Spotlight Connect


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

My team specifically focused on creating awareness of severe food allergies by bridging barriers of communication between students and campus organizations.

User Research

We interviewed high school/college students with food allergies, parents, dining hall staff, and on-campus health services leadership to understand the role and needs of each stakeholder. We also conducted ethnographic research by exploring Northwestern's undergraduate dining halls and shared kitchen space in dorms. Finally, we also spoke with on-campus organizations to understand how they currently accommodate students with food allergies at events.

Research Findings
  1. There is more stigma around the topics of eating habits of people with allergies compared to other dietary restrictions (vegetarians, vegans, religious restrictions).
  2. Majority of students with allergies find it hard to share their allergies with others. They usually rely on the topic coming up organically in conversations.
  3. Friend groups often change after orientation. If a support group is built during orientation, this group is likely to change or fade during the first weeks of school.
Identifying an Opportunity Area

Prototyping and Testing

Our goal was to create a campus program to raise awareness about food allergies and support catering by partnering with student groups on campus.

To understand the dynamics of partnering with a club, we prototyped a mock event held by Segal Design Institute to understand the experience of working with a club to cater and educate club members. This event allowed us to refine communications materials that Spotlight would send to clubs.

We also tested students' mental models of food labels through a low-fidelity A/B test in which they choose foods they can eat based off of randomly assigned allergies. Specifically, we tested for the accuracy in which they could identify the foods they could "eat." One set of labels specified allergen free designations while another set specified which allergens were contained in the foods.

Final Deliverables

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.

Spotlight Connect included three main artifacts:

  1. Email that Spotlight sends to clubs at the beginning of the school year
  2. List of suggested restaurants that can be modified for specific allergies
  3. Food labels that specify what allergens are in a certain dish