidly establishing itself as the innovation capital of the country and attracting an increasing number of working professionals. 

Design Brief : We were tasked with improving people’s experience in the city of Pittsburgh in a meaningful way by taking a look into the complex systems that affect our daily lives here in the city. We were encouraged to discover areas of opportunities that connects people with one another in their surroundings. 

Team : Allison Huang, Manya Krishnaswamy and Lisa Li
Course : Interaction Design Studio, Fall 2016
Instructor : Austin S. Lee
Duration : Oct to Dec 2016 (Seven weeks)
My Role : Field research, Design strategy and ideation, Service blueprinting, Architecture

Service Concept

LunchBox is a service designed for working professionals who want to eat healthy and enjoy home cooked meals but don’t have the time to prepare. LunchBox is shared kitchen that provides them with access to locally sourced ingredients, recipe inspirations and all the tools they need to whip up a quick and healthy meal that is convenient, affordable, and healthy. The 5, 10 and 15 minute recipe cards are crafted to help them with what to prepare in lieu of time constraints. The shared kitchen has plenty of counter space and workstations with stoves, ovens, etc. along with all the equipments to accommodate different types of cooking. Customers can then enjoy their meals over a good conversation either indoors at the communal table or outdoors in Mellon Square while fostering interactions.

Design Rationale

Exploring Pittsburgh

Strip district in downtown Pittsburgh is a popular weekend destination among masses. While interacting with locals there, we realized that there is a strong sense of community and exchange of value between customers and local vendors transcends beyond monetary transactions. Most people have been coming here for decades to support local vendors. 

Meanwhile, our interactive boards attracted some attention on the busy streets. People enthusiastically marked their live, work and play zones while sharing some unique insights about the city.


Under-utilized Public Spaces

An unsettling aspect of downtown area was the emptiness in its public places and shopfronts. It felt unfitting in context of immense potential that downtown otherwise demonstrates. Our belief was strengthened during our interviews with native residents who felt that, emptiness in these spaces gives a feeling of failing.


Food and Community 

A place feels occupied when people are present. And when the people who are present talk to each other, energy and vitality is brought back to the space. After delving deep into various concepts, we decided to design a service that intends to revitalize downtown Pittsburgh, one underutilized space at a time.

Mellon Square Park

It is a beautifully renovated public square in the heart of downtown. Surrounded by numerous business establishments, only a handful of working professionals visit the park in its busiest hour for lunch. The design of seatings lining the periphery of the park is not conducive to group activities, thus, individuals scattered around the park have no scope of interaction.

A study by Envision Downtown compared two public plazas in Pittsburgh, Market Square and Mellon Square and found that the former has seven times more foot traffic during lunchtime compared to the latter. Market Square is filled with restaurants and seatings that foster group interactions, while Mellon Square is an empty park with long linear benches. By studying the logistics of the working population downtown, we calculated the number of people working in the vicinity of Mellon Square. We estimated 40,000 working professionals within a 6 minute radius of Mellon Square





Design Goals


Concept Ideation

After synthesizing the key observations and feedbacks gathered from our research, we summarized our observations and started brainstorming concepts by framing,

In order to create ..... , we should create ......

Service Details

Business Model and Value Flow

The value exchange has been designed such that each stakeholder can benefit from, as well as contribute to LunchBox.
The primary business flow of LunchBox targets small and medium businesses, who can purchase subscriptions to LunchBox, as a part of their benefit package for their employees. Secondary business flows would include a pay-per-use model, where customers can walk in and enjoy the service. LunchBox acts as a platform for local farms and chefs to share their services in exchange for business and publicity. Further, situating LunchBox in Mellon Square means professionals can take a break and relax at the park, in turn adding vibrancy.


Service Blueprint

The service blueprint applies design thinking to systematically work through a customer's end-to-end journey. To tackle all the nitty-gritty of the service and optimize every touch-point of the customer experience, we mapped all the systems needed to support each stage in the front as well as back-stage.


Space Design

LunchBox is situated within Mellon Square. Inside, the space is divided into four zones: kitchen, pantry, prep area and seating area along with the necessary service areas for dishwashing, storage and restrooms. Customers access the salad-bar style pantry first where they can select their ingredients. Then, depending on their need to either cook or assemble their meal, they can use either the kitchen or prep area. Finally, they enjoy the meal in the communal dining area or outside.



The pantry forms the heart of the service. The salad- bar style pantry offers pre-washed and pre-chopped ingredients to save users' time. The feature wall in the pantry showcases a different farm every month and highlights seasonal produce. Recipe boards provide inspiration on how to take advantage of seasonal offerings and select those ingredients to prepare the featured recipe. Also available will be recipe cards, with step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the dish. Recipes from local chefs will also be featured in the Chef’s Special collection of recipes.



We spoke with two farmers from the Farmers Market Coop of East Liberty who co-own the space: Rick Zang, owner of Zang’s Greenhouse, and Timothy Hileman, president of the Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance and owner of Kistaco Farm. Both responded positively, saying they're always looking for customers and that embracing the seasonality and locality of their produce might be a welcome change to the downtown food climate. One of them appreciated the inclusion of seasonal food while the other excitedly said, “You could start buying next week if you wanted to.”

Working Professionals 

We spoke to five working professionals in downtown Pittsburgh for their thoughts. four out of five liked the idea and thought it would be useful, while one of them said they wouldn't want to cook but definitely sees some coworkers being interested. Some the common feedbacks we received were regarding the flow and management of the space, and with the pricing remaining competitive. This means we would have to remain competitive with the $10-15 they currently pay for lunch - and the general flow of the space in terms of accommodating customers during busy periods.

Service Demo

We staged a service demo towards the end of the semester to validate our concept and get a sense of people's response to such a service. People were enthusiastic about the whole idea and confessed that they enjoy cooking, especially with and for friends and family, but it is the preparation part that seems more of a hassle. Here's a look at how LunchBox was received by everyone.


Future Plans

We see our space in Mellon Square as a pilot and consider designing low cost structures built out of shipping containers for fast and inexpensive construction in other cities. We envision LunchBox to build a culture around healthy and sustainably eating not only in Pittsburgh, but also across other cities in the country. 

Process Blog  |  Photo Documentation