Based on the feedback our team got from the Open House, here are the results and refinements we will be considering as we develop the Sustain-a-Stack:

Conceptual Refinements

  1. Year Round Gardening - We never did consider how changing seasons affected gardening until one interested lady came to talk to us. True enough, planting indoors would be great for planting fresh herbs for Christmas dinner! As an extension of this, the climate our product is capable of generating can also serve as a guide for suggesting a wider variety of potential vegetables and herbs that can be grown.
  2. Senior Citizens as a potential User Group - Many seniors suffer from ailments such as arthritis but may still want to grow some plants. Our product would allow for this interaction through our easy-to-use system: the seniors would only have to push two buttons to grow plants!
  3. Nursery- The sustain-a-stack could also serve as an incubator for seedlings to grow until they are strong enough to survive the outdoor environment. Since it will be inside the house, they would get the attention they require in a controlled environment.

“Experience” Refinements
(that can improve interaction)

  1. Watering Feedback- although we had the water spray working, we had taken this out in place of just a light that would turn on/off to avoid “flooding” the box as people would click on the widget. For our usability test, we might want to consider taking it out again but improve the feedback and make it more obvious to simulate the act.
  2. Light Feedback- Using the widget, the light inside the box would turn on and off but since we only had a few inside the box, the brightness wasn’t that evident from the user’s point of view. The feedback of this aspect will also have to be improved.
  3. Rethinking the shape- The group has to consider how to access the plant easily without taking the whole box apart. We’ve been concentrating too much on how to take care of the plant using this complex technologies but now we have to think of how you can physically interact with it.

Technical Refinements

  1. Lighting synchronization with widget- we noticed that the light timer in the box to turn the light on and off every 30 seconds did not totally synchronize with the widget. The widget was not able to detect when the light was already on as set by the timer and would still read as off and vice versa.
  2. Temperature & humidity sensors- as we had this aspect working as well, we were not able to show much on how this changed or would affect the lighting and watering of the plant or even alert the user during critical status.
  3. Overall look of the prototype- thought it is a draft of what we imagined, we could still work on refining the prototype we have.

Space Requirements

Currently, we are looking at a place to store. While the laptop lockers seem to be the best place- we have not been able to file the necessary requests to reserve one for the prototype. As far as testing goes, we have secured our access to the Fish Bowl (3400) and we find the room suitable to run user testing. However, the open space doesn’t quite fit with some of the project ideas where spaceis limited. Therefore we may do some of our user evaluations in team rooms.

Work & Preparation (Table)

With the work & preparation required for the Open House, we had to create a schedule that would work for all of us, and to make sure that each part of our project was taken care of.

Work & Preparation (Planned & Actual TABLE)



The Open House gave us an opportunity to show people outside the class what we’ve been doing for the past 2 semesters. Lots of people, students and strangers alike, came to our spot for us to give our short elevator pitch about Sustain-a-Stack. What attracted people to our area was our obnoxiously massive poster. Two laptops were set up: one for the widget and another with a slideshow of our midterm presentation. In between them was our prototype and a print out of our sketch of what we envisioned would be our final product. We received great reviews on the idea being marketable and on our slick widget. It would have been great to have our water sprayer working but we had to take it out because we foresaw people clicking on the water widget constantly during the day and flooding the box!

One of the most obvious beneficial elements of having our project present at SFU Surrey’s Open House is the sheer volume of people who attended. Coaxing out valuable feedback, however, is not as easy as one might assume. Fortunately for us, there were several individuals who were willing to offer some interesting suggestions and comments that we had yet to consider:

Year-round gardening

We never did consider how changing seasons affected gardening until one interested lady came to talk to us. True enough, planting indoors would be great for planting fresh herbs for Christmas dinner! As an extension of this, the climate our product is capable of generating can also serve as a guide for suggesting a wider variety of potential vegetables and herbs that can be grown.

Individual Reflections

Kurtis Beard’s Response:

After the stress of preparing for our midterm presentation a week earlier, the Open House was a welcome change-of-pace. The energy and genuine interest in student projects was abound, regardless of whether our room was overheated and overly dark. For myself, the experience ranged quite dramatically from rewarding to tedious, depending on the questions and interests of many passerby. Of those who critical-minded when examining our project, many offered new insights, which will most certainly help guide our team for the remainder of the semester.

Kiks Chua’s Response:

I thought that the open house served as a great deadline for us to get as much as possible done to have something presentable. It was also good practice for us to market our product with our elevator speech and get the response of people outside class. Getting constructive feedback from people didn’t really happen but what the group got out of it was that there was real interest in the development of the sustain-a-stack.

Samanthi Jayetileke’s Response:

After months of working on several prototypes, discussions, and idea generating, our team finally came up with a prototype to present during the Open House Event, Spring, 2008. To embark on a new cliental; parents and prospective students to SFU, we wanted to gain as much feedback as we could. Even though our location might have not been the greatest, we were still able to attain a lot of positive energy and interested people, who asked us a number of questions. Our project opened up people’s minds, to what technology can be used for, and as one lady had mentioned during her visit with us, “You all do such interesting, neat, and unique projects! I’m glad that students are looking forward, and thinking about integrating everyday objects with technology, to create a real mix!”.

Derek Pante’s Response:

I thought the Open House went well- not great, but good. It was definitely a lot of fun, though! We were approached by a lot of individuals who seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing. Though we kind of stumbled a bit initially (I was so nervous with the first group of people who came up to us that I completely forgot to mention our widget interface!), it became easier to communicate our idea to others. One particularly interesting moment for me personally was when I was approached by two nice senior ladies who wanted to know about our project, and then accidently mistook our project for another similar project in the room (Quote - “Oh, so is this the project that lets you see a plant’s feelings? That’s fantastic!”). I didn’t have the heart to disappoint them so I said “Yes!”. Other individuals were a little more aware of what our project was, and gave us incredible feedback, such as taking away the glass encasing to allow physical contact with the plants, and possibly focusing on a particular type of plants to make our project more specialized. The Open House was quite a positive experience.

Manuel Pineault’s Response:

The biggest highlight for me was getting the widget working with the lighting and watering right before the Open House started. Although our group had a great set-up, the room was too dark and our spot was only noticeable thanks to out giant poster. I feel that we could have gotten more people to come over and talk if we got a better spot.

Andrew Thong’s Response:

Overall, I think the Open House event was an interesting event where we really got a chance to understand the other projects. It was also a good practice for elevator pitches as we had to further explain our concept from time to time. On the other hand, I have to complain about the lack of space for our project as we were squished in that corner with another team. Our location had potential, but the sheer number of other projects placed us in an awkward angle, potentially losing a lot of exposure. And more importantly, because several teams required the use of a projector, the lights had to be turned off- and so our display was left in it’s own dim corner.

Brian Quan’s Response:

SFU Surrey Open House is always one of the biggest events each year. I have volunteered at many Open Houses before, but this was the first time I was showcasing a project. It was a bit of push the few weeks before to try and be ready for this day, but it was a deadline for us to get stuff done. The prototype had been completed for the midterm presentation, but the watering system was still a bit glitchy. We had removed the watering pump system anyways as people would have been constantly forcing Sustain-a-Stack to water and would likely flood the compartment (or worse: make it a big messy box’o'mud). The room was really hot, our location was decent, but could have been better if we weren’t shoved into the same corner with another team. We were right at the door and people could naturally walk in our direction. There was quite a bit of feedback from the many visitors. One of my favorites was a lady who told us how our sustain-a-stack would be great to help prepare seedlings for outside gardens during the winter, and transfer to outdoor gardens during the spring and summer. Overall, things went well.

Click on Sammy for Pictures!




Team Octobox pulled off yet another presentation!

We’re happy to report that our midterm presentation was a success based on the feedback from our instructors. The strongest point that we had was our iterative process (specified in the previous post) wherein we decided to take a step back and re-evaluate our product and concept. Kurtis did a great job on elaborating on this aspect as an introduction to our report. Second to that was Andrew’s genius use of icons to represent our ideas in the slides, clear, simple and cute. Kudos to Manuel for making the sexy widget.

On the other hand, there was still room for improvement. The slides would have been more complete with a few images that would give a short narrative to the construction of our prototype. We also felt that the prototype itself needed work… a LOT of work. We got the lighting and watering working, however, it was not controlled by the widget. It was far from the sleek and simple aesthetic we were going for but the schematics helped our instructors have a better idea on what it we intend it to look like eventually.

Another note is that we had re-branded ourselves as you can see through our website, poster and midterm presentation. A new look for the new semester!

Download the Octobox Spring 2008 Midterm Presentation