Reconnecting urban dwellers back to the
land, their community & the food they consume.
Su Wei Yang
Designing for Smart Cities
UX Design: Research & Ideation, Prototyping, Storyboards, Lo-fi & Hi-Fi Wireframes, Wireflow
Tools: Sketch, InDesign, InVision, Illustrator, Principal, Keynote
We live in a rapidly urbanizing world, where technology is used to advance society, but often leaves us disconnected from each other. We have dismissed nature and shifted our values, in search of progress.
We combined our team’s interest in the environment, community building and the sharing economy, with research, ideation and prototyping, to create SeedSpace.
SeedSpace is a mobile application that connects people who want to grow food, with those who want to provide their garden and grow their community. Users can search and apply for, manage and host gardens.
Education, communication and calendar scheduling tools are included, along with other interactions, to maintain conversations and engagement.
The Opportunity: Designing for Smart Cities
Through our research into Smart Cities, we determined goals (efficiency across all interactions, actors and environments operating in symbiosis, shared benefits of improved technology), considered technologies (Big Data, Consumption, waste, need and distribution, IoT, Hyperconnectivity) and developed our values (bottom-up approach, equality, education, control, safety/privacy).
Despite the growing technologies available in smart cities, we valued the need to empower smart citizens and communities. We looked at behavioural models and novel case studies around food waste and distribution, leading us to consider concepts of smart communities, in which excess food is distributed to those in need.
A Smart City ‘…pursues sustainability, livability and social equity through technological and design innovations’.
Within Smart Cities, digital nervous systems, intelligent responsiveness and optimization can occur at every level.
– MIT Smart Cities Group
In City Intervention
We explored the ‘in-city intervention’ as a research method to investigate people’s behaviour when participating in spontaneous, low commitment activities in their city.
Placing a blackboard with simple games/instructions in multiple locations around Seattle, we focused on testing our assumptions on participation, observing that in this context:
- People were more likely to participate in more playful activities, such as drawing, even when there was no incentive to do so.
- People were more likely to participate when others such as family and friends are participating (social norms).
- Participation was highly influenced by external factors such as being in a relaxed environment and time of day.
// Design Principles
Bottom-up empowerment approach, with smart citizens and communities at the heart of the design.
Creating designs for productivity through play, and low-risk behaviour change
Create designs which promote long-term community building and citizen health.
// Ideation & Prototyping
We used drawing methods (sketching, storyboards, paper prototypes) to help narrow our problem space and explore different interactions. We created low fi & high fire wireframes, an application map, a wireflow diagram and a full visual langauge. These can be found in our UI Spec
“How might we better connect Urban Dwellers to the land and the food they consume?”
Early explorations into this statement generated several ideas. These ideas helped formulate our final concept, and some of the explored interactions remain present within SeedSpace.
Storyboards were used to illustrate key the interaction points within our main proposed ideas. The FarmRent concept informed SeedSpace. The storyboards helped to uncover some pain points that helped guide the features we wanted to include.
Three paper prototypes (FruitXchange, SeedSpace and ToyPot) were crafted and tested with four participants in the Seattle area. From testing SeedSpace, insights included:
- Seedspace makes the most sense in an urban environment and there a need to connect apartment dwellers to green spaces
- Starting a system from scratch poses issues with the rating system
- Knowing how engaged someone hosting a garden might want to be is an important factor to consider
- People want control over the search functions within the app
“The question of being connected to food becomes intimate now, not external. Flowers are more beautiful if you grow them. It reminds me of love hours, where we associate the more time we spend to something the more we value it. There is joy in growing your own food.”
– Participant 3
Based on the functionality we had decided to include initially, wireframes were created at various levels of fidelity (paper, low-fi, hi-fi) to model various interactions.
UI and Feature Decisions
Given the short timeframe in which we had to build the user interface, decisions had to be constantly made around what functions to include and how these should be represented. For example, removal of speculative concepts such as plant health, the omission of instructional videos, and methods of switching between user types.
The visual design of SeedSpace adopted a playful yet neutral approach to be inclusive and welcoming, as the demographic identified has a large range. We were inspired by design ideas from AirBnb and HeadSpace. We worked together to make decisions about the visual language; illustrations and production were handled by Kristina.
I created the wireflow diagram in order to fully represent all functionality and user interfaces that would be needed for phase 1.
I wanted to include basic functionality such as profiles and messaging, as it was useful to practice building these types of interfaces, consider the information architecture, and these were integral components of SeedSpace
// Key Functionality
Wanderers (New Users)
A user can search Gardens / Plots within their city, as well as send a join request to a Host. It is possible to tap into the community of Seedspace without ever becoming a Host or a Gardener, through education and exploration.
A Gardener is an existing member of the Seedspace community who contributes in a garden. Gardeners access a dashboard with all information needed for tending a garden. It includes stats about their garden and their ongoing visits. They can set their schedule and engage with hosts.
A ‘host’ is an existing member of the Seedspace community, who is sharing their garden with others. Host dashboards allow them to check their listed garden, such as current activity and stats, edit their garden profiles, and add new gardens
Creating a product from scratch through this type of rapid research, ideation and design process was an interesting and valuable learning experience.
Working as a team representing multiple cultures was another benefit of this project, and each of us brought a different perspective to research and design.
My technical skills (drawing, tools) improved significantly through the process and undertaking different methods of primary and secondary research allowed me to explore new concepts around smart cities, human behaviour and design.
Where to Next?
After building a fully interactive prototype for SeedSpace, we would run usability testing and make improvements to the interface and experience.
We would then work with cities to market the product within their communities, and develop a beta version to roll out in a pilot.
Future ideas could include a more gamified dashboard, more developments on educations tools within SeedSpace, and collaboration with other companies and organisations with a similar ethos.