Food+Future Workshop&Makeathon

Sunday: Food+Future & IDEO Makeathon

Saturday: FFxBitten Workshop: A Clarifying Sprint

Some say "We Came, We Saw, We Conquered"

However yesterday, We Came, We Ate..and We Make(athon)

This was the Food and Future Makeathon

I'm going to continue off the questions raised these past two day's: How do we verify what's in our food? What's the truth?

With this question buzzing in my mind all weekend - on Sunday, 60 of the greatest bad-asses gathered to discover and answer this question. With 48 hours of curiosity itching behind me, I was eager to dive right in.

Here's the thing. We think we know what's in our food..well not exactly.

  • For Example - Human DNA in our hot dog: In 345 hot dog samples, human DNA was found in 7 and 10% labeled as vegetarian contained meat DNA.


Let me introduce to you Illuminate - a scanner decoding nutritional content of one-ingredient foods. Using molecular spectroscopy (throwback to science fair in high school when I tested for the polyphenols in various vegetables based on agriculture methods…funny how seven years later this was what I was trying to get at), analytical chemistry, and deep machine learning - F+F is bringing to light food transparency.

It decodes (provides the true nutritional content), gives the power to the consumer to decide (take action based on the quality of your food), and delivers transparency (through superior outcomes allowing a change in health and decision making).

What are the possibilities of this...why even stop at food?

Perhaps you want to understand where your clothes come from, or have access to your own personal health data, can this be a tool that educates children and engages them in life of healthy choices, can this be the end to allergy attacks, what if all toilets scanned our shit? This is what we explored, and in four hours, brought to life.

The human centered design Process - inspiration, ideation, implementation

Discovery - understand, prep, inpso

THE PROMPT: So fast forward 3-5 years, when Illuminate is a widely adopted technology (with competitors and a need for innovation to remain relevant) among retailers - giving them the power to hold distribution accountable…a world where food is purchased based on nutritional levels. This data is translated into actionable explanations for the common person (from a kid to grandma). In the long term, the consumer can even interact with this machine.. and we know exactly what is in our food. Illuminate needs innovation to remain relevant. Go

Four hours and four people later (an MIT+Cal Designer, Tufts Engineering Psychologist , and NYU Culture, Education and Human Development), we proposed a solution.


  1. Get inspiration - talk to people, listen..and more than with just your ears
  2. Make assumptions - like as if all the technology was available and this couldn't fail
  3. Think big - like super big (that also means no shooting down ideas)
  4. Be real - prototype, test, bring it to life.


OUR SOLUTION: Leveraging Illuminate’s technology - we created a brand extension...a pill that takes a snapshot of your individual gut biome to increase transparency about your health. The data collected is able to provide recommendations to optimize your personal biome - in particular, focusing on the pregnant population who commonly suffer from ailments (everything from morning sickness to gestational diabetes) directly related to their internal microbiome. Not only is there a live child inside a mom...but live bacteria..and mom's should care just as much. There's an abundance of emerging research on the topic of gut health, and most recently pertaining to this population. We discovered that gut bacteria has incredible short and long-term impacts on the health of a mother and the carried child.

The possibilities are endless. 

How we got here was even more fascinating.

Interpretation - frame opportunities, search for meaning

"How Might We" Questions and Design Thinking

  • How - assumes a solution; might - free from judgement; we - takes a team
  • A constant cycle of inspiration, ideation and interpretation to arrive at a human-centered designed approach
    • (We hit the ideation phase hard today)
  • It's constant reiteration. No to pressure. Yes to brainstorm.
  • "What if"…generate ideas
  • A balance between broad focus and narrow constraint.

IDeation - generate and refine ideas

Brainstormin' Rules: 

  • Defer judgment
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • "Yes, and" > but
  • Stay focused on the question
  • One convo at a time
  • Visuals!! People understand better through sight
  •  Quantity > Quality - in order to come up with a good idea, come up with a lot of ideas
*Ross in the wild testing our concept*

*Ross in the wild testing our concept*

Experimentation - prototype and feedback

  • Research and Prototype:  Build, listen, edit, repeat
  • Prototyping - fail early, repeat, creative confidence
  • Doing > describing
  • Ask the right q's
  • Learn from getting the product out in front of people (core users, experts, extremes)

Story Telling

  • NOT A PITCH - instead we are capturing all we learned 

Storytelling moves past words alone to help people understand and feel the power of your offering.  At the end of the day, you’re going for impact with a considered audience. Storytelling is the human way …think of it more as a fun science fair.

  • It's like an arc - you set the scene, you share your promise, and show were you end up now.
  • Formula < Structure
  • Convincing < Immersing
  • Professional < Personal
  • Important notes to hit: Empathy building, the promise made, business model, support (hiring), next steps
  • The Bar Test: pretend you’re at a bar with you buddies. Tell the story of your concept. Are they still listening 5 minutes later? The story of your concept should ignite emotion, ideas, and interest


  • Be visual - images, prototype
  • Be crisp. - time is tight..understand your points and communicate them
  • Be human - empathy, anecdotes
  • Be thoughtful - consider the strategy

Have fun maybe this isn't an explicit rule in Design Thinking...but I think it's an essential component of having a kick ass team like we did. Both days, I left bonded with incredible individuals who I not only learned from but created lasting friendships. It's sick when you can appreciate everyone's unique contributions, personalities, skills and makes the process exhilarating. It's for that very reason this weekend was so special - I was surrounded by absolute rock-stars, in an environment where people loved food and creating and learning as much as me, and I was constantly in a state of exploration and excitement. 

Whether at F+F, Boston, or in life, this same approach can be applied - finding inspiration, learning from others, coming up with ideas, creating and tweaking (as we grow)..and in the end, you may even have a good story to tell.

As long as you had fun.