Interaction Design: Environmental Citizen Science

The Problem of English Ivy

Invasive English Ivy is an incredibly important environmental issue in the Pacific Northwest. English Ivy is a plant that was brought from Europe during the times of colonization and it has invaded and spread across the country. English Ivy is almost like a parasite, stealing water and nutrients from trees until they’re dead. Just in the local Seattle area, many forests and trails are invested with English Ivy. Not only is harmful to the trees and the environment, it’s poses a hazard to people as fallen trees destroy buildings, block walkways, and can even hurt people.

My volunteering group pictured with some of the over twenty garbage bags of English Ivy we collected at a local park.
Citizen Science: A Way To Help

Citizen science is employs use of the public in participatory scientific research to help gather large quantities of data they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. This practice could be incredibly helpful with the growing problem of English Ivy. People can post where they’ve spotted English Ivy in their are and together, a map of the invasive species can be made available to scientists, environmentalists, and anyone who could find this information useful.

Initial concept sketches

I designed an app that would allow users to post were they’ve seen English Ivy and collect the information into one public database. Whenever a user spots a tree with English Ivy, they would take a picture of it, rate the severity of the plant on a numerical scale, and attach their location using their phone’s GPS sensor. After posting it, it allows anybody to access this information and create a map of where English Ivy is in the area.

Sketches of several prototype screens

The app itself is relatively simple in its design but it gathers data in an effective manner and users would Along with the data collection aspect of the design, I also considered how to encourage users to post in general. As this is a citizen science app, it only works if there are users willing to dedicate time and effort to finding and posting English Ivy. To solve this problem, I came up with a rewards system. Users gain points for each post they make and after they accumulate a certain amount of points, they can exchange them for small rewards like a $5 gift card or a packet of flower seeds. With this, users are motivated to engage with the app and help grow the English Ivy database.

User prototype app demo

Video Link:

App Link:

Reflecting on the Design Process

I had a clear vision of what I wanted my design to look like even before I began. Removing English Ivy is a cause I’m very passionate about so I had a plethora of ideas I wanted to incorporate into my design. The overall layout was partly inspired some apps that I’ve used before. More specifically, I’ve used a lot of pubic transit apps and GPS apps so I was inspired to create the splash page as a split map/menu since I liked the functionality of it.

One problem I faced was choosing the components to include the design. I didn’t want to add too many features and make the app cluttered and overwhelming to the user. I wanted to the app to be straightforward and have a clean appearance, which meant having to choose the key components that directly related to my purpose.

Another problem I faced designing the interface was making sure the app was easy to navigate. Navigation is a key factor in app design but designers can easily overlook this important element. Navigation is invisible when done well but glaringly obvious if done poorly. It was a struggle to make sure that the app was easily navigable but didn’t interfere with the intended purpose.

Positive Experiences with Prototyping

Designing a prototype and actually see it come to life and physically interact with it was a new and exciting experience. Even though it was technically just sketches on a piece of paper, being able to link specific buttons to the next page made the app feel real instead of just an idea. It allowed me visualize how the app would work in real life as opposed to a row of sketches.

I felt incredibly proud of what I made. It was my first experience with prototyping and working with the POP app but I can definitely see myself using this program in my future endeavors.

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