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Products / Services   >   SIMA


Academic project

 2018 - 2019

The academic challenge: to find a social problem in the center commune of Medellin  (Colombia) and create a solution to it in 4 months following a 3-stages approach: Research, Design and Implementation.

My role on a 4-member team was: research protocol design and execution, qualitative data analysis, product/service design, product testing protocols.



The bottom line for social innovation is an extensive understanding of the context where the problem takes place. For it, each team member did guided tours and non-participant observation as primary research along with newspapers and books as secondary research. The information gathered was summarized individually on a mindmap which was then shared with the rest of the team. Starting from this contextualization exercise, each one of us put forward a workable social problem and the chosen one was poor handling of street food.

To clarify what we knew and what we didn´t, we brainstormed all the big and open questions around the topic like: ¿Where do the street sellers get their raw ingredients? ,¿How is the everyday life of a street food seller in the center commune? And ¿what´s the normativity around this topic and who enforces it? We started with 7 questions that turned into 18 in the course of the research and for each one of them we set: 1-2 research methods to answer it, a team member to execute it, the tools needed and a deadline. I put all this information on a research plan chart for easier follow.

For all the primary research methods I designed the protocols which are written and/or illustrated documents that explain step by step how the tools must be carried out ,thus the information gathered will be homogenous and bias-free despite who executes them.

The tools we carried out were: 17 interviews ,10 card sortings, 2 in-depth interviews, one immersion, 1 expert interview, 5 resource flows, 15 non-participant observations (Fly on the Wall) and 2 surveys. Besides, we made use of around 30 secondary research sources. I conducted 10 interviews, the immersion, 5 card sortings, the expert interview, 3 resource flows and 7 Fly on the wall. Every tool´s result and resource was fully documented in a 130-page report.

The first part of the analysis consisted of creating a full context around the poor street food handling situation. Accordingly, we splitted it into the following topics: geography, culture, actors map, normativity and control, food handling chain and users. Check the 24-actors map we built around this problem.


In the second part we focused on summarizing the information and getting the insights through clustering technique. For this, each one of us read and highlighted the most important quotes out of the tools transcripts. Later, each quote had to be rewritten as a statement and the statements with similarities were put together in the same cluster (category). Finally, each cluster was translated into design principles for the upcoming stage. 

In a few words what we found was that in Medellin there were 120.000 food outlets of which 5.500 were street food vendors of the center commune, among this group there are 3 types of street vendors: peddlers, stationery and semi-stationery. The third type is the one that causes most public health issues due to lack of food safety practices when handling potentially hazardous foods like meat and dairy products for fast food dishes.

Also we discovered that poor food handling is a relevant problem that caused the destruction of 5 tons of food in this city in 2017 , furthermore, this problem caused around 575 food poisonings in the same year and it was a digit likely to increase because of the growing number of visitors with over 1.200.000 daily visitors among students, workers and tourists in 2018.


On the other hand, the government control entities didn't have enough human resources to carry out inspections and keep an eye on every registered food outlet because there were only 15 employees of the local Health Secretary to supervise all the food outlets. 

Based on that information the problem our team put together was: the semi-stationary street food vendors with public space occupancy permit cause public health problems that affect the buyers in the center commune. and the challenge behind this problem was: ¿How do we procure that semi-stationary fast food street vendors acquire good food handling practices?

And according to our research the main design principles we had to keep in mind were:

  • An unobtrusive solution to blend with the context and not disturb the vendor while working.

  • It helps optimize inspections carried out by the local Health Secretary

  • It's an analog solution with a digital/ technological background because our main user wasn't a digital native 

  • It must encourage improvement in food safety practices through incentives and awareness 

Furthermore, to summarize the data about the users we created 3 Persona Profiles that included information about their type of employment, life incentives and how our solution could help them. Check out the profiles below. 

Note: The “master” profile refers to a person who has wide knowledge and experience of good food handling practices.

Note: The “master” profile refers to a person who has wide knowledge and experience of good food handling practices


Starting with the challenge and design principles previously set, each team member designed and sketched 3 proposals that were then pitched to the rest of the team. The best 3 proposals were selected and then to choose the most suitable one we designed a Selection Matrix with the list of 22 design principles on the Y-axis and the proposals on the X-axis. To each Principle a relevance score (from 1 to 5) was given and finally, each proposal was rated against each Principle by giving a score from 1 to 5. After solving the matrix two proposals obtained almost the same score so we decided to mix them and create a new one.

The final solution was a service called SIMMA by its acronym in Spanish. This system involved public and private stakeholders, technological devices and it was based on five stages: 

  1. Sensitization

  2. Enrollment

  3. Assessment

  4. Training & support

  5.  follow-up.


We had to test the solution in real life in order to polish it and to know how viable it was. For that, I designed six user tests

  • 1 for brand image (name, color palette and logo)

  • 2 for physical ergonomics of the Prize redemption device

  • 4 for cognitive ergonomics (social media post for buyers, platform interface for Masters, user interface for buyers and Price redemption device´s interface).

For each test I set: goals, the step-by-step methodology, the context in which it had to be conducted, the sample´s user profile and the required tools; moreover, in order to evaluate the results I documented the sample, the ideal ,expected and real results regarding the sample and the variables; this data allowed me to verify if the test results were valid.

From the user test we realized that: 

  • We had to redesign the original logo

  • The QR stickers were located at an appropriate height

  • We had to design an extra assembly for the device so it could be hung at suppliers' stores for better visibility and access. 

  • Regarding the platform, the step-by-step of the activities had to be explained through video and audio in order to reduce time.



While polishing the solution ,the team created a fully functional physical prototype of the prize redemption device. To do so, they 3D-printed the external case, assembled and programmed the circuit and LCD screen. Also, to document the design of the prototype the team created an assembly manual, a schematic drawing of the electrical connections, an Inputs and Outputs table and a MEF scheme. Furthermore, to check the correct functioning of each electronic component they created a technical test protocol with 5 trials that had to be conducted before using the device.

Guided by test results, we created a brand manual and a user manual for SIMMA. And for the final project´s pitch I designed a poster to explain our research and how the final solution worked


Results and learnings

The project was almost fully carried out, we only missed 1 physical ergonomics test for the prize redemption device. Besides that, all the goals were fulfilled and we were able to pitch our results to the Secretary of Economic Development´s chief.

Undoubtedly, this was one of the hardest projects to accomplish but with lots of struggles comes lots of earned experience. Down below I exhibit my learnings about: teamwork, research, qualitative research analysis, design, results pitching.

  • Teamwork wasn't easy but as a team leader I had to set aside our personal relationship and learn to pinpoint their skills and bring the best out of each member by assigning them the most suitable tasks for them.

  • While going through the research we had trouble obtaining the right information from interviews. My solution for this was writing and highlighting the question we were trying to solve at the beginning of each interview protocol as the goal and going back to that question while conducting the protocol to make sure it's been answered.

  • We had already finished all the research tools planned so far (4 out of 5 research weeks) , but we hadn't been able to fully comprehend our main user. That's why our teacher suggested conducting a 12-hour immersion at a street food vendor´s house to understand their everyday lives. That tool was the missing piece of our research because it helped us understand their routine, mindset, priorities and dreams; in this sense, I realized we weren't asking deep enough questions until then ,like What´s their dream job or what motivates them to wake up every day, and those were the questions that mattered most in order to understand the human behind the user. 

  • I learned that research for social problems requires a lot of empathy and patience and ,as a research skill, this can be translated as the ability to mentally put yourself on an even field with the person in front of you by shooting down the prejudgments; when doing so your interviewee will feel on a comfortable and safe space and you´ll be able to listen with curiosity, thereby making the right questions to comprehend the person in front of you come up. 

  • We hit rock bottom while analyzing the information. All the insights were there but we weren't able to knit them together as viable design principles. We solved this by bringing a pair of impartial and fresh eyes from someone outside the team. We pitched her all the information we found so far and asked her to tell us what called her attention, her answers opened our point of view and we decided to start the analysis over by going back to the raw transcriptions and reclustering the insights we already had. 

  • While analyzing the research results I noticed that the real comprehension of a social problem is like peeling an onion: you start with the easy part (secondary research) and understand the full context around the problem and the players involved, then you understand the secondary users in a mild level and finally you become an expert on you main user not only on the aspects of their lives that concern to your problem but on every aspect of their lives they allow you in. 

  • While designing the final solution we felt entangled because it wasn't a product right away, it was a service with lots of ins and outs. The best ways we found to face this were: becoming absolutely comfortable with uncertainty and quick iteration, going back to the Challenge every time we felt lost and being aware that social innovation solutions require a lot of “view from above” and networking which means to support the solution on the Actors of the ecosystem by acknowledging how each one of them can play a key role to solve it.

  • When pitching this social problem for the first time we weren't able to draw attention from the beginning of the presentation. For the second pitch we found out that a good way to achieve this was to focus on heartfelt storytelling supported by real photos of the users and their context, also statistical data that shows how relevant this problem was for society. All of this created an emotional connection with the audience boosting their interest.

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