EMPATHY MAP, USER INTERVIEWS AND ARCHETYPES

I started off interviewing busy students and professionals about the problems they experienced in taking care of indoor plants. These qualitative interviews turned out to reveal a lot of their emotions. People said things like, “I wanted a basil plant to cook with in my kitchen, but then it died”, or “It was embarrassing when my friend gave me a plant for my birthday and a few weeks later she noticed it wasn’t in my house anymore.” Overall, people seemed to really like having indoors plants, but for various different reasons they were incapable of taking care of them. We thought there must be a better way to enable people to keep their plants alive, that did not depend on their schedule, their level of attention or their knowledge of how to care for plants.

To gain more insights into our users, we brought together their specific points of view and created archetypes of what their opinion represented.  This made designing prototypes easier because when we had Colleen and Michael in mind we had a better understanding of whether each of them would like what we created.

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MARKET RESEARCH

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We then moved on to exploring what already existed in the market. There were a lot of different options for plants, in terms of species, size and other facts such as which room they lived in in a house. From this research, we discovered that there were in fact environmental hydroponics and self-watering plant systems.

From the systems we liked, we decided to combine their offerings into our own new systems, and sketch examples of potential prototypes. First, we wrote down some problems in user points of views that we aimed to solve with each design. Then we sketched them and recorded the pros and cons of the prototype.

We learned a lot about plant-care and other technical indoors systems from talking to Jack Pilutti, a senior in the College studying Environmental Science.

WHAT ALREADY EXISTS (RECAP)

WATER HYDROPONICS

  • This was the most sophisticated, environmental and effective automatic watering system, as proposed by Jack
  • Pros: Ability to hold many plants, customisable appearance; did not need to be watered
  • Cons: Hard to assemble; every plant is watered the same amount; no easy way to check water reservoir.
  • While we saw the drawbacks in this solution, we used elements of it to explore different prototypes and sketch new ideas.
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Sketching (to better understand these solutions)

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WHAT COULD EXIST

Once we had synthesized all that we had learned from the design process so far, we began to draw mockups of what an integrated, self-watering and species-specific plant care system would look like. This was our opportunity to get creative and imagine the future of potted indoor plants. Features we imagined included:

  • Detachable water tank so that you would not have to water the plant as frequently
  • Solar-powered IOT device on the planter pot to help you monitor plant health levels
  • App that would serve to inform plant owners of the optimal conditions needed for growth
  • Sensors to detect the level of nutrients and water in the soil
  • IOT food dispenser to give the plant the right level of nutrients at all times
  • Insertable thermometer to give a more accurate picture of how quickly the plant was using up water
  • Customizable plant pots to optimize growth of certain species in certain sizes of pots

I then drew some quick sketches to help us visualize these opportunities

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I spent a lot of time developing the idea of the detachable water tank. I planned to have it sit under a plant in any pot and be connected through tubes to the plant’s soil. The detachable tank would store a lot of water so users did not have to add more regularly, and it would also have a food pipette system that would add food to the plant depending on how much it needed for the optimal growth of its species.

I sketched the tank itself, the food box system (i.e. the clamped pipette and what it would look like), as well as the water input hole.

Then I drew up some criteria of all the features this tank would have to include in order for it to work. Overall it was a complex but good idea that solved a lot of our problems. In the end, Tyler and Peter wanted to have a pot where the technology was more integrated into the pot, so we switched tack for the low fidelity prototypes.

PROTOTYPING

LOW FIDELITY

For the low fidelity prototypes, we designed a smart planter pot in CAD and used the physical foam core version for user feedback. Then in paper we designed the app that was made to connect the user to what they wanted to know about the plant and ensure that they understood how to best look after it.

Planter

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App

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HIGH FIDELITY

Once we had compiled the learnings from the low fidelity prototypes, we then developed an improved CAD mockup and digital version of the app.

For the smart planter, we put two large tanks on the side so that the user could easily see what they were supposed to take out and refill. These tanks were made of acrylic. There was also a pot in the center where the plant would go, and it would be releasable so that the user could change the plant. The rest of the unit was made out of wood in order to be durable and so it would not topple over for the larger plants and small trees.

In between developing the paper app and the final app, we had two more iterations of a digital app. The final app combines the best parts of what we learned from all three iterations. Finally, for each high fidelity prototype, we interviewed users for feedback.

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