Role: UX Researcher & Designer
Duration: 11 weeks
Method: Sprint (Agile)
Class: Rapid Prototyping
Tools: Sketch, Material Design, Flaticon, Keynote
The Gardenio mobile app is designed, in conjunction with their Growboxes, to support somebody new to growing food across their food growing journey, which is inherently cyclical. It connects people to the information, supplies, and people they need to be successful. The client wanted the class to work on the Growth Engine part of the app which is powered by an active, robust, helpful community, with tools that connect people made for the at-home food grower.
The Growth Engine was supposed to be launched in March 2019 or later and is focused upon creating a sense of:
Identity, Communication, Media (sharing), Trust, Organization, Self-sustaining community, and Engagement.
Growth Engine is supposed to create and foster an organized, specialized place for new (and experienced) food growers to talk to each other and help each other out
With more resources at hand and co-operation from the team at Gardenio, I believe a content audit of the existing website and mobile app and mapping the existing user base, their concerns, and expectations (in the form of support calls and feedback) would have helped ideation for the growth engine more.
However, after presenting the BMC to the client, they suggested they very specifically wanted us to explore the business only from a social and community standpoint helping them out with the Growth Engine
How do we leverage people and community – and the data we have about them – to improve people’s growing and social experience with Gardenio?
How do we create a self-sustaining, robust, and nurturing community of users who grow their own food and inspire others to do the same?
For the purpose of this project, the client asked us to focus on the urban food-growers which they target as the primary user group for the Gardenio business as a whole. These are the people, usually with 9 to 5 full-day jobs and lives in apartments as opposed to bungalows with a garden or backyard.
A quick audit of Gardenio's website and then mobile app indicated a very playful vibe full of colors, colloquialism, and a strong focus on urban food growers.
The client had mentioned that solutions exist in the form of communities on social media and forums like Reddit but they are tribal, fragmented, and inconsistent. So, a competitor analysis seemed like the genuine next step to delve into the problem space. I looked at all the competitors through the lens of social engagement and realised that various companies and products were exploring the concept in different ways and yet none of them were completely conceptualized and developed from a user-perspective.
There is no organized, specialized place for new (and experienced) food growers to talk to each other and help each other out.
User Interviews & Personas
Because the client did not provide us with any existing research, I recruited a sample of 6 prospective users through friends, family and colleagues living in the USA. The sample set represented the target user base and comprised mostly of engineers and business professionals living in cities like California, Austin and Newyork. I spoke to the users in an informal setting to understand their perspective on urban gardening and how (if only) it fits in their busy lifestyle. These interviews helped me flesh out some user personas.
Some of the interview questions included:
What factors do you consider before choosing to buy a plant?
What are the kind of plants you prefer growing and have grown in the past?
How do make time for gardening?
How do you ensure that your plants survive or they don't die?
Are there any apps, services, or people you consult with for your plant health? And how do you do so?
What other things do you like doing in your free time?
I would have preferred a participant sample belonging to a range of expertise levels, diverse lifestyles, various age groups, etc. to reveal the simpler yet deeper rooted problems, expectations, and motivations when it comes to food growing and gardening.
A simplified user journey created and inspired from the discussions with people earlier. The identified phases for social engagement are marked by green-dashed-boxes.
Moving on from a bird's eye view, I decided to get my hands dirty by sketching a thorough journey map to visualize the relationship of users with the Gardenio app. Then, I moved on to questioning every big and small process in the journey may, that I could lay a finger on using an HMW or How Might We format.
How Might We?
Some How Might We (HMW) questions that I specifically explored to inform the ensuing design phase are:
How Might We create a spirit of community that includes all users (new and old, expert and novice) and involve users in the community as soon as they sign-up?
How Might We help novice users with a limited amount of time set on a path of plant care ensuring that their plants survive?
How Might We include the activity gardening on an existing habit so that it develops into a habit?
For the ideation phase, I borrowed some pages from Jake Knapp's book Sprint. I started by creating storyboards. Taking the storyboard in conjunction with the HMWs and the Business Model Canvas, I fleshed out some scenarios that would help inform the ensuing design phase. Scenarios helped me tie research findings and the ideas to the client expectations of creating an online community.
While creating the scenarios, I kept the development feasibility and time constraints in mind as the client was on a strict schedule for the launch of the Growth Engine. I chalked out 6 scenarios in total and created a step-by-step instructional guide on how the user will ideally walk through each scenario using the mobile app. This gave me a headstart with the design process by putting a rough number and concept of screens to be designed in perspective.
I used the Crazy 8's technique to start sketching and get into the design mode. I sketched design ideas for all 6 scenarios and selected 3 scenarios based on a majority vote (between Professor, colleagues and friends/prospective users) to take forward for creating high-fidelity designs.
The images above are some of the ideas I explored (aligning with the scenarios discussed in the last section) to understand how users or rather humans would normally engage in the process of gardening, especially beginners or nevice gardeners.
Low Fidelity Designs
I used the Crazy 8's technique to start sketching and get into the design mode. I sketched design ideas for all 6 scenarios and selected 3 scenarios based on a majority vote (between Professor, colleagues, and friends/prospective users) to take forward for creating high-fidelity designs. I borrowed the concepts and approaches defined by Google in their People + AI Guidebook (PAIR) to define the scope and use of AI in the app and keep the experience as transparent as possible.
We prioritized scenarios & lo-fi design ideas keeping in mind the 4 key principles that the client envisioned for Gardenio's growth engine - Identity, Engagement, Media & Share, Organized.
Identity, Engagement, Media & Share
High Fidelity Designs
Given limited time and resources, I went to Austin Downtown during the lunch hour to test the designed application and collect some user feedback
A client presentation was the final leg of the project where I presented my research findings, design process, ideas and prototype in front of Roman (founder of Gardenio).
The idea of including AI as a part of the experience sounds cool and that is something we are pushing really hard at Gardenio right now. I think it will be helpful for naive urban food growers who have just started growing food, and it doesn't hurt the motivation angle angle either if the plants survive.
This was my first every full-blown UX design project that I worked on independently and as Masters's student. I had previously been comfortable with inVision for prototyping and wireframing and as a part of the Rapid Prototyping class, I chose to learn and work with Sketch. As a part of the design process, I realized that the validation of the app or designs you create no matter the fidelity, is as crucial as the design and product itself. And the data collected from usability testing or any validation technique should be considered seriously to inform the design of the final product.
Another important learning had been the creation of symbols and a style sheet before delving deep into high-fidelity screen designing. This helps speed up the process and preserves consistency throughout the designed prototype. I was not as satisfied with the designs I created when it came to color selection, iconography, and the use of whitespace. I learned the power of whitespace, shadows, rounded corners, and gradients in making a design beautiful and clean.
I learned that with each prototype and project, I have grown as a designer and it was important for me to do a hands-on independent project to discover my preferences and personal style as a UX designer.