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Carousel Connections Cookbook

Case Study


The Challenge

Carousel Connections is a Philadelphia-based group that helps teenagers and young adults with intellectual disabilities and developmental delay gain life skills and independence. In the spring of 2021, the organization approached a team of students that included myself, 2 other graphic design undergraduates, 2 User Experience Graduates, and 3 Occupational Therapy Doctorates, to develop projects that help facilitate these learning experiences. One of the projects, which I focused on, was the development of a cookbook to be used by participants at cooking classes at Carousel Connections. As the participants face different intellectual and developmental challenges, the recipe information has to be presented in a way that clearly communicates to promote participants’ independence when following it. 

The design solution should address the various sensory needs faced by the participants, including varying literacy levels, preference for images vs. type, and sensitivity to overwhelming sensory experiences, such as loud noises or hot surfaces. Each participant has unique needs and obstacles, so creating one overall format and system would work for all users. Initial proposals for features to address this include: a modular / dynamic system with customizable components, optional tools for focusing, step-by-step before and after photos, and color coding & visuals to combat information overload.

How might we support the development of cooking skills in adults with intellectual disabilities by improving engagement and participation in the cooking process?


The OT students completed primary and secondary research to best understand the participants at Carousel Connections, as well as developmental delay and intellectual disabilities. In tandem with the OT students’ primary and secondary research on the users themselves, the designers explored other, existing systems that address similar challenges as this project. 

Additionally, to better understand the participants and their point of view, journey maps were developed to explore how they follow and complete a recipe, with emphasis on exploring aspects of the process that many may take for granted, such as background knowledge of how to operate a knife or stove, low noises in certain appliances that may be overwhelming, and even skills such as literacy.


Design Process


Keeping the project requirements and research findings in mind, I began sketching to develop a layout direction for the book. The impetus for this ideation was the idea of a modular and gridded format that not only isolates recipe components to combat information overload and help participants follow the steps, but also allows for customization and autonomy in that different ingredients could be added or substituted.

Journey Map


Layout Sketches & Peer Feedback

Initial Prototypes & Feedback

From this, initial layout prototypes were developed, with two possible directions: the step scale, and tiered pages, both of which address making the recipe steps easy to follow. The step scale book includes an apparatus to slide up and down the page to indicate the current step, while the different-sized tiered pages attempted to make book navigation more obvious and easy to visualize. Additionally, “blank” pages include sensory-based positive reinforcement to encourage the participant to continue on with their cooking. Both prototypes also utilize “look and match” photographs of each step, as well as sensory icons that alert both the participant and their mentor of possibly stressful experiences during the cooking process, including indications for high heat, sharp tools, and loud noises.


Initial Prototypes: two options were presented to CC

Both of these were presented to Carousel Connections employees, and they provided feedback, saying the Tiered Pages may be too difficult to practically implement for CC’s usage, but, the positive reinforcement is a great addition and should be used. The movable step scale could be very beneficial. Therefore, we decided to proceed with the step scale direction.

User Testing

The next step involved testing prototypes with actual users, so I designed a sample recipe prototype, while the OT student would go to Carousel Connections at least every Tuesday and Friday over the course of a month (6-7 total sessions). The participant and their mentor would attempt to follow a recipe using the prototype, then provide feedback for improvements after.


User testing prototype sample


User testing sessions with participants and mentors


User testing session feedback

Final Design

The final solution is a template that Carousel Connections employees and their participants can fill in to create a customized cookbook for each user's particular needs and wants. It features large and simple typefaces for legibility, laminated pages for taking notes, and a binder format to allow the participant and their mentor to customize the cookbook according to the particular participant's needs.​​


The introduction to each recipe includes icons representing particular sensory components (such as sharp tools, loud noises, and hot stoves), as well as an indication whether a food can be eaten "always", "sometimes", or as a "treat", determined by the participant and mentor. 


Each step is divided by rows, allowing for the easy usage of  the included reading guide strip to help the participant isolate the step that they are on. Literal photos of each ingredient and step allow the participant to easily check to make sure they are properly following the recipe.


Certain important parts of the process, such as washing hands, are emphasized to help remind the participant to complete it. Additionally, the use of positive sensory reinforcement in some sections helps the participant feel excited and confident about their work.


The cookbook was formatted as a Google Docs document to allow Carousel Connections employees to easily access, edit, and copy the layout for creating the cookbook recipes. The book is intended to be able to be printed out, laminated, and compiled in a binder for each participant.

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