Designing for a Greener World

Just as a blossoming garden starts with a tiny seed, GardenMate started as an idea that came to my mind while I was toiling away in my parents’ garden.

By that time we’ve already consulted 15 “gardening for dummies” books, drawn 25 garden drafts, and had a big fight over one unfortunate wild rose. And then of course we did everything differently.

The idea was simple: gardening should not be such a pain for all us amateurs. There’s got to be a way out when you lose a tag with the plant’s name, forget what you’ve read about tulips and where, can’t tell if physocarpus is a plant or an illness, or sincerely believe gardening is a strictly grandmas’ realm.

Having found amazingly few apps for gardeners, and none at all that could help with all our setbacks, I decided to design my own. After all, I haven’t taken all these HCI courses for nothing, right?

Needfinding & Early Prototypes

Observing and asking questions was a natural first step, and keeping an eye for workarounds helped fuel later brainstorming. I’ve learnt that gardening is not just physical, but also emotional, intellectual, and social. These four dimensions appeared in the first prototype, and have evolved since:

  • Physical: the app should feature an interactive map of the garden, the gardening schedule, planting instructions.
  • Emotional: the app should help a gardener feel proud by taking and sharing garden photos, allow for a variety of ways to personalize it using suggestions for the best gardening techniques.
  • Intellectual: the app should help a gardener’s knowledge grow by providing a wiki, ideas, advice.
  • Social: the app should help gardeners connect to peers, share success and experience.

One of the key feature ideas that was later greatly appreciated during testing was taking a photo of the plant, and letting the Wizard-of-Oz’ed recognition algorithm tell you all about it.

GardenMate’s first prototype: home.

Heuristic Evaluation & In-Person Testing

Nielsen’s heuristics evaluation is a perfect example of how we’ve all got that penchant for seeing specks in others’ eyes, but not logs in ours. Two valuable things I learnt here were: 1) content-first prototypes help set your ideas straight (and save you loads of time later); 2) omitting things like back buttons just because you think they’re obvious and can come later backfires painfully during the in-person testing.

A/B Testing & Redesign

A/B testing is a perfect way to see that butterfly effect. Changing one small thing on just one screen sped up task completion by 10 times, and resulted in a more positively evaluated experience. Also, seeing the records on User Testing with people of different cultures and backgrounds walking through your app, and hearing their feedback was uncanny, but immensely helpful.

User boldly marking the gardening project complete — the redesigned way. Priceless.
GardenMate’s final design: home.
GardenMate’s final design: garden map.

What’s Next?

GardenMate was conceived as a comprehensive and reliable companion in making use of the best gardening techniques at all times regardless of your experience. It’s now waiting to be implemented by someone who, like me, fancies the idea of a greener world that anyone can contribute to, but, unlike me, knows a thing or two about actual app development :)

GardenMate’s prototype is available here:
GardenMate’s promo video is available here:
If you’d like to connect, I’m available at:

Happy designing and gardening!