Client: Living by Learning Initiative
Duration: Three months | 2019
American University community garden aims to involve the greater AU community in sustainable learning by creating a viable, urban garden on the AU campus through teamwork and education.
Sprout is a mobile app that helps students engage with the community garden by making it easier and faster for them to fit gardening tasks into their schedules. The app also encourages engagement by presenting the status of free produce in the garden as incentives for hard work.
The Problem
The community garden on campus had a low interaction rate, and the organization running the community garden, the Living by Learning initiative, had a hard time engaging students.
I worked as a product designer lead through the project and collaborated with three other designers (Colleen Lloyd, Yuki Xue, Conor Hartman) from research to the final prototype delivery. 
In addition, I worked as a motion designer to deliver an animated prototype walkthrough.
We didn’t have any funding or budget for this project. And since this is a project for an on-campus facility, there’re lots of limitations and restrictions. Throughout the project, we had to work with different departments to implement ideas.
Insights from different sectors
To understand the users and the conversation better, we conducted a total of 8-hour observation, an interactive experiment, and interviews and surveys with different shareholders on campus.
Learn from users and also other shareholders to find the factors of low participation
To assess students' willingness to interact with the garden, we conducted an experiment by installing a hand-made Instagram photo booth in the garden. And through the experiment, we want to test whether the current low-interaction is caused by poor signage in the garden.
Time and instruction are two critical factors
Through the research, we found that students are interested in participating. However, with the lack of invitation and instruction, students didn’t know how to incorporate the gardening tasks into their busy schedules and what they can do in the garden.
The two most significant barriers that we found affecting students’ interaction with the community garden are the students’ busy schedules and the lack of instruction in the garden. Even though officially, the community garden states to be open to everyone and everyone is free to contribute, there is currently no clear established system for students to follow, which leads to confusion and ignorance. Many students expressed that either they didn’t know what they can do or didn’t realize that they had permission to do tasks in the community garden.
How might we design a system that makes the process of participating in the community garden cleaner and easier for students to follow?
Engage with all kinds of students
Based on our research and interviews, along with Caroline, a passionate freshman, our team created two other proto-personas: a busy vegetarian junior with low environmental consciousness and a grad student who is barely on campus.
Three prototype-personas(Caroline, a passionate freshman; David, a busy vegetarian junior with low environmental consciousness; Kate, a grad student who is barely on campus).
Various ways to interact with the garden
Below are samples of Monday schedules for our proto-personas. After I mapped out their journeys, our team worked together to mark their highs, lows, and touchpoints throughout the day. From there, we identified that all of our proto-personas could interact with the garden in different ways.
User journey with highs & lows in sample day & touch points
User journey on map
Introducing Sprout — Where Students Meet the Community Garden
Sprout is a mobile app that encourages students to engage with the community garden. This solution makes it easier and faster for students to fit gardening tasks into their schedules. And the system presents the status of free produce in the garden as incentives for hard work to attract students to interact with the garden.
Smart Schedule
It takes time and effort to fit gardening tasks into the schedule for a busy student. Sprout does all the heavy planning work for you! Students can link their digital calendars and set task preferences. Based on the schedule and preference setting, the app will sort and suggest tasks that students can easily accept.
Task Sorting
Tasks are offered according to users’ preferences. Students have the opportunity to maintain the garden by working in groups, at any time slot, or with any type of works as they wish.
Live Plant Status Updates
The community garden offers free produces as incentives for hard work. The garden map in Sprout allows students to see which plants are available to harvest or require more attention. And it comes with detailed harvest instruction to prevent early harvest or inappropriate handling while harvesting.
Users, tasks, and the garden
The system consists of three sections surrounding the users, the tasks, and the garden. The flow of the app is designed based on key features. 
Check out the full-scale flowchart with user journey highlights HERE
Users prioritize information: task time and group working info
After developing our paper prototype, we conducted three rounds of user tests with students on campus. Through our prototyping and user testing iteration process, we learned that the users really cared about the task time and group working info. Therefore, we made changes to emphasize the information that users cared about and simplified the process of signing up for tasks.
Check out the interactive prototype HERE​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
Emphasize and simplify
Task Sign Up Page
• Rearranged call-to-action button to a more noticeable position to increase user interactions
• Highlighted information that our users look for the most during user testing (date, location, work time)
• Replaced "Details" with "Fun Facts" since most of the tasks are self-explanatory, and our users mentioned that they don't need the information in "Details"
Task Instruction Steps
• Cleaned up the cluttered unnecessary elements to achieve a more explicit hierarchy
• Reduced the amount of information presented in the map and reading texts to help navigate our users' attention
Living by Learning initiative liked the idea, and it gave them some new perspectives to think around student engagement. But unfortunately, because of timing, we haven’t had the chance to launch the product yet. If, after COVID-19, we have the opportunity to work with the initiative again, we would like to release a beta version of the app and see how it would work on campus.
This is a team project that we reached out to and worked closely with different departments and stakeholders in the community garden conversation around campus. Here're some key takeaways that I learned during the process:
• Collaboration is the key. We conducted experiments and observations in different ways. Without learning and working with various stakeholders in this conversation, we would not learn all the insights and accomplish the experiment.
• Let the strengths shine. Teamwork could be challenging and tricky. However, in this project, I've learned the importance of assigning works based on people's strengths for a high-performance team.

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