Helping the plants at Mustad
About the project
This project is a result of collaboration between two subjects. The project started spring 2021 in the subject “IDG3750- Tangible and Sensorial Interaction Design” and continued into fall 2021 in the subject “IDG3006 - Web of Things”. This was done to fully understand the problem and the user, and to develop solutions across physical and digital platforms.
- Problem: The design department at NTNU Gjøvik bought plants for improving the school environment. Plants were only taken care of by one of the employees at the design faculty. That particular employee wanted a solution to ease their responsibility for the plants and spread the task of plant care between several people.
- Project length: 20.01.2021-03.11.2021
- Role: Research, technology, microcontrollers.
- Team members: Tonje Ernstsen Gresslien.
- Tools: Microcontroller, temperature & humidity sensors, pen & paper, building materials, laser cutter.
- Role- Research, UI.
- Team members- Tonje Ernstsen Gresslien, Thomas Høiby, Lukáš Neupauer, André Tørlen Lønvik.
- Tools- Pen & paper, Figma.
The project started with observation and counting all the plants in the design department at NTNU Gjøvik. Plants were placed on different floors and expanded from common areas for students to employee offices. Service safari/bodystorming was organized to get a better insight of how much care the plants at the design department need. An in depth interview of the employee that took care of the plants was then conducted.
Quantitative research was done using Google forms to gather information about how many students are aware about plants at the design department. This survey revealed that most students weren't aware of the plants, but many were willing to take care of plants for small rewards, for example free coffee at school cafeteria. However there were some conditions students wanted fulfilled if they were going to take care of the plants - there had to be a self watering solution if students were away for a longer period of time.
"Om det er dugnad som skal til for at vi skal kunne ha planter på bygget mener jeg at det skal gå fint å bidra. Men det må være en løsning for ferier, nedstengning og fridager da studenter ikke befinner seg på skolen eller føle på at de ikke kan forlate Gjøvik fordi de skal vanne planter."
"Siden det er lite undervisning på campus nå (og dermed få studenter som oppholder seg der) så er jeg redd de stakkars plantene vil lide en rask død."
"Vel, jeg har tatt vare på min plante i et halvt år nå og den står fortsatt, så jeg får lyst til å ta var på plantene som er der."
The group also carried out some games from the “Gamestorming” book for insight gaining. First one was “Forced analogy” and it helped us forget all reasonable thinking and open up to new ways of looking at the problem. It helped us see how plants are actually a lot like babies that need to be cared for, that gave us an idea to strengthen that empathic connection between the user and the plant. The second game, “SQUID”, helped us sort out the ideas while the third game, “Impact & Effort Matrix”, put the ideas into time perspective. Time overview made us realize that the project and solution was too comprehensive for one semester. This is when our lecturer suggested splitting the project into two subjects. Our focus in part one was solving water tank problems and getting better connections between students, employees and the plants. Part two on the other hand would dive into the digital solution we had planned.
Self watering solutions are common but they have several drawbacks like water tank capacity, availability and price. The water tank was supposed to accommodate around 4 liters of water for bigger plants and 2 liters for smaller plants. A microcontroller was coded and used to measure water levels in the soil while the test was running. Several self watering prototypes were put to the test during several weeks of project, meanwhile I immersed myself in human psychology and nudging. After an in depth interview with a psychology professor at NTNU, the group chose to try two different approaches. Students did not have access to employee premises all day around, like they did at common areas. Part of the solution was therefore to make lecturers and professors in charge of plants at employee premises while students could take responsibility for plants at common areas.
After an interview with a psychology professor, the group decided to use competition instinct to increase the will to take care of the plants among the teachers/employees. Every plant would be named after a person that has an office in the area and get a name tag, this will make it clear who to address if the plant is neglected. The same solution would not work in the common area because there are a lot of students that change every third year. The solution was that the plants in the common area would get a character that students could associate with and appeal to, for making that empathic connection with the user and a plant. A survey was sent out to students at NTNU so they could vote for their favorite cartoon character or add one that was not on the list. The characters with the most votes were picked.
Google survey that was sent out to the students
Prototype: Two buckets are placed on top of each other, the one on top has 3 small holes and one big on the bottom. The big hole connects to a pipe (in our solution made from a used metal beverage can, the focus was less purchasing, more reusing - better for the planet) which was used for refilling the water. 3 small pipes with holes in them were connected to the button of the top bucket. Thick cotton stripes were placed through small pipes so they can suck up the water to the soil. Smaller prototype was made with some adjustments because of the size but the principle is the same.
Part two of the project startet next semester and involved an interdisciplinary team with front-end and technology students. Me and Tonje E. Gresslien had ideas on a digital solution in addition to our physical solution based on research from part one of the project. A problem that was left unsolved was the distribution of the plants between thel students, because when something is everybody's property it becomes nobody's property. Someone needed to be voluntarily responsible for the plants. The design department could give out a small reward, but the reward could not be too big so that someone would be motivated enough to take care of althe plants in the common areas. Neither could it be spread through every single plant-caregiver because it would be too expensive. Since human psychology was a big part of research in part one of the project, me and Tonje E. Gresslien decided to focus on gamification as well as several human instincts for digital solutions. Both physical but especially digital solutions would nudge students into increasing the users interest in taking care of the plant.
Our process in the part two of the project. Magnifying function is avalible on the desktop/laptop computer.
The names given to the plants in part one made it easier to address them. Every plant had sort of a personality that made it more human-like and that students could easily connect with. The digital solution had some inspiration from the Kahoot game. Observation showed that many students were more involved in subjects that had a Kahoot game at the end of the lecture. Competing to win is the reason many get involved and are willing to learn more. Our solution had the same principle, the winner gets the reward and it is something that the NTNU design department is willing to give the student. The concept of the game and reward was going to be displayed on the welcoming screen with lectures overview and provide a QR code as well as a website name. Interested students would visit the site and could get a plant to care for.
Physical and system boundary of our solution. Magnifying function is avalible on the desktop/laptop computer.
How sensors, microbit, Raspberry pi ect are connected together. Magnifying function is avalible on the desktop/laptop computer.
A big process of learning is failing. After analyzing my previous works after all this time, there are some things I would like to change. If I were to change something, it would be using the 60 30 10 rule for colors and a stronger call to action color. Even though me and the group always checked how a person with color vision deficiency would see the website, it's not unthinkable that better colors could be chosen. Wording could also be better, as the first prototype for example had “Adopt me” instead of “Choose the plant”. This was made to bring out the point of plants being like babies that was brought up in part one of the project. Unfortunately one of the group members critically did not agree and we had to compromise, that’s how groups work.
The technology chosen for the project could also be better suited for this particular problem. Microbit is a power hungry microcontroller and would need to have a new set of batteries very often, which is not environmentally friendly. However the Microbit was chosen because I had three Microbits avaliable at home at time of the project. There are other technical aspects of the project that could be developed even more if time allowed.