Exploratory Research

How can we encourage eligible Pennsylvania residents to utilize nutritional resources and benefits from PA WIC?


Exploring the Problem

To explore the current state of PA WIC, we interviewed both PA WIC participants and staff members. Additionally, we ran a co-design activity to help participants think more imaginatively about WIC clinic.


We talked to 24 participants and 11 staff members to gain a holistic understanding of their experiences with PA WIC services and resources.

ESL Interviews

We talked to 5 Spanish-speaking participants to better understand the challenges they faced along their WIC experience. Our findings aligned with our initial assumptions that the greatest challenges were closely related to the language barrier.

Card Sorting

We released a survey that encouraged participants to imagine what a luxury WIC experience would look like. 42 participants responded and selected their top 2 concept cards they believed could improve their WIC clinic  visiting experience.

Key Findings

  • Many participants have an overall negative perception of the program
  • Many participants only utilize WIC for the food benefits
  • Multiple barriers hinder us from focus on the physical space of the WIC waiting rooms and clinics


Understanding the Experience

Our team knew that in order to design solutions for PA WIC participants, we would need to better understand the lives of participants as well as the PA WIC experience. To do so, we visited clinics, “walked in participants’ shoes,” and conducted narrative-based interviews.

Clinic Visits

To explore the physical space further, our team visited 2 clinics and also received images from 10 additional clinics.  

Our goal was to better understand the physical environment of the WIC clinic and waiting room.

Narrative Interviews

We talked to 4 participants to learn about their ideals, concepts, and knowledge about nutrition and how their habits have changed throughout their lives.

Our goal was to better understand how WIC participants make decisions regarding nutrition and how these decisions manifest in their day-to-day lives.

Empathy Building

Our team realized that user-centered research is more than just talking to participants. We aimed to learn from mothers and caregivers in order understand their needs. We did this by enrolling ourselves in the WIC program and going through mock appointments with nutritionists, simulating parenting by taking care of a realistic baby doll for a few days, and went grocery shopping for WIC foods.

Key Findings

  • Clinic operations and experiences varied significantly between each clinic.
  • High uncertainty led to additional effort in the shopping and appointment experiences.
  • Caregivers are extremely busy and stressed. Resources need to be easily accessible and actionable to fit into their lives.


Reimagining the WIC Experience

We continued to engage with PA WIC participants and staff to better understand their challenges and priorities within WIC.

Conceptual Prototype

We ran a co-design session with participants to assess how they would prioritize additional resources WIC could offer. We had them build a “magic WIC app” using a number of buttons.

We asked participants to drag on pre-labeled buttons and think-aloud as they made their decisions. We then asked them what they would want each button to do and had them rank their priorities based on the buttons they dragged into the app.


Our team ran a co-design workshop with 30 PA WIC staff from Allegheny County. Each group of 10 staff participated in an activity where they brainstormed the long-term impact and goals they had for PA WIC. Then, they came up with “shifts” that would need to happen in order to achieve these goals. Lastly, each group picked the shift they thought was the most important and ideated on possible solutions that can be implemented to reach this shift as well as the constraints for these ideas.

Speed Dating

We generated solutions that addressed each high-level need we saw in participants. The needs were: reducing effort, increasing access, improving integration, and forming habit. We then created 7 storyboards, or sketches of scenarios, that illustrated these ideas and conducted a rapid exploration of ideas by engaging in a discussion with 7 participants by showing them these storyboards.

Key Findings

  • Reducing the effort regarding keeping track of WIC appointments and benefit plans would greatly improve participants’ experience on WIC.
  • Participants wanted better access to nutritional resources that fit into their busy lives.
  • WIC staff feels like many problems WIC faces are outside of their control but are eager to be more involved in the process of improving WIC services.


"It was just too confusing to me and I didn't have the time"


WIC benefits aren't free

Simply staying on WIC can be a lot of work. Having to skip work, plan for appointments and card reloads, and figuring out which items are WIC approved or remaining on their balance are just a few of the struggles that WIC participants experience. With financial benefits playing such an important role in their decisions to stay in the program, families prioritize features that simplified this process.


WIC resources aren’t there

Participants have difficulty finding WIC resources. Participants do not have the time nor energy to parse through these resources.

A lot of the resources are spread out, which makes finding them difficult. Participants don’t just want health and nutrition education, they want immediate answers, catered advice, and valuable support.
"I didn't even know WIC offers classes"
"WIC is there when you run out of food stamps"


WIC is perceived as “just another benefit program”

We found that, for many caregivers, simply providing the food benefits and resources may not be enough. Caregivers are extremely busy and often struggle to balance nutrition with convenience and cost. Families needed more support to integrate these foods and resources into their lives. For PA WIC to more effectively influence the family’s nutrition, their support needs to extend beyond the infrequent contact and scripted interactions they have now.


Building long-term nutritional habits require more engagement

Developing healthy habits can be very difficult. PA WIC wants to help their participants develop long-lasting and positive healthy habits. However, things like effort, lack of access, and minimal integration support demotivate participants from forming these habits in the first place. Without WIC, many former participants go back to their previous habits. PA WIC must implement support and resources that enable participants to integrate healthier habits into their lives.

What does this mean?

WIC families deeply care about their nutrition and health.

However, in order to receive the most value from PA WIC,
caregivers need resources that require minimal effort, are personalized, flexible, and supportive.

How did we do this?
Check out our design process
Design Process