How to Eat Less Meat

A Case Study

It feels like every time you go on Twitter or Facebook or turn on the TV or open a newspaper (if you still do that kind of thing), there is some even worse news about the impending climate crisis. It feels overwhelming, intimidating, and frankly, kind of hopeless. There is so much information to consider and it can be hard to know how to really make a difference. 


For my Capstone Project for the Master of Professional Studies in UX Design program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), I decided to tackle this idea. For this project, we were required to run through the complete design process in just eight weeks.


The Problem

As of 2017, the Earth has warmed approximately 2°F, and leading experts say that we need to limit warming to just 2.7°F. So there is definitely work to do. Meanwhile, the average American has an annual carbon footprint of 16 tons and produces 231 pounds of plastic waste per year. 


Together, we can make an impact.

Just one person doing Meatless Monday for a year saves the equivalent emissions of driving 348 miles in a car. But, get 1,000 people to do Meatless Monday for a year, and you can reduce carbon emissions by over 8 thousand tons (using the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator). 


There are many other examples of small changes that when done intentionally, as part of a community can make a real difference. And small changes can have different impacts. For example, you’d have to avoid food packaging for approximately 11 years to have the same impact as going one year without meat.


All of this can feel very overwhelming and can seem intimidating to be able to make an impact. So… the goal of this app would be: To reduce waste, carbon emissions, and other negative environmental impacts on an individual and collective level. 



  • By helping people understand how different choices/behaviors impact the environment

  • By motivating users to make positive changes and incorporate changes into their life in a sustainable, long-term way

  • By seeing the collective impact made on our environment 


This would benefit the Earth and humanity in the long run, but would also stand to help corporations with their environmental initiatives, environmental nonprofits reach their goals, and lower income communities who are disproportionately affected by climate change. 


So, the question is…

HOW MIGHT WE help the average person understand their impact on the environment and motivate them to make long-term, sustainable changes? 

The Solution

My proposed solution is to gamify sustainability, to create an app where users could track and earn rewards for how environmentally friendly they are. 


It’s like FitBit for your environmental impact. 



Users could get points or some other type of reward for completing or engaging in different eco-friendly activities like recycling, composting, driving less, etc. The app would reward the user more or less depending on how big or small of an impact that activity has on the environment. The idea there is that the user would be able to select the activities that would best suit them and their lifestyle while also having the biggest impact. And finally, in addition to being rewarded, you would be able to view the collective environmental impact everyone in the app was making.


The Process


My process for this project was to start with research on habit formation, gamification, and the environment, as well as define my user types. From there, I went on to user interviews where I learned about the likes, pain points, and lives of my potential users. I used these learnings to create user personas that I would take through the rest of my design process. Next, I created wireframes of the key flows I wanted to test, then added branding and interactions to those to create my prototype. I then tested that prototype in usability testing, and took my findings from that to create an updated prototype. And last but not least, I put everything together into a presentation and this case study so I could easily share my findings.

Forming a Habit

It takes just 21-66 days to form a new habit. But how does that happen? 


Well, you need motivation, repetition and consistency. Every habit starts with the habit loop. There will be a cue or trigger to tell your brain to go on autopilot, the behavior will happen, and you’ll be rewarded, which helps your brain remember the habit loop. Then, repeat! 


“How do incentives help build a habit? While intrinsic motivation—the internal force pushing us to engage in a behavior—is ultimately invaluable, incentives or rewards may help with habit-building by getting a person to begin to engage in the hoped-for behavior (such as working out) in the first place.” (Psychology Today)


That reward or incentive portion is key to creating a successful habit loop. 


By turning behaviors into a game, you can increase user engagement by 48%, improve skill-based assessments by 14%, and inspire harder work. 


Some other apps that have successfully implemented habit formation via gamification include FitBit, Duolingo, GoodReads, Starbucks, Peloton, and many more. 


From research on fitness trackers, we know that there are several ways to support long-term, successful engagement, including social support or competition, social media, achieving small goals, and watching and knowing other people are involved too. 


“Additionally, behaviour change achievements, however small, can increase self-efficacy, which can in turn stimulate pursuit of further changes. Forming one ‘small’ healthy habit may thereby increase self-confidence for working towards other...habits.” (National Institute of Health)


My goal is to offer a free, basic version of the app that would likely include ads to generate revenue, in addition to  a premium version with more features (and no ads) that would require a small-ish monthly subscription. And I do think there is potential for bigger money here through corporate integrations. Companies could sign up to have their employees participate as part of their environmental initiative or as a bonding exercise. This option would come with additional reporting and support.


Audience Profiles

You can see how the subscription model translates into my audience profiles. I see there being three main user types for this application: The App User, The Nonprofit Partner, and The Corporate Client. However, for the purpose of this project, given the scope and timeline, I will focus my research and design efforts on The App User. 




This user type is the direct user of the app itself, the one who will be tracking their behaviors and competing with friends. They care about the environment, at least enough to put some thought and effort into the impact they are having. 



The Nonprofit User will serve more as a partner to the app itself. The Nonprofit User is a guiding voice on which environmental initiatives are most important, and therefore will be prioritized in the app. Additionally, they have access to the best scientific data to inform the weighted point system and help recommend the best new habits to The App User. 



This is where I see the greatest monetization opportunity. The Corporate Client will have a contract to use the app’s services as part of their corporate environmental initiative. Much like many offices have walking or weight loss challenges as part of health and/or bonding efforts, corporations could have employees use the app to compete and track their environmental efforts. Here, the key is that The Corporate Client would benefit from their employees’ efforts because they would be able to claim the benefits as part of their internal environmental initiative with minimal effort on their part.

User Interviews

I put together a screener using Google Forms and posted it on reddit and my personal social channels to recruit participants. I got 1,241 responses to that screener—most of which were likely from bots—and I ended up doing 6 interviews via Zoom, which gave me plenty of insights.


During these interviews, my goal was to explore the lives of my potential users. I asked questions about participants’ experiences with other gamified apps and how they interacted with them over time; as well as their views and feelings on the environment and climate change, what they were currently doing to be eco-friendly and any relevant pain points. The last thing I did was describe my app idea to them and get their feedback. 



Having completed user interviews, I analyzed the results by doing affinity mapping. Some of my categories here were things like Climate Pain Points, App Motiviations, Motivation No-Gos (or things apps did that did not motivate them), and social motivation—which ended up being more important than I had initially thought. 

Screen Shot 2022-05-08 at 1.53.14 PM.png


In addition to the fact that everyone responded positively to the concept, I found that: 

  • People feel helpless in the face of climate change, but still want to do what they can 

  • Biggest pain point was just knowing how or what to do to help the environment 

  • People enjoy being able to see their personal data

  • There was a large social component that was key to motivation

  • Daily personal goal (with streaks) and competitions were most popular gamification methods 

  • Manual entry could be a pain point; but also aided mindfulness and intentionality around the behaviors 


Based on my interviews and insights, I created three user personas.


First up we have David Li who I’ve labeled the Convenient Competitor. David is a project manager at a tech startup. In his free time, he likes to play video games and golf with his friends. He’s very extrinsically motivated and competitive. He once bought a FitBit just to join a step competition with his coworkers. He knows that climate change is an issue and does basic things to help, like recycling. However, he isn’t too concerned about climate change long-term, because he believes we will develop technologies that will solve the problem before it’s too late.


Then we have Ashley Bush. She’s concerned about climate change, but confused about what she can really do about it. Ashley is an account associate for a government contractor. It’s important to her to have a job that has a positive impact. She’s really into fitness and is part of a local running group. She’s very conscious about climate change and the impact she has on the environment, but finds the impending climate crisis daunting and feels overwhelmed by all the information about what she should be doing. Additionally, living on her own in a city apartment, she runs into financial and logistical constraints.


And finally, we have Mel Walsh who is our Climate Crusader. She is an editor for a local magazine. She lives with her partner in a house in a small town outside a major city. In her free time, she gardens, reads, and goes hiking with her two dogs. Mel is very intrinsically motivated and does everything she can to be as environmentally friendly as possible, including taking up composting when she moved into her current house and being a positive influence on others. However, she doesn’t think real change will occur until the government or big corporations make serious changes.


With these personas in mind, I created wireframes in Figma. Below you can see the wireframe for each of the main tabs in the app. I decided to create a standalone social tab that would show a feed of friends' activities for inspiration and motivation; as well as a leaderboard tab that allows competition from within different groups, like your friends, workplace, or neighborhood. I also created a design for awarding badges, which you can see within the account tab; however, I actually ended up getting rid of these in order to simplify the reward system.

00 Home.png
01 Track.png
02 Social.png
03 Leaderboard.png


To create my prototype, I applied branding to these screens and added interactions. I built out two key flows that I wanted to test.


The first flow is the user onboarding (shown below on left). I wanted to include this as one of my key flows for two reasons. First, I think it will be important to get a baseline of behavior to better recommend new habits to users, so this will add some personalization to the app right away. And secondly, since the goal of the app is to keep users engaged so they can build new, eco-friendly habits, I wanted to create an onboarding process that will make the user feel invested right from the start. This will help increase user retention. 


Next, I’ve included a look at the main tabs in the app (shown below in center). I wanted to build these out to make the app feel more alive during usability testing, as well as to get feedback on the social aspect of the app. 


The second key flow is simply adding an activity to the app to redeem points (shown below on right). In the example below, you can see that this user is adding that they had a “no meat day”. For this person, that happens to be one of their habits, so they can easily add that from the top section. If this was a new activity for them, they would have the opportunity to see some “how to” instructions for successfully completing this activity or behavior, as well as tags for related activities, and some news articles to get more information about the behavior and its impact on the environment. (1).gif (2).gif

Usability Testing

For usability testing, I created another screener to recruit participants and ended up doing two usability tests. After asking the participants a few questions about themselves, such as about their profession and current sustainability habits, I would send them the link to my prototype in Figma and have them work through the following scenarios. 


Scenario #1: You just signed up for the app. Please complete the onboarding process. Enter your information and complete the prompts until you get to the home screen of the app.


Scenario #2: Let’s say you’ve been using the app for a few days now. You didn’t eat any meat today and want to enter that into the app to get your points. Starting on the home screen, please record that activity and redeem your points.


From these usability tests, I found that:

  • The onboarding and adding a single activity were straightforward (yay!)

  • Getting real data to support the point system will be key

  • Need more clarity around personal data and tracking (i.e. data visualization)

  • Allow for more specificity in onboarding and activity entry 

  • Provide more information/recommendations about HOW to be more environmentally friendly

  • Need more clarity around what “Your Habits” are and how you add and remove these activities

Updated Prototype

Based on my usability test findings, I made a few updates to my prototype, most of which were to improve clarity. I created a daily notification so users would be reminded to enter their activities and could do so just once at the end of the day. I added a progress bar to the onboarding flow so users would know where they were in that process. I also added ZIP code to the onboarding for some added accuracy about their energy usage. There were also some minor design improvements. (3).gif

Next Steps & Reflection

Most of my insights from usability testing flow into my bigger picture next steps. All of which basically boil down to… CONTINUE TO CONDUCT RESEARCH. 


To begin with, I’ll need to interview my other user types—The Nonprofit Partners and Corporate Clients—to determine how their needs, likes, and pain points will shape the product. 


Then, I really need to start gathering data on the environmental impact of behaviors, which will help to both determine what behaviors will be included in the app and help construct the weighted point system that will work to be both informative and motivational. 


While I don’t think it was necessary for the project at this stage, I do think that not having real data in the prototype was one of the biggest challenges in this project. Besides the fact that I am not a data scientist, I was able to get many insights about the overall user experience without spending who knows how long sorting through environmental data. However, since this is a product about data, the data itself will end up greatly affecting the user experience. 


I hope that the Nonprofit Partners will be a big help in getting access to valid, scientific environmental data and working through what actions have the biggest impacts. 


Once these things are worked out, I’d want to go through the same process of prototyping and testing, with all the new findings and features built into a new prototype, and then continue iterating on the product from there.