Collaborating with RCA Design Students

“code + food = ?”

As part of Tesco Labs’ continued outreach to academic and research institutions we have been excited to partner recently with the Design Products faculty of the London Royal College of Art.   During winter 2016 and spring 2017 we exchanged visits and feedback with 13 MA students as they embarked on tackling the brief: ‘code + food = ?’

Senior Tutor at the RCA Dr Robert Phillips created the initial brief below and contacted Tesco to ask if we would help to support.

‘Exploring the combination of food & technology

Hunger remains a challenge for the 795 million people worldwide who still do not have adequate access to safe, nutritious food in their communities, while global populations are expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Our relationship with food in the UK is becoming costly, distant and unsustainable, our consumption reliant on international producers. In a nation where we are experiencing increasing digital opportunities but also increasing evidence of class-based stratification and inequality, how can we inspire design students to not only think critically about food security issues, but also to build their own digital solutions aimed at provoking positive change? Furthermore, what are the design opportunities for innovative food and technology collaborations between industry and academia that can help solve core issues around food production, distribution, consumption, and security?

Design Products at the Royal College of Art, launched a project entitled Code + Food = ?, collaborating with a new set of industry partners and discussants, from Tescos, Microsoft and Growing Underground. We applied a three-stage process to learning, stressing a research-based approach to ensure design outputs were based on grounded evidence. The first stage, called SENSE/MAKE, focused on evidence gathering, and identification of design challenges to explore. This included field trips in collaboration with industry partners, from web grocery distribution centres to underground micro seed grow-ops. In stage two, MAKE/DEPLOY, students were prompted to experiment, deploy and intervene, iterating on their own design ideas with the help of hands-on workshops and 1:1 tutorials. The responses have ranged from: retail experiences through digital devices, health and wellbeing, reduction in food waste, using food to create music, rebalancing meat consumption and a more sustainable approach to rice farming. Food, its design, impact and implementation are key to our survival and emulates part of the Design Products approach of “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion…” (Thomas Paine 1780).’

During October 2016 Robert and his students visited Tesco Labs where they were immersed in the world of Tesco Technology, and walked through the key role role it plays in supporting the operation of the food retail business. The Tesco Labs team then completed a return trip to the RCA in January to support and feed back on the early project concepts being developed.

Tesco Labs introduced the students to some of the exciting new technology shaping the future of food retailing, including introductions to Tesco’s cutting edge developments within the area of APIs and Services through to the potential of Robotics and IoT.

Most recently Tesco was treated to an amazing day of final presentations from the students which took place on 21 March 2017 at the Tesco’s head office in Welwyn Garden City. It was an inspiring and illuminating event attended by lucky colleagues from across the Tesco business.

Tesco Labs are delighted to be part of this fresh new collaboration, and enthusiastic about the prospect of continuing and deepening the relationship with Robert and the Design Products team in the future.

(P.S: COMING SOON. Look out for videos of the students’ excellent final presentations.)

Our dynamic advertising has changed

Last month, we introduced you to our F&F Forecaster project. We’ve learnt lots since installing the screens at our Hammersmith Metro store and we’ve made some updates.

You can read our first instalment about this project here. The purpose of the very big, very bright screens was to tell a story to those who passed by:

“You know, you can purchase clothes online from F&F and collect them in store the next day.”

We decided it would be fun to achieve this by displaying a weather forecast for the following day, and presenting relevant clothing choices.

F&F Forecaster v1

Next we asked you, the public, what you thought. You told us you liked seeing the weather forecast. We get that – it’s useful, and we’re not asking you to buy anything. However our story, as described above, proved difficult to understand in the environment. Outside our Hammersmith Metro store is certainly a very busy place, but not many of you spend much time there as you’re usually on your way to or from the tube station nearby.

So in the spirit of iterative design, we changed it. We removed our Click & Collect message completely, and refocussed on the link between the weather forecast and clothing purchases.

F&F Forecaster v2

Our revised designs see the weather forecast visual duplicated on the first and third screens. We also redesigned it to make it even simpler to digest. Specifically, it includes a summary (e.g. “It’s going to be cloudy”), the felt temperature and the chance of rain. Each of these facets of the forecast appear sequentially, one at a time.

The clothing carousel visual remains on the middle screen, but we have also added a visual cue to look down toward the interaction points, as you suggested that they weren’t prominent enough:


Having made these changes, we spent the day in Hammersmith speaking to you again, and we learned some more, valuable lessons.

Our trial in Hammersmith has drawn to a close. We appreciate all of the feedback you’ve provided in Hammersmith, on Twitter and indeed on this blog. We’ll learn from all of our findings to make an even better proposition for you next time!

The other side of NRF…

…this year we exhibited at the world’s largest retail show in New York, the National Retail Federation’s Big Show.

This year’s trip to NRF’s Big Show, which is the largest retail tech conference on the planet, was a bit different for us. Instead of just going as visitors we were there exhibiting alongside IBM.

We’ve been working on a project with one of their research teams in Israel for a while now on a platform that recognises products on a shelf and feeds back whether or not they’re in the right place according to the plan, or flags them if they’re out of stock.


It was great to hear from other retailers on what they thought of the system and how it might be able to help them too. You can see a video about it from last year here if you want to know more.

It’s not just for store colleagues though, it can also overlay nutritional information on a photo of a shelf so you can easily see, for example, which product has the lowest sugar or fat. In the future this sort of tech could be combined with wearables to enabled personalised merchandising – imagine having a peanut allergy and your glasses hiding or marking all the products with peanuts in them?

Some of the highlights of the rest of the show included HPs new Sprout concept which brings together a 3D camera, projector and large touch surface along with an all in one PC to great effect. The way it made digitising a fabric sample so it could be manipulated and shared was really quick and we’re sure there will be lots of interesting things we can do with it.


One of the partners on Microsoft’s stand had rigged up a Kinect high above a set of Xbox game shelves. When you reached out for one of the games the trailer for it would start playing on the screen above. Really simple idea and execution – we’ve dabbled with this sort of thing in the past at a hackathon but every product had to have a switch underneath it. Using the Kinect meant there was no need to instrument everything.


Following on from last years trends there was a continuing growth in wifi and video analytics and adding in new data sources to better understand customers behaviour and improve their shopping experience.

After the show we visited some interesting stores which we’ll save for another post…

Ok Glass, Find a product…

A developer’s perspective on one of the most talked about wearables of recent times.

My colleagues have heard me say this several hundred times over the last few months. They have taken delight in the different search terms I have had to come up with; partly to test the glassware, but also just to entertain them. It’s rather liberating to talk to yourself at your desk, despite the ridicule from your colleagues.

Of course, you can also scan a barcode: “Ok Glass scan a product”.

We started this experiment in June last year. We had a prototype working, and filmed a conceptual video about how customers might use the glassware. Since then, it has changed substantially, although the principle functions remain. We have refined and shortened the user journeys and also clarified the experience to make it consistent with the Glass design patterns. 

If you are already a Glass wearer, you should find the experience very familiar and you can try the glassware out. As this is a very early experiment you can only add items to your basket and view nutritional information, but it’s enough to give a sense of what it would be like to interact with Tesco on this type of hardware.

Download it

More info and support

From a developers’ perspective, working with Glass has been a joy. The updates to Android Studio that have made Android development more accessible all apply to Glass development. The Glass Development Kit (GDK) documentation is good and getting better. The community is helpful and proactive about sharing knowledge, especially on stackoverflow. The Glass team at Google does all they can to try to make sure the glassware delivers the best experience possible.  This is a challenge given how Glass is still being developed, so it can be somewhat of a moving target. The Glass software platform went through 6 updates in the time we worked with it, which shows how much Google is still investing in the platform.

Given the steady flow of software updates, and the various articles that have been published alluding to updated Glass hardware,  I can’t help but feel this is still the beginning of the journey for Glass and for Tesco.

Help wanted with our grocery shopping experiment!

Making a more intuitive way for customers to shop their favourites.

At the 2014 Tesco Globe’athon (our first global Hackathon) we had the idea to make the ‘favourites’ ‘browse and shop’ experience more optimal by allowing customers to organise them in more personally intuitive groups, in ways that make sense for them.

Favourites on the website, actually refers to past purchases in store or online and, with wide palates and big families, can become a very long list for a regular Tesco shopper. I should know, I’ve got over 540 favourites!!

We already offer customers the ability to create ‘shopping lists’ on the Tesco grocery website, but we wanted to recognise the centrality these ‘favourite’ or ‘previously purchased’ products have to a weekly grocery shop and extend a similar feature just to them.

It is our hypothesis that if there were a way for customers to organise, browse and shop their ‘favourites’ more intuitively then customers may well become more satisfied with their overall order.

What we’ve done:
We’ve created Foodlisto which provides a stand-alone window into a customer’s grocery favourites.

Foodlisto allows customers to login with their existing grocery details and:

  • Create bespoke categories for their favourites
  • List sort those categories that are created
  • Edit and update the name and the contents of categories that are created

(*Customers can also add products to their actual basket using Foodlisto. But customers cannot check-out on Foodlisto itself.)

What we’d like to do now with Foodlisto:
We want to learn more about our customer’s appetite for organising their favourites this way and also which categories are created.

To achieve this we are currently looking for willing recruits to use Foodlisto and categorise their favourites for us.

Over a period of 6 weeks, from mid December 2014 to the end of January 2015, we will collect all category names that get created and the products within them.  We really want to know if this is useful and how you real people would use it.

All the data and insight generated from Foodlisto will be passed to the grocery development team to help them improve the  overall customer experience*

How you can help:
This experiment has now closed but we have created a short video below to show how categorising your favourites work with Foodlisto would work.

Please note: Foodlisto is a hack and works best on larger screens. We recommend you are on a laptop or desktop computer. Foodlisto will not currently work on smartphones or screens smaller than an iPad in landscape view.

Data Caveat: for more information on the security and privacy of your data, please see

but basically for the duration of our experiment please be aware that the names and contents of the food categories you create on Foodlisto will be recorded and shared internally at Tesco. This information will be recorded anonymously and will not be distributed with anyone outside of Tesco. If you would not like your category data used in this way then please don’t use Foodlisto. 

A lesson in ‘experience design’ from our customers during ‘Feet on The Floor.’

How even the smallest things can make a big difference for customers.

To get the most from my ‘Feet on the Floor’ (the six days all Head Office colleagues spend in store in the run up to Christmas) I’ve decided to ‘walk the walk’ (see what I’ve done there) and focus all energy on being friendly, helpful and empathetic.

I am naturally intrigued by and drawn to what difference this actually makes when you are working on the shop floor and what clues I can gather for my work as a designer at Tesco.

In practical terms ‘walking the walk’ has translated in to a few simple things:

I greet customers as I encounter them. Typically with a ‘good morning’ a ‘good afternoon’ or a simple classic ‘hello.’

I offer assistance when I sense it’s needed. Typically with an ‘is everything OK there?’ or a ‘hi there, can I help?’

I respond politely and quickly myself when approached directly or I swiftly refer on to a more informed colleague. Typically ‘with a ‘yes/no sir/madam… I believe the product in question is over here’ or a ‘if you give me two minutes sir/madam I’ll check with a colleague/I’ll double check the back room for you.’

I smile at customers as I encounter them in the aisle.

At first I wasn’t sure how my ‘chirpiness’ would be construed. Happily, this slight sense of personal awkwardness isn’t mutual.

As anyone who has done this will know, the results are indisputably positive.

Every greeting I have made has been returned. Every small customer mission I have undertaken has been met with gratitude and warmth. I’ve encountered zero customers who are unprepared to interact at some level with me.

In a couple of instances I’ve even heard a faint murmur of happiness or spotted a fleeting glance of satisfaction as a customer has headed toward the tills with the product they wanted. When that has happened it has also made me feel good.

The powerful lesson here is that performing these simple interactions correctly has a disproportionately large impact.

If we bring this in to context of designing future experiences for Tesco it’s a reminder to have a broad lens when working on Tesco products and services of the future.

Our ‘experience design’ practices must start with an acknowledgement that our customers are human first and consumers second.  Compelling design therefore must meet both our customer’s human needs whilst completely satisfying their needs as consumers.

We know that friendly, tactile micro interactions produce this magical feel good effect. They reveal the path we must take to make customers feel good.

The opportunity for us in Tesco right now is to both remember this and to really invest in as many ways as possible to cater for and replicate this feel good effect.

As an important action in the lab this is a theme I want to carry in to 2015. It makes me feel very excited about the opportunities for designing new retail experiences at Tesco in the future.

Project: Meal Deal Express

We’re running a live experiment in our Dean Street Metro store next week!

Background and Introduction

We’re working on a project with the London Format team which will ultimately achieve the goal of “I Don’t Queue”. Queuing is real issue in central Metro and Express London stores particularly at lunchtimes when customers are choosing the popular £3 Meal Deal and proceeding to the checkouts faster than the checkouts can process them.

The latest checkouts can process customers faster (as can ‘scan as you shop’) but checking-out at the end of the shop can still be improved. So our aim is to find a way where we completely eliminate checkouts. In our vision of a future customers walk into any Tesco, fill their basket or trolley, and walk straight out again.

Goals and Objectives

To start the first phase of this work, we’ve created a one week (Monday to Friday) experiment called “Meal Deal Express” where we have taken queuing and completely designed it out.

We have built a ‘Meal Deal Express’ zone in the centre of Dean Street Metro in Soho which consists of three adjacent ‘stations’. Customers move along the stations choosing one item from each. They then checkout by either tapping a contactless payment card on an NFC terminal constantly set to debit £3 from any card tapped on it, or by using a mobile payments app that makes them scan a QR code then tap ‘Pay’. These two options were chosen because it takes no more than 5 seconds to process the transaction. The entire checkout time is 5 seconds. The customer then happily walks out of the door.

The ’30 second challenge’ is on!

Summary (for those in a hurry)
• Tesco Labs are conducting an experiment to speed up the purchasing of popular Meal Deals.
• We are running the experiment for one week (13-17 Oct 12-2pm) in one store, Dean Street Metro, London
• We are working with innovative suppliers to see how fast customers can purchase their meals with new technology.
• Results of the week-long experiment will be fed in.