Growing a product story

Tamapotchi note #7

Ivo Domburg
Apr 30, 2015 · 3 min read

Every product needs a story. To create the product’s character. To set the context for it’s design and development. To engage people. A story is not a static thing, it evolves as the product develops. New insights and lessons learned might change a product’s focus, certain technology choices could offer new opportunities or impose restrictions. Design is about capturing and envisioning these stories. Making sure they get told, heard, discussed and rewritten.

For Tamapotchi, our smart flower pot project, I’ve been publishing stories about it’s development here on Medium, for everyone to read and comment on. Some people tell me it is not very clever to share these kind of ideas publicly. I would be genuinly honoured though, when others would be inspired by us and build their own smart flower pot. Like we were inspired by the work and ideas of others. In folk music songs are reinterpreted by musicians over and over again, without someone ever claiming ownership. Go ahead, call me a hippie, but I believe we gain more by sharing our experiences than we would when keeping it all to ourselves.

The public exposure of our project has generated all sorts of feedback so far, that has helped us shape Tamapotchi’s story. And some of our technical peers have been very helpful in providing some practical pointers for building the prototype. But the most important effect of these articles has been the suspense they created around the project. People seem intrigued, want to know more and ask about it. That is a real motivation-booster. And of course we make sure to keep our answers somewhat vague and abstract. To feed that suspense. And because we honestly don’t know where this is heading.

The past weeks our product’s story has pivoted like a couple dancing a tango. On ice. Drunk. In case you’ve never seen someone dancing on ice or never danced when drunk yourself; it is wildly erratic but has an aesthetic quality of it’s own. First our story was about a flower pot that helps it’s owner keeping his plant alive. Then it became a new sales channel for garden centers. After that it became some sort of social experiment to establish an emotional connection between a human and a plant using technology. And now our Tamapotchi story has swifeled once more and is about learning childeren about nature and how to care for it.

So now it’s a toy! We imagine magic moments in which kids ask their tomato sprout about it’s day, and the little tomato actually answering and asking about their day at school. And how somehow in this conversation the plant will let the kid know it needs a little bit more daylight and is actually quite thirsty. Tamapotchi will learn children how to care for a plant by giving the plant a voice. Quite literally. This story seems to stick, for it hasn’t changed much since we came up with it two weeks ago.

The prototype is slowly but surely progressing as well. All this pivoting hasn’t disrupted it’s development much, because I was still pretty much in the process of learning about the basics of microcontrollers, Bluetooth and building smartphone applications. Our working setup now consists of an Arduino-based sensor unit that measures light, temperature and soil moisture levels and stores these for 10 days. We use Phonegap to build a smartphone app that connects to the sensor unit with Bluetooth, reads the data and… that’s as far as we got for now.

It might not sound like much, but we have tried, failed and learned a lot in order to get to this point. Now we have the hardware working and know how to build the Phonegap app that communicates with it, we feel we have reached somewhat more solid ground, as we will progress the app development using web technology we are already familiar with. Nevertheless, we are still writing and rewriting the story of Tamapotchi, so we just might pivot and start over again.

Want to read more about Tamapotchi?
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