by Kirsten Peters, M.S., User Experience Specialist
I am currently teaching myself to cook by experimenting with different recipes I find in books and online. These recipes are my guides, which help me learn different techniques to create delicious meals. In my culinary adventures, I have noticed that most recipes follow the same basic format of listing the ingredients and the steps involved, as shown in Figure 1.
While working with these types of recipes, I have discovered some common characteristics that have confused me and led me to make mistakes. With just a few minor tweaks, I know mistakes like mine can be avoided. Here are three things that would make recipes more usable, not to mention make me feel more confident in the kitchen:
Set realistic expectations. It was really frustrating to realize that the meatloaf I was making recently was going to take a lot longer to prepare than the recipe said it would. I also didn't like it when I found out halfway through preparing a frittata that I needed to use a type of pan I didn't own. I wish I had known this ahead of time and avoided these unpleasant surprises.
Recipes should provide an accurate time estimate for preparation and cooking. This estimate should include things like the time to boil the noodles or chop the vegetables. Recipes should also provide a list of pans and tools needed, especially if they require a unique item that may need to be purchased or pulled out of storage. This information should be listed as close to the top of the recipe as possible.
Make recipes accessible to everyone. I have learned many techniques since I started cooking: sautéing, poaching, julienning... the list goes on.
However, I am still a beginner. If all that a recipe
says is "reduce sauce to desired consistency," I have
trouble pin-pointing exactly what that means. It can
be discouraging when I have to go through a mountain
of reference materials, searching for information
without which I cannot move on.
To make recipes accessible to all users, additional
information needs to be provided. This can be
accomplished using an insert describing the basics or
an appendix of detailed instructions that is referred
to within the recipe. A picture, like the one in
Figure 1a, is also a good way to show how the dish
should look when it is complete or to illustrate how
to "flute" a pie crust, for example.
Minimize mental workload.
While cooking, I often have to look back and forth
between the step-by-step instructions and the
ingredients list. And that is in addition to dealing
with time pressures and outside distractions.
When I am constantly moving my eyes between the two
sections, I have been known to transpose the
measurements of two different ingredients or even
miss an ingredient.
One method of reducing the mental workload is to align
the ingredients and cooking instructions and organize
them by step, as shown in Figure 2. Using this layout,
I no longer have to keep jumping from the top of the
page to the middle or bottom when trying to complete
It is important, though, to ensure the breaks make
sense and that each action is a separate step. While
this may create more lines, it will make the directions
easier to follow. However, it is also important to keep
in mind that recipes should not take up more than one
page or two facing pages, if in a book. I find it even
harder to follow a recipe if I have to flip a page in
order to read on.
Recipes are used by cooks with all levels of experience,
all of whom want to succeed. By making just a few adjustments
to the common format, recipes can become more approachable
and easier to use, so beginners like me have a greater
chance of success.
Kirsten Peters is a User Experience Specialist at User
While finishing her industrial engineering
degree, Kirsten fell in love with human factors and
ergonomics. She had discovered that her engineering
problem solving skills are perfectly suited for creating
interesting research projects, analyzing data, and assisting
in the design of unique design solutions. Kirsten especially
enjoys working on projects involving motor learning and
control and human factors of industrial and manufacturing
settings and video games.
Prior to joining UC, she worked with Firestone as an
Industrial Engineer and also at Caterpillar and Yahoo!
as an intern. Kirsten is a member of HFES.
Kirsten likes to spend her spare time hiking and biking
and exploring the outdoors and she enjoys visiting Wildlife
Parks and Zoos wherever she travels.
Qualifications: B.S. in
Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University, M.S.
in Human Factors and Ergonomics from San Jose State
University, Certified Associate Ergonomist from Oxford