Spotlight on Allergies
January 2017 - March 2017
Service Design

In collaboration with Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a leading food researcher at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, we identified opportunities to improve the pre-orientation and orientation experiences for incoming college students with severe food allergies.

The Challenge

My team specifically focused on creating awareness of severe food allergies. We created partnerships with on-campus organizations to support students as they transition from orientation into the first few weeks of college. We wanted to create a service that would be inclusive of students with allergies by bridging barriers of communication between students and campus organizations.

Spotlight Connect Storyboard

User Research

To understand user needs and benchmark existing support systems in place, my group explored student dorms, shared kitchen spaces, and dining halls. We also interviewed dining hall staff to learn about current food accommodation and safety practices at Northwestern for students with allergies.

Simple Servings signs

Food Allergies sign

Allergens in open containers in dining hall

Through interviews with high school students, college students, and parents of students with severe food allergies, we learned about how they plan to or currently navigate the college experience. We were able to hear their thoughts on what support they wish they had or needed when they were transitioning to a new school. Finally, we also spoke with on-campus organizations to understand how they currently accommodate students with food allergies at events.

Identifying an Opportunity Area

Stakeholder map

Journey map

From user research, we synthesized interviews to create a stakeholder map and journey map. This led to a list of insights that allowed us to identify an opportunity area. Specifically, we identified the transition period between orientation and the first few weeks of school to be critical in supporting students with allergies as they meet new friends and classmates.

Our goal was to create a campus program to raise awareness about food allergies by partnering with university and student groups on campus. Through this partnership, we would support catering for various events and severe food allergy awareness and education.

Spotlight high level findings and goals

Service blueprint

User Testing

To understand the dynamics of partnering with a club, we prototyped a mock event held by Segal Design Institute and ordered food, created food labels, and taught everyone how to use Epi-Pens to understand the experience of working with a club to cater and educate club members. This mock event allowed us to refine communications materials that Spotlight would send to clubs.

Teaching students how to use an Epi-Pen

Students choosing catered food to eat

Later, we iterated on our food label prototypes to understand the best way to present allergen information. We tested students' mental models of food labels through a low-fidelity mock-up of an event in which they choose foods they can eat based off of randomly assigned allergies. We specifically tested for the accuracy in which they could identify the foods they could eat.

Prototyping food labels with students

Student selecting dish they can eat


Based on feedback from user testing, we created Spotlight Connect, a service that partners with on-campus organizations by supporting catering and anaphylaxis recognition. Our goal with Spotlight Connect is to educate the student body about severe food allergies while giving students with allergies the confidence to attend events and explore new interests.

We refined our three main artifacts: the email that Spotlight sends to clubs at the beginning of the school year, a list of suggested restaurants that can be modified for various allergies, and food labels that specify what allergens are in a certain dish. We also created a storyboard video to show how our service would improve the college experience for students with allergies.

Partnership email

Catering options

Food labels indicating allergens

Final Client Pitch

At the end of the ten week term, we presented our service, Spotlight Connect, to Dr. Gupta, her research team, Northwestern administration leadership, and individuals we interviewed. As a studio, after addressing different aspects of the pre-orientation and orientation transition processes to college, we came together to create Spotlight, an allergy awareness organization on campus that aimed to support college students with allergies.

Presenting Spotlight Connect