UX Design Retrospective — Garden Hero

During week one of General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, I was tasked with solving a problem for one of my fellow classmates — Bert. After discussing several pain points in his life, I decided to tackle Bert’s problem with gardening.

Deciphering the Problem

After my initial conversation with Bert, I learned that he has a vegetable garden in his backyard and has been gardening for a few years, but still considers himself fairly inexperienced. He voiced issues with not knowing which types of plants to choose for his garden, as well as problems regarding the maintenance and harvesting of his garden. Now that I had a more solid understanding of the issues Bert faced, it was time to interview other users, because it turns out that determining the problem(s) isn’t always as easy as it seems.

User Research

As someone with very little knowledge and experience with gardening — aside from eating copious amounts of vegetables — user research was especially important in my design process. I would also like to mention that I feel like my lack of gardening experience helped me to approach the problem from an entirely user-centric place, which is of course the goal of a user experience designer.

These are my five interview subjects.

During my first user interview, I fumbled with questions and it felt a bit forced. This was exacerbated by the fact that my subject had no interest in gardening. However, by the second, third, fourth, and fifth interviews I felt much more comfortable improvising with questions as I saw avenues of information begin to open up and I was able to collect a ton of useful observations. When interviewing people with gardening experienced I focused on questions about the highs and lows of gardening, I probed about which resources gardeners looked to for information and support, and I asked subject’s to describe their gardening process from start to finish. When speaking with non-gardeners, I found it more useful to ask questions about other hobbies or activities that are parallel to gardening in terms of time commitment and learning curve.

Making Sense of the Data

I used affinity mapping to organize my findings and uncovered several common themes, including problems with watering, that cooking freshly picked produce is the most enjoyable aspect of gardening, patterns of neglect, and a lack of planning. After examining these themes in relation to one another, I gained a number of useful insights:

  1. People enjoy gardening because eating produce is a meaningful experience.
  2. People struggle with gardening due to a lack of knowledge, planning, and scheduling.
  3. People tend to lose interest or begin to neglect their gardens when challenges arise or they are not seeing a positive return on efforts. On the flip side, once people reach the point of positive results, “they become hooked.”
  4. Beginning gardeners tend to rely on Google and YouTube for research, but don’t always know what information they should be looking for.
  5. In general, people are motivated by positive feedback and tangible results.
Affinity mapping allowed me to form insights about my user’s behaviors and feelings.

Design Principle

The next step in my design process was to create a design principle informed by the insights that address my users problems:

“Solutions should help inexperienced gardeners plan their gardens, care for their gardens, and maintain the motivation to care for their gardens.”

This idea remained at the forefront of my design thinking and process and should be apparent in every decision made.

Design Solution Ideation

Admittedly, I got a bit ahead of myself and jumped straight into an app-based solution for this problem. After coming to this realization, I developed several alternative experience-based solutions, including a gardening class, a gardening handbook, and a weekly garden group. During the ideation process, I came up with individual features that I felt would address my design principles and grouped them together in a mini affinity map.

I created more fleshed out concepts for the gardening group and gardening app, both of which included the key features I had developed, including informational resources about planning and caring for a garden and a motivational aspect. I discussed both concepts with users to get a feel for which solution would better solve the problem and after this first round of user testing, I found a clear consensus that users preferred a mobile application, because “a group felt like it could be too much of a time commitment,” and wouldn’t address specific issues as users encountered them.

Developing a Prototype

Once I had my final concept, I began to build out more specific features and think about how they might group together and relate to one another. I spent a day iterating designs for these features and talked with users along the way to see which designs were problematic and which were simple to use, adjusting or scrapping components as necessary.

These are just a few of my design iterations.

Because most of my interview subjects touched on not knowing how to plan their gardens or what their options even were, I started my prototype design with the My Garden feature, which gathers information from users in order to recommend different vegetables based on climate, date, garden size, gardening experience level, and the number of hours per week users said they would be willing to commit to their gardens. After users select their desired number of vegetables from this suggestion list, they would be provided with a shopping list and after completing the shopping list, they would be prompted to visit the app’s resource feature, Teach Me, which I will talk about in a minute.

During the planning process, users are also able to search the Plant Profiles feature to learn more specifics about vegetables they are unfamiliar with.

Teach Me has the answers to all things gardening

Teach Me is the resource component of my app, which would tackle my users’ problems caused by knowledge gaps. This feature was difficult for me to develop because I needed to find an organized, streamlined way to present users with large amount of information. I landed on a database of topics organized by commonality. Additionally, I decided that a search bar would be present at the top of every screen, so that users can search for specific things as soon as they open the application. The Teach Me feature is meant to minimize the users’ challenges by providing comprehensive solutions. For example, if a user is struggling with pests, they can find videos, articles, and frequently asked questions about dealing with pests, which in theory, would make the problem more manageable.

To-Do, my calendar and to-do list feature

Next, I created To-Do, a calendar system to help solve my users problems with planning and maintaining a watering and harvest schedule. This attribute would also include a to-do list for each day and an alert system to keep users in touch with their tasks.

The last problem that I had to solve for was motivating people to stick with their gardens, which turned out to be the hardest. Through my research I learned that users were discouraged by challenges and neglected their gardens if they weren’t seeing positive results. The app itself aimed to solve this problem by providing users with the tools and resources to plan a garden that they would actually be able to manage and deal with any problems that may arise along the way.

My Garden allows users to share photos and track progress

The difficult part was finding a way to provide positive reinforcement to encourage users to stick with it. I revisited the My Garden feature and added a photo function, allowing users to document their gardens throughout the entire process, so they would have tangible evidence of their time and effort. Additionally, these comparison photos are sharable on social media, so users can share their successes with friends for further positive reinforcement. I also included a produce tracker, which would show estimates for how close vegetables were until harvests time, which would be particularly useful for underground plants including carrots. And with that, my app Garden Hero was complete.

If I Had More Time

Although I feel like Garden Hero is a strong tool to help users plan and maintain their gardens, I’m not totally satisfied with the motivational aspects of the app. During my project presentation, I received some questions about the produce tracker, and I agree that the concept still has some holes and lots of room for improvement. If I had more time with Garden Hero, I would focus on ways to create a better motivational structure for my users, possibly tying gardening success to cooking, because users expressed that eating their hard-earned produce.