Week 8: User Studies & Additional Project Definition

Posted on: Saturday, October 27, 2007

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.