There are people with a green thumb. However, do you necessarily need this to take good care of your plants? This question was the starting point of my, graduation project. I began the project by conducting research to find out why people find it easy to take care of their plants and more importantly what obstacles people were struggling with. It all seems to be connected to habits. At Hike One we are interested in this kind of human behaviour. Why do people act the way they do? How can you motivate them to take certain actions?
Graduation project: “A digital application that supports people to take better care of their plants, and motivates them to continue to do so.”
To make this graduation project more focussed, I did research in order to find out which group of plant owners experienced difficulty in taking care of their plants. The main result was: the older the participants were, the easier they found it to take care of their plants. Students especially found it the hardest of all others to take care of their plants. So, the target audience for this project focused in on students with house plants.
What do they wish for
The target audience would like to have an overview of the different needs of their plants and be able to set reminders for those needs. They want confirmation that they are doing a good job, they want to know more about their plants and want to be able to find out easily which plant they own. They want to be helped on their mobile device, receive notifications and want to know what is going on with their plants (if the leaves are hanging low for example).
What plants do and need
Did you know that plants can see, hear, smell and react? They’re like incredibly slow animals. For instance, if you play the sounds of a caterpillar next to some sorts of plants, they will develop poison on their leaves as protection.
It’s commonly known that a plant needs water, light and nutrition. They can also show their wellbeing by letting their leaves hang or by getting brown spots on their leaves etc. As a plant owner it’s very helpful to recognize and learn about these signals, so they can act on them.
Your plant needs water NOW
Some apps claim to know when your plant needs water and how much water it needs. These apps measure it with the help of the weather forecast; by checking how tall your plant is and what kind of plant it is. But can they really know when and how much water your plant needs? The water needs of a plant differs due to a number of factors. Like, how big is the pot the plant sits in, have you used central heating or air conditioning in the room where the plant is, how far away does your plant stand from the window and where (South, North) does it stand?
Type of plant owners
I’ve divided the people who I’ve interviewed in two groups: beginners and advanced plant owners. I noticed that the advanced plant owners have fixed days when they water their plants. They feel how moist the soil of the plant is and give their plants water when needed. The amount of water varies every time. The beginners struggle more with watering their plants and tend to forget to water them.
As a start, I made three concepts. With the help of the first concept the user can chat with its plant. In this concept the main focus is a dialogue with your plant and getting to know their needs. The second concept is a sort of Duo Lingo about your plants, the user will learn more about their plants and can set reminders. The third concept is connected to the weather forecast. It sends the user weather-related notifications and besides that is mainly functional: don’t forget to water your plant and check it out.
Beginners vs advanced plant owners
The difference between the beginners and the advanced plant owners is that the beginners would like to have a confirmation which tells them that they are doing a good job. The beginners need this much more than the advanced plant owners. The beginners would like to know how to take care of their plants; for instance: when and how much water they should give the plants. The advanced plant owners would like to learn about their plants; for instance: how can they cut and multiply plants and how do you get rid of bugs.
I wanted to find out if the way of presenting the same features in a different way would influence the needs and wishes of the beginners and advanced plant owners. Do they need to be separate? Maybe I have to use some sort of level system? To find out if they could both use the same app or not, I made two prototypes with the same functionalities. In prototype A the user follows a kind of step by step process and in prototype B the user can use the app more independently.
In both prototypes the user gets a notification, the user can complete the task: water Peter and Mona (two plants), the user can read tips, add a new plant and have a (detailed) overview of their plants. The test results were: a combination of both apps where the users themselves can indicate whether they want to follow a step-by-step plan or not. This can be the solution for the beginners as well as for the advanced plant owners. There is no need to use different levels for them, one design is possible for both groups. This also will make the design less complex (for me at least 😉).
One prototype for both groups
As an iteration on the previous prototype, the user can choose if he wants to check the soil or wants to skip this step. I tried to combine prototype A and B. But the main test-results were that the filter options were unclear. Most of the time the users gave liquid plant food to their plants; which you have to mix with water. Besides that, especially the advanced plant owners would like to turn some of these filters off for specific plants. They said:
“When I come home with a new plant that I don’t know well yet, I would like to get notifications specifically for that plant regarding watering. But over time I will learn when and how much water the plant needs, so then I would like to be able to turn it off again.”
Set the mood
At the end of the second user test, I’ve showed the participants three moodboards. At the end of the third test, I’ve showed them three concept boards. The mood of the app is fresh, light and a little playful which is a combination of the first and third moodboards. Unnecessary decoration will be used as minimal as possible in the design, the focus will be on the usage of the app.
In the digital application the user can learn more about various topics related to plant-care. Because a plant can show its wellbeing, the user can filter on signals to find out what is going on with their plant. The users also get information about which action they can take to remedy this.
Simple, easy and small
To prevent a demotivated user from not performing a task, the actions in the app are simple, easy and small. The user can set on which day and at what time he wants to receive a notification. This increases the chance that the user will receive a notification at an appropriate moment in order to take action. When the user takes action, he is asked how the soil of the plant feels, which reduces the chance that he will give his plants too much or too little water. The user receives feedback on his given answer and he can read why a plant does or doesn’t needs water. When the user ticks off a task he receives positive feedback, which will motivate him to complete more tasks.
Every plant has three care notifications which the user can turn on and off. These are: watering, plant food and spraying.
The user can add a plant in two ways: he can scan the plant or search by the name of the plant. (Scanning the plant is not elaborated in the prototype.) When the user searches by the name of the plant, he can enter both the Latin name, like Pilea Peperomioides, and any other name the plant is known as, like Chinese Money plant. He sees both names in the search results overview. When the user clicks on the plant, he can read more information about the plant. This can help the user to make sure that he is going to add the right plant. Then the user can add the plant to his collection. He can give him a nickname, change the photo and choose which care notifications he wants to receive. The user registers the day of the last time he gave the chosen type of care and the app calculates when the user should take action.
Future recommendations and what I have learned
First of all, working on vergeet-mij-nietje was great fun! It’s always nice to be able to design something that is close to your heart. What I learned during this process is how quick you can make and test things with users when you’re working in sprints. I have never really done this before and I really really like this way of working.
As a future recommendation, I would like to do at least one more design iteration. There are some things that aren’t quite there yet, such as the overview page. Also I would like to test with other groups of people who are not students anymore. I think this concept is also suitable for other people, however I would like to test first if it’s user-friendly for them.
One of the things that I would like to develop further is to create a personal reminder for a plant. For instance, when a plant has bugs you can give a medicine which you need to give every week. It can be helpful to have a reminder for that as well. The user can set a frequency, time and duration for these reminders.
Also, when I book a flight ticket, the date is automatically added to my calendar. How nice would it be when the app recognizes these travels and responds to them. The app sends a notification to the user, asking if he wants to give adjusted care to his plants during his holiday period. For example, the app can indicate to water a plant before departure and give tips on how to keep your plant alive when you are on holiday.