Octobox wins the Gold award for receiving the least amount of red votes! And we very much appreciate our prize!

Despite some problems with adaquately organizing our recent work, our team met with Thecla this week to discuss the future of our project. In light of the meeting, we have a better grasp on our direction for the next week, before we begin considering focus groups and user-testing. In short, we’ve now acknowledged the need to define and select necessary components; this does not necessarily eliminate various components completely, but better establishes a coherent project that can presented to users.

Aside from re-evaluating the components of “Sustain-a-Stack,” we’ve reconsidered the functionality and sustainabiliy of each individual stack. Our focus will be in providing a rich atmosphere and environment for plants. Storage will also be considered as a secondary component. However, we’ve decided it is best to avoid (for the time being) aquariums and terrariums for the inherent complexity of both.

In light of this, we will be spending more time on the aesthetic design of “Sustain-a-Stack,” creating variances on our current form. This includes generating new approaches to shape, style, and structure. During future focus group sessions, this preparation will aid in grasping a better understanding of our user’s interests and tastes (with respect to design values).

Also, we will be placing more emphasis on the technological components. Specifically, we will continue our research into the best device with which we can generate interaction. As of now, the most logical device is the wireless Arduino, which will allow us to address elements of water control and light control. Obviously, we still have to investigate the logistics of the reminder system, which we’d like to implement in a web-based form (so that the user can visit the site and see the state of his/her plant and the water/light levels).


Further, we also received some valuable feedback during exploratory user studies that were conducted in the lab session. Specifically, we engaged in both interview exercises and mock up ethnographic tests using role playing. Some issues about the concept and the product were brought up and critiqued. Also, this gave the opportunity for the group to receive suggestions for imrpving the product and the interaction it will afford from another perspective.

One of the first comments was to do with combining technology and aesthetics. There was concern that having wires for lights and tubes for water would distract from the plants and the sleek look the group aspires for since the Sustain-a-Stack will be a transparent container. The team mentioned exploring the idea of the base which was part of our conceptual sketches. Wires would run along the sides or middle of the structure and connect to a lifeline base underneath the stacks. This would centralize power to one area within the product and hide the technological aspect during interaction.

Another issue was having the modular stacks contain an aquarium which wouldn’t be ideal due to power and weight factors. Also, there were suggestions on housing other kinds of pets like gerbils or hamsters. These ideas could be applied in theory to the product, however, the team has already decided on the scope which limits us to concentrating on incubating plants. Then came the topic of the types of plants that would be used and how to care for a variety of plants. Each stack would contain a different type of plant which would make their maintenance more simplified through separation. Plants that would be tested to grow would be those that would be able to survive indoors with minimal light. Research has already been done on the ideal type of plants for this project.

An idea to explore is the suggestion of having a remiding system directly on the product and not just on a computer interface. A subtle alert could be emitted from the product when the plants need to be watered or are at a critical condition. The alert would be in the form of something unintrusive but noticable to the user. The team would implement this by having the Sustain-a-Stack glow with a light. This detail will be explored furthur in the following weeks.



Towards the end of September, amidst a chaotic time, the Octobox team was divided over the Sustain-A-Stack idea. One of the main concerns was that this whole system would turn out to be overly difficult to implement because of the scope of the project. Let’s face it, we weren’t building a website or some handheld device; we pretty much agreed to stay away from products like those because, first of all, we’ve been building websites all our lives. And secondly, the logistics of handheld devices can easily become an application for cellphones. In other words, we had already established our design values.As you all know, we saw potential in working with furniture (no, not in the sense of integrating a screen and labelling it interactive, but in creating an aesthetic and designerly balance). Further, we were skeptical of the miniaturizing of existing technologies. So the supporters of “Sustain-a-Stack” met over the weekend of September 30th to put together a rough prototype that addresses some of the concerns the non-believers had.

Now, cue Pete, a 98-cent plant purchased in a distressed state from Home Depot. It’s fate is to be locked in a dark locker for days with only a tiny LED light to provide it its chlorophyll need. We couldn’t get the components we needed so we scrapped around and found some blinkers to serve that purpose. We put it in a box and left it in a locker for an entire week- taking it out occasionally to give it a breath of fresh air. We only watered it once.

The results were staggering. The first week showed that it was becoming more healthy from the bombardment of red led waves. We decided to keep it going and as of this post, Pete now looks like a healthy plant worth at least quadruple of what we paid for! It seems to have also grown as a result!



So, congratulations to us for a successful presentation this week. Although it went rather well, we expect to be better prepared (in terms of team organization) for future presentations. Big thanks to those of us who pulled an all-nighter and worked up to the very last minute to put everything together.Here’s a copy of the presentation we rolled in with on Thursday morning. I just want to print this thing full size and stick it on my wall!

As you can see, the poster effectively sums up the first few weeks of our processOf the critical feedback we received, much focus was directed towards our apparent lack of focus. While this is certainly true to a certain degree, we viewed this quality as a positive characteristic of our direction. We don’t claim to have a  During voting, we notice that we had 4-5 red votes. You know what red means, and we’d like to hear why you think the Sustain-A-Stack sucks. You can send your thoughts to us collectively or to me, Andrew.Now, onto the feedback we received in class from both students and instructors:Student Feedback:Most obviously, we received considerable feedback on the scope of our project, which is apparently questionable. However, it is quite possible that the class considered our mention of aquariums and terrariums too literally. We are simply considering the possibilities in pursuing various components. Judging solely by our research, it is obvious that our focus is on plant growth/life and storage. Secondly, we received very helpful feedback in terms of spatial constraints. Evidently, if we are to pursue building stackable boxes, there is obvious restrictions to how much plants can grow. While we have considered this element to a certain degree, various students suggested the importance of acknowledging this constraint. In light of this feedback, we have decided to focus solely on herbs and small vegetables that do not produce large roots, etc.Thirdly, it was suggested that we emphasize our target market; more specifically, people with large yards/gardens are likely to be less interested in this product. In our opinion, this claim is slightly questionable: users may still be interested by the design/aethetic integrity of our project.Instructor Feedback: After briefly speaking with Thecla after our presentation, we have the impression that development on the technical side of our project hold tremendous potential. While we did not explicitly describe our research/interest in technical components, we have definitely consider the potential in adding a separate digital interface that could be viewed from cellphones, home computers, and laptops. Thecla encouraged us to consider this direction and we have set up a meeting to discuss this further at a later date.We’d also like to comment on the feedback we’ve received from Jinsil, who has provided us with a couple of valuable links:http://www.inhabitat.com/2007/09/24/metaphys-indoor-grass-planters-from-tokyo/From the indoor planters, we can derive a stronger sense of aesthetic design. This planters are chic, stylish, and modern. We will reference this throughout the design process.http://www.inhabitat.com/2006/04/05/micro-compact-tree-village/In short, “Sustain-a-Stack” is essentially a hybrid of these two existing products/concepts. However, we feel the first example is particularly relevent and helpful for our future consideration of design aesthetics.



Over the past few weeks, we’ve been considering the importance of physical sketches in better conveying our project and its integrity. These sketches have become a significant component to our design process and given that it is time to finally display our progress in the form of a presentation, it is only fitting to post the sketches that have been created thus far.Furthermore, it is very likely that we will not have time to present these sketches during our presentation. This is because much of our presentation will describe the many other elements we’ve worked on. As it is now, we already plan to integrate an extra slide on design/aethetics values and integrity; thus, we’ll likely be short on time as it is.The following sketches have been created over the past several weeks:



This week consisted of evaluating the current state of our project and considering the future direction of the team. Inherent in these steps are the consideration of elements such as: target users, goals, and scope. Evidently, these evaluations have allowed our team to better define our project.

Project Scope, Goals and Assumptions
I. Define Project

Project Plan:

Wk8 additional research for participatory workshop

  • Planning tasks for usability testing
  • Creating workable prototype [interface]
  • Sketching detailed schematics
  • Preparation of consent forms

Wk9 criteria for user testing

  • Creating questionnaires for users
  • Continuation of tasks from week 8

Wk10 participatory workshop with users

  • Conducting user testing with prototype and questionnaires
  • Gathering comments and suggestions from test participants
  • Documentation of testing process and user observation

Wk11 implementation phase’

  • Analysis and evaluation of results
  • Applying results to conceptual design
  • Finalize design

Wk12 FLEX week

  • Troubleshooting conceptual flaws
  • Preparing components list for prototyping
  • Documentation of technical aspects

Wk13 Finalize Content – End of the Semester

  • Create process book detailing project documentation


  • Testing of Arduino
  • Testing LED lights
  • Testing water pump

“Sustain-a-Stack is eco-friendly furniture, designed to stylize one’s home, improve air quality, and renew cramped living spaces.

The project is divided into two components: the physical and the digital.

Our project’s physical framework is defined in the following ways:

  • Lighting
    • LEDs
    • Color
    • Amount
    • Arrangement

  • Temperature
    • Monitor/Control
    • Ventilation
    • Air Flow
    • Minimize Condensation
  • Water Distribution
    • Physical (Hand water)
    • Pump
    • Aeroponics
    • Drainage
  • Structure
    • Shape
    • Size
    • Aesthetic
    • Design

II. Identify your product’s end users

What people or positions will be most affected by this project?

  • Condo owners/High-rise dwellers/Seniors
  • Those without gardens

Who will be required to operate it?

  • Computer/laptop owners
  • Power outlet

How many people will be affected by the project?

  • Households (smaller)
  • Upper class

What are their current levels of skill in operating this technology?

  • Basic technical/computer knowledge

What training, if any, will they require?

  • Brief instruction manual detailing assembly, software installation and maintenance

What team support will they need to keep using the product?

  • None (perhaps reminders)

What are their attitudes toward this change?

  • Enhanced living atmosphere
  • Maximized space

What can the team or organization do to alleviate their concerns?

  • Various periods for user testing

Conclusion on your end users

  • Users will be homeowners who can operate a computer with an appreciation of aesthetics and concern for the environment

III. Establish your project’s goals


What is the need for your product?

  • Storage
  • Easy plant maintenance
  • Purified air

How will this product make people’s lives easier?
• Storage/space conservation
• Time saving

How will it help fill the niche you are aiming for?
• Chic/appealing
• Design/aesthetics
• Lifestyle
• Environment-friendly

What are the benefits of having such a product?
• Storage/space conservation
• Time saving
• Purified air in the home

IV. Discuss what assumptions you need to make before developing your project


On Values:
• Will and in what way the users will feel fun, enjoyment or convenience to have your product • Tranquil experience
• Space conservation
• Aesthetics
• Ambient vs. immersive

On Technology:
• What domain of technology will this project belong to?
• Will the project require technical innovation in certain way or special skills?
• How challenging will the technology in question be?
• Will require electronics and programming skills
• Will focus on gathering information from the environment, transferring this to the laptop and managing the information for changes.

On Resources:
• How much of the technical challenge can be tackled by your team’s expertise?
• Will you need any outside help and will it be available?
• Will the materials and equipment be available or can be ordered?
• All technical aspects will be handled by the team
• Help will be available if we need advising
• Hardware store, nursery, electronics store

On cost and risk:
• Is information available for estimating the cost of the project?
• Is there any concern on cost?
• Will a reasonable budget be available?
• What risks have been identified, and are they allowed?
• LEDs (Lee’s Electronics)
• Glass/plexiglass, wood, plastic (Home Depot) > could be costly
• Power tools

On time:
• Will team members be available when required?
• How many hours/week can you expect from each of your team members?
• Division of team into 2 parties each meeting at separate times and combining work during a general meeting
• 20 hrs/week

On project scope:
• Would you be able to identify the boundary of your project scope?
• What are the in-scope items?
• What are the out-of-scope items? In scope:
• Temperature (monitoring)
• Light (on/off)
• Watering
• Storage
• Plant growth

Out of scope:
• Heating


1. Project Expectations

As a result of this project, homeowners will be able to grow plants and keep small pets with an relatively low degree of maintenance. This will be encouraged through the use of laptops to control and monitor certain aspects of the environment. This environment is structured in the form of a stackable shelves (the base containing power/water sources) consisting of transparent cubes wherein users can configure the needs of their environment, which may include general storage. Above the base is a table-like platform, on which one can place books, laptops, newspapers, etc.

2. Feedback strategies

Members/users (during testing) can simply bring up issues as they arise. Our progress will be measured by how much more information we gather week by week in finalizing our concept for the product.

3. Your skills for your team

Sammy Troubleshooter manager/researcher
Kurtis Cross-Dresser documentation/ prototyper
Brian Iconoclast programmer
Katrina Pulse-Taker documentation/researcher
Derek Visionary prototyper
Andrew Entrepreneur (rapid) prototyper
Manuel Technologist interface designer

4. Appropriate team behaviors

Members must attend all meetings or give prior notice if one will be absent. Absentees will be responsible for keeping themselves updated on the meetings missed. Before the meetings, members must come ready with materials and research.

5. Team decision-making methods

I) Individuals raise concerns
II) Teammates react/respond
III) If conflict, seek compromise
IV) Last, vote through majority

6. Team Management: Time Allocation

Delegating tasks equally with set deadlines during weekly meetings