Developing a proof of concept for a personalized gardening service

SassySproutHero3

CHALLENGE

How might we help novice urban gardeners feel more confident about growing their own food?

We found that many gardening resources weren’t tailored to people who want to get started and current gardening kits on the market weren’t personalized to people’s living spaces and lifestyle.

My team was tasked to design a business model + Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to make urban food gardening more accessible and simpler for people who want to get started.

TEAM

  • Meena Sujanani: User Researcher & Project Manager
  • Ryan Moore: UX & Interaction Designer
  • Nichole Fernkes: User Researcher

My contributions: UX and UI Design Lead. Produced user flows, wireframes, product copy, and clickable prototype. Collaborated on market and user research, branding, voice & tone.

Stakeholders: Our client wanted to help beginners learn how to garden. Their original concept was offering educational resources and providing a monthly delivery service through their website. While they tasked us to create an MVP of their idea, we eventually refined their concept, business model, and created a proof of concept for their vision.

Timeline: 8 weeks

 

PRODUCT CONCEPT

Sassy Sprout helps urban food gardeners pick and grow the right plants so they can feel more confident about growing their own food. The vision is to allow anyone to control what goes into their food by making food gardening as easy as going to the grocery store.

Goals

  • Help people grow organic produce within their own backyard or space.
  • Make food gardening more accessible for motivated beginners with limited space and skills.
  • Help people solve gardening problems and get advice without needing to search online or visit a store.

 

SOLUTION

Out of a feature list of 20, we scoped it down to top 3 features that would make up our MVP. Try the website prototype here: https://invis.io/P65MEXSKT

Feature 1: Personalized plant recommendations

Sassy Sprout Feature 1 Hero

  • What: After answering some questions, users are provided with recommended plants and supplies which are conveniently bundled into a garden kit.
  • Why: Help users pick plant varieties that grow best in their living space, making it more likely to lead to a successful harvest.
  • Goal: Encourage first-time gardeners to become repeat gardeners, which will help drive the business.

Feature 2: Seamless purchase and pickup

Sassy Sprout Feature 2 Hero

  • What: Users are encouraged to select a kit that bundles all essential items for gardening.
  • Why: Makes it convenient for on-site pickup and enable our partners to cross-promote their products, along with our sensor, which is a core business objective.
  • Goal: Users can get started more quickly and retail partners increase purchases per user.

Feature 3: Check plant health with smart sensor

Sassy Sprout Mobile iPhone 6

  • What: Users no longer have to guess when and how to care for plants because the app guides them in a fun and personable way.
  • Why: Help users raise more plants successfully and enable them to become self-reliant while controlling what goes into their food.
  • Goal: Users are able to enjoy adding their plants into their food and build confidence to keep gardening.

Business Model

Sassy Sprout Business Model Canvas

Our business model depends on driving value exchange between 3 entities:

  • Novice urban gardeners: Our website provides target users with recommendations on plants suited for their living space. They also learn how to become better food gardeners by interacting with our mobile app.
  • Smart Sensor: The mobile app is connected to the smart sensor, which compares its data to a library of plant data and recommends appropriate actions to the user. Retail partners gain customer insights from the sensor data.
  • Retail partners: We partner with local brick-and-mortar garden retailers and nurseries to source plants and supplies, which means we don’t keep inventory. Users would order recommended garden kits on the Sassy Sprout website and pick them up at our partner stores.

Business Strategy: Help our partners extend their reach while accessing their retail channels to sell our smart sensors and build brand awareness.

 

APPROACH

MARKET + COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

After pouring over industry reports, we learned that total spending on food gardening was set to grow 40% in the U.S. and 18-34 year olds  were the fastest growing segment that participates in food gardening. This segment showed pre-emptive behaviors like buying organic food, and geographically, Western U.S. drove the most organic food revenues.

Target Market_3

We analyzed 22 products and businesses overall and found that many garden kits focused on ease of assembly and most “smart” sensors focused on functionality and data over emotional experience. Most garden stores in the Seattle area focused on self-service and mass distribution and lacked a digital presence.

USER RESEARCH + CONTENT ANALYSIS

From interviewing 2 experienced and 2 novice gardeners, we learned that a common concern was not knowing whether they were doing too much/too little of something (i.e. water and sunlight). Although they were motivated by a feeling a feeling of self-sustenance, they were discouraged by not knowing what’s wrong with their plants.

Those who practiced organic gardening were concerned about pesticides and cited being in control of what they put into their plants as a main motivator for growing their own food.

After content analysis and secondary research, we collated our learnings to better understand the relationships between Millennial gardeners’ motivations, living spaces, available gardening resources, and garden stores.

Proposed Relationships

Take a look at the Research Insights Board for specific research data.

FINDING THE OPPORTUNITY GAP

  • Most garden kits currently in the market focus on getting started but not on the post-purchase experience.
  • Most solutions focus on the functional and less on the emotional experience of food gardening.
  • Most garden stores don’t offer much context for buying plants nor customize experiences for beginners.

2x2 Matrix

MEET OUR PERSONA, CINDY

Concerned Cindy Persona

 

EXPLORING TRADE-OFFS & PAYOFFS

Our team considered possible solutions to resolve Cindy’s needs.

  • Deliver plants vs. Assemble easy pick-up. Our client’s original plan included a monthly subscription service, but then people wouldn’t be able to assess the quality of the plants nor get a sensory experience of browsing for them. Considering the importance of initial touchpoint for stores, we decided to curate garden kits to streamline the purchase process but still allow browsing.
  • Connect to community of experts vs. Provide educational resources. A well-curated community of master gardeners could help garden stores acquire new customers. But we realized that this model would be hard to scale given that we would add increasingly more competitors into the community. If we provide our own resources, we could build our brand and allow people to control how they receive content.
  • Digital infrastructure vs. Business value. We can provide garden stores with customer insights while personalizing customers’ experiences with data they’d provide. Most garden stores currently don’t invest in maintaining a digital presence, and we could build a digital infrastructure to extend the stores’ relationships with customers into other channels. Customers would also benefit if we use plant health data to guide them toward a successful harvest.

A CONNECTED EXPERIENCE

A web and mobile experience that recommends personalized food gardening kits and uses sensors to guide customers to harvest.

Our hypothesis: data and sensors were underutilized in the market and would satisfy customer needs better than current offerings. If our solution wasn’t perceived to be more effective than browsing the garden store, the product couldn’t inspire customers to change their behavior.

From our feature list, we decided to design around these key moments for our MVP.

  • Use case 1: Planning a garden
  • Use case 2: Purchase and pickup
  • Use case 3: Check plant health

Experience Map

SUCCESS METRICS

We wanted to measure success for our business and understand what success means for our end users.

For our business:

  • Increased purchases of our smart sensors and new plants
  • Increased number of plants users add to the mobile app

For our end users:

  • How many plants people can raise successfully after each growing season
  • How many resources people found helpful

 

GENERATING ROUGH UX CONCEPTS

Ryan sketching user interface ideas for a feature.

Ryan sketching user interface ideas after we created the task flows.

TASK FLOWS

Key Objective: Connect the offline + online experience between the retail stores and the web/mobile sensor interface.

I led our team through conversation mapping to align our design activities around key considerations:

  • Start with what she knows: Persona has varied ideas about what she wants to try. Let her gain familiarity before offering relevant recommendations.
  • Accessible even when unsure: Persona shouldn’t need to chase down information she needs. Help her arrive at the right answer.
  • Anticipate, don’t ask: Persona needs to feel like she is making progress. Reassure her by using contextual data from monitoring her plants.
  • Alert only when important: Persona doesn’t need alarm bells; she needs specific directions to care for her plants.

We then created task flows that supported the conversations we wanted to have with our customers.

1. Personalized recommendations

Personalization Task Flow

2. Check out and pickup

Checkout Task Flow

3. Check plant health

Check Plant Health Task Flow

CONCEPT SKETCHING

How do we truly personalize garden kits? I explored concepts and conducted a survey with Seattle-area gardeners to understand likely responses to personalizing gardening.

Storyboarding Onboarding to Checkout

Storyboarding the personalization process. It looks at how a user might log in, walk though some questions, select a garden kit, and check out.

WIREFRAMING

Because of time constraints, I translated my “Planning a garden” storyboard into mobile wireframes first with Balsamiq. Each member worked individually on a use case.

Balsamiq mockups

Users take a questionnaire so we have data to personalize their kits. We hypothesized that this task will be worth the effort when users are given recommendations that match their preferences.

At the end, our team decided to stick with the questionnaire as a way to collect data on people’s living space, available effort, etc.

 

TRANSLATING UX CONCEPTS INTO UI & INTERACTION PATTERNS

Ryan and I created a design system with UXPin and tested out potential interactions. We discovered edge cases like missing a pickup and unnatural sequence of events such as being forced to log in before seeing how the service worked.

Sassy Sprout Onboarding Survey

User flow through the survey, viewing the garden kits, customizing the kits, checkout, and setting pickup location and time.

CAN GARDENING BE CONVERSATIONAL?

When we were refining the concept, we realized that we didn’t want to make users feel like gardening is work. Instead of adding another task on the to-do list, could we make care instructions and resources more approachable and fun?

Sassy Sprout mobile app v1

User flow for receiving a notification from the Smart Sensor, reading how to do the task, and completing the task. The interface copy is intended to be entertaining and informative. Wireframes by Ryan Moore.

We pivoted direction to a personal bot that could tailor content about plant care, anticipate users’ questions, and provide timely encouragement. The personality of the bot could help build emotional connection with customers with repeated use.

Whiteboarding wireframe ideas for the Sassy Sprout personal bot.

Whiteboarding wireframe ideas for the Sassy Sprout personal bot.

CONTENT DESIGN

I took a content-first approach by writing some real content we could prototype with instead of Lorem Ipsum.

Proto-content for hi-fi prototype

BRANDING

Before creating higher fidelity prototypes, we defined our brand attributes to make sure our final wireframes were cohesive and consistent.

Brand Tenets:

Brand Tenets

Colors:

Brand Colors

Primary colors that would be used in all brand assets.

Logo Colors

Colors used in the logo. The logo was designed by Ryan Moore.

Typography:

Brand Typography

Adelle Typeface is limited to the Sassy Sprout logo. Circular is the main typeface for the website and mobile app. I selected the typefaces so they adhere to the Sassy Sprout brand tenets.

Voice and Tone:

Sassy Sprout Voice and Tone

The brand tenets should also be clearly expressed in the interface copy. I’ve articulated the Sassy brand through more precise vocabulary.

 

ITERATE ON CLIENT FEEDBACK

Using feedback from our clients, I developed an interactive prototype for the desktop website and mobile app using Sketch and InVision. Explore the prototype here: https://invis.io/P65MEXSKT

Feature 1: Personalized plant recommendations

Onboarding Flow

Users navigate through the homepage, the quiz pages, and receive a personalized selection of garden kit options. The potted plant icon is by Becca O’Shea from Noun Project. (Click the image for a closer look.)

Feature 2: Seamless purchase and pickup

Personalization Flow

Users navigate through account creation, product exploration, checkout, and scheduling pickup. (Click the image for a closer look.)

Feature 3: Check plant health with smart sensor

Sassy Sprout mobile app flow

Users receive a notification about taking care of their plants. They can either ask for instructions about how to perform the action or tell the AI (the personal bot) that they’ve done it. Users could navigate to the main screen afterwards to check on their other plants. (Click to view full image.)

WALKTHROUGH

New users are encouraged to take the quiz as part of the onboarding process. Since our business model is built on the freemium model, we want new users to experience the benefits before asking them to create an account.

Homepage and Quiz Page

The potted plant icon is by Becca O’Shea from Noun Project. The design and rendering of the Smart Sensor is created by Ryan Moore.

After taking the quiz, users can explore the personalized garden kits, but they are encouraged to create an account before proceeding. Users would have to create an account if they want to customize their garden kits.

Product and Account pages

The copy on the site gives more a realistic look and feel for our brand and products. Prototyping with real content makes high-fidelity prototypes more useful. The design and rendering of the Smart Sensor is created by Ryan Moore.

Users go through a simple payment process and choose their pickup location and time. To address the edge cases we discovered, we added an FAQ section on the confirmation page to address scenarios like missing the pickup time and buying another garden kit at the pickup location. The final step in the user journey would be to download the Sassy Sprout mobile app.

Checkout and Pickup pages

Users receive a confirmation for their pickup location and time. I addressed edge cases with an FAQ section on the last page to the right. The most important action they can take at the last step is to download the mobile app so they can monitor their plant’s health.

Once users have started their garden, they can check their plants’ health using the Sassy Sprout mobile app. The app links to the Smart Sensor that collects data about the plants.

Mobile app layout

Users receive a notification about caring for their plants. They can ask the AI (the personal bot) for instructions on how to perform certain tasks. This feature gently guides users and fulfills a need we discovered during user interviews.

Users are encouraged to interact with the the personal bot which helps them take the right actions to care for their plants. (In this case, the AI returns a video to show Cindy how to properly water her basil plant.) The bot offers consistent, positive learning experience to build trust with the user.

 

Next Steps

Because of time constraints, we didn’t conduct any usability testing or perform any market validation activities throughout the project lifecycle. In the future, we plan to:

  • Get feedback on product concept and prototype from our target users.
  • Establish more diverse channels to monetize and sell Sassy Sprout Smart Sensors.
  • Further refine the mobile app AI features.

 

Lessons Learned

Do differently: We should have validated our business model + product concept with actual garden stores since one of our biggest assumptions was that people would be willing to pick up their gardening kits. But since most gardening activities had already subsided (we did user research in the fall), it would have been difficult to test our assumptions with stores, much less with potential customers in context. Next time, we would time our design process to coincide with the natural uptick in gardening activity – during spring/summer.

Want to explore more: We didn’t quite explore what “organic” meant to people like Cindy, so one big assumption we made was that people who want to consume organic foods would also want to grow them. This is hard to tell without observing behaviors. It would be interesting to use Wizard of Oz prototyping method to see how people interact with the concept in real time.

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