Open House Post-Mortem

Posted on: Thursday, March 6, 2008

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)



Open House Report

Posted on: Saturday, March 1, 2008

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!




Midterm Presentation

Posted on: Friday, February 22, 2008

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



Presentation Preparation (and a New Iteration)

Posted on: Friday, February 15, 2008

With the upcoming presentation consistently on our minds and evident dissatisfaction with the state of our physical prototype, the team decided that a change was necessary.

While this inevitably brought about conflict amidst our team, it was unanimously decided that there were some issues in need of addressing and a new iteration was somewhat timely.

Of the most pressing issues, there were two rather significant problems that were most imminent: a target audience in need of updating and the issue of an increasingly similar project amidst our IAT 404/5 class.

Firstly, our original target audience (specifically, busy young professionals) was obviously derived from our team’s identification of a problem: people leading busy lives rarely have time for gardening or the environment, regardless of their interest. However, this specific target audience became more of a hindrance than anything else; in short, it prevented us from looking into other situations where this product might be utilized and alternate user groups that could potentially be interested. But more than anything else, there was still the question of whether busy professionals would have an interest in this product for long-term periods. In addressing these questions, we’ve decided to drop the use of a target audience and develop a target persona instead. In contrast to target audiences, the target persona allows for less narrow-mindedness and a more open approach to the potential market dynamics. The details of this persona will be released next week with our presentation slides.

Secondly, and perhaps most infuriatingly, our team was rather troubled by the overt similarities between our project and a fellow team. Rather than dwelling on this, however, we decided to further differentiate our product by developing a new visual style and by emphasizing the above shift in target users. This will also be further addressed in our upcoming presentation.



Draft Prototype Evaluation Plan

Posted on: Friday, February 8, 2008

Exercise One: Evaluation Criteria

Mission statement:
Strengthening the relationship between people and the environment by merging urban and natural spaces.

Project overview:
Mini indoor greenhouse used for growing herbs, vegetables and other small plants.

High-level goals/Goals of the interaction:

  •   To grow and monitor plants/herbs/vegetables in a convenient and effective way
  •   To create a heightened sense of awareness regarding the importance of organic foods in one’s lifestyle

Point of Interface/Why it matters:

  • Box: To allow the watering and lighting of the plants in a simple, intuitive manner (single button for each control)
  • Widget: To allow the monitoring of the growth and health of the plants

5 Qualities of Experience: Interactive, satisfying, engaging, smooth, simple

5 Goals of Interaction:
1. Enable user to monitor status of plants digitally(?)
2. Allow user to control lighting and watering of plants
3. Simplify plant care indoors
4. Create a give and take relationship between users and their plants
5. Easy access to organically grown vegetables and herbs

Ways our interface enables those experiences and qualities to be created in a functional way directly related to the interface and interaction:
1. create direct access to the status of my plant
2. constant update of box temperature and humidity
3. alert the user when water or temperature levels are too low

Participant Assumption

  • familiarity with using computers
  • familiar with the concept and use of widgets

Exercise Two: Prototype Usability Concerns

Our interface is primarily about ease in monitoring the status
of your plant while the physical prototype will function as a mini greenhouse to house plants, herbs or vegetables within your home.

// Is the widget fully functional?
// Is the use of widgets ideal for the task of monitoring?
// Are the icons and labeling used clear enough to understand?
// Is the interface visually appealing? Does it meet the user’s expectation?
// Is the user able to water the plant?
// is the user able to manipulate the lighting?
// Is the user’s experience with the interaction similar to that of typical gardening? Is the work required for maintenance simplified enough?
// Is the product visually appealing? (shape, size, material) Does it meet the user’s expectation?

Goals and Expectations: (Participants will be able to…)
// Understand the function of the widget
// Recognize what the labels and icons represent
// Immediately identify the status of the plant
// Will give high evaluating points to the aesthetics and experience of the interface
// Water the plant
// Manipulate the lighting inside the box
// Have an enjoyable and more simplified interaction with the plant
// Will give high evaluating points to the aesthetics and experience of the physical prototype

Exercise Three: Evaluation Method

We will be using a combination of methods for the evaluation of our physical and interface prototype. A realistic scenario will be introduced to set up the do-it-yourself walkthrough. The participants will be given a task to monitor the status of their plant using the widget for our prototype test. From the information gained from the widget, the user will be asked to manipulate the physical box prototype either by manipulating the lighting or by watering the plant. Group members who will be taking down notes will observe this process.
After the test, a one-on-one interview will be conducted. Participants will be asked questions regarding the functionality and experience of using the interface and physical prototype. Suggestions for improvements are welcome.

Exercise Four: Data Collection Methodology

• Ease and speed of learning functionality
• Differentiating between the clickable and non-clickable buttons
• Understanding how to use the calendar
• Quality and number of responses regarding: visual aesthetics, navigation, form
• Number of errors they encountered

• Ease of learning functionality
• Refilling/releasing water
• On/off lighting
• Inserting/removing plantlife (access/door)
• Quality and number of responses regarding: aesthetics, form, usability
• Average amount of time to complete each task (because, you know, our users are busy young professionals and they’d need to finish tasks quickly, for sure)
• Portability
• Ease of grabbing and carrying

Exercise Five: Deliverables

The results of the usability test will be presented through an in-depth evaluation report of the process in which we will be able to pinpoint our observations accompanied with photos. This will help us formulate recommendations to apply certain changes to the design and continue to develop our product a step further.



Open House Prototype Plan

Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2008

Team Name:
Team Octobox

Team URL:

Team Members:
Kurtis Beard
Derek Pante
Manuel Pineault
Andrew Thong
Katrina Chua
Sammy Jayetileke
Brian Quan

Prototype Plan Fall’07 Midterm Walkthrough:
1) Project Overview
2) Scenario One: Physical Prototype
3) Journey Framework: Physical Prototype
4) Demonstration: Physical Prototype
5) Scenario Two: Widget Prototype
6) Journey Framework: Widget Prototype
7) Demonstration: Widget Prototype

Prototype Plan Open House:
1) Built widget, no connection to physical prototype
2) Working physical prototype (water and light systems)
3) Brochure
4) Poster in the background :)

Equipment Requirements:
1) Table
2) Projector
3) Power bar & outlet
4) Arduino
5) Chairs [6]

Space Needs:
Enough space for our physical prototype, table, and projector screen.

Space Allocation:
We’d like to be outside!



Cognitive Walkthrough

Posted on: Thursday, January 24, 2008

Description of the Prototype

The Sustain-a-Stack is a mini indoor greenhouse used for growing herbs, vegetables and other small plants. Ideally to be located in a living room or a kitchen, this product is targeted for people with interests in the organic food market or in growing their own plants at home but don’t have the space or time to do so.

The physical prototype will include a watering system and LED lights in a box to sustain the plant. Other sensors that will pick up temperature, humidity and water levels will be added later on in the process. The levels that the sensor will detect will transmit to an interface widget on a computer through the Arduino microcomputer. The widget will allow the user to monitor the plant by checking up on its status, viewing the last watering date, water the plant and turn the lights on and off.

Although the widget provides efficient feedback to the user, it will only simulate the desired action since there is still no communication between the interface and the physical box as of now.


Representative Task

At home: The user would approach the Sustain-a-Stack physically and check on its status. Based on how often the plant needs to be watered, the user would push the watering button and the system would spray water on the plant. The lighting system will automatically turn on and off in a cycle but if the user wishes, the lights could also be controlled manually by pressing the light toggle button.

At work/elsewhere: The user would check on the status of the plant by accessing the Sustain-a-Stack widget on his computer. Then he can check the temperature, humidity and water levels. Also shown are the days since the plant has last been watered which then prompts the user to click on the water button on the widget interface. Lights can also be manipulated through this widget.


Actions Needed

Pre-planting -performed everytime user is to plant something new

  • adding soil to fill the bottom of the Sustain-a-Stack
  • planting seedlings within the soil
  • filling water reserve to enable watering through the press of a button or through the widget


  • watering - box/widget
  • turn lighting on and off - box/widget/automated
  • monitor status of the plant in person or through the detected levels on the widget interface - box/widget

Once in a while

  • trimming the plant
  • reaping the harvest of the produce or herbs grown to be consumed



Users + Experience

Our target audience will be people who are interested in the organic food market specifically people who want to grow their own organic food. Typically, our users will be busy, having little time to take tend to their plant. They will have familiarity with using computers to be able the access the widget. They should also have an idea of basic plant care. The user will be able to take care their plants indoors ideally in their living room or kitchen. Having the Sustain-a-Stack is meant to motivate people to grow their own food, promote green living and display the progress they’ve made with their plant in their homes.


Recent Events

Pete, our original prototype plant, died over the Christmas break. RIP. So we got Petunia (Pete-2-nia) :)


We also had to design a poster for the Open House coming up. Andrew will make a better, digital version of it but this is what we have for now. We plan to include a description of the product, our target audience, mission statement and a bit of the processes we went through.poster



Prototype Feasibility and Plans

Posted on: Thursday, January 17, 2008


After considering the range of options, we have decided to produce a partially operational appearance prototype of our Sustain-a-Stack. This best suits the feasibility of our proposed product because we feel confident that we can build a hardware prototype of our box, which will look very close to what we want as our final physical form, with some of the functionality partially working. For instance, we will attempt to have a partially working version of our watering system for this prototype, as well as our humidity sensor; but, we know that it will be a difficult process to get these functions working, so we will be content to have these moderately working.

A. Software Issues
1. Software involved: Flash

2. Programming the Arduino board to sync with Flash is a technical issue that we will need to overcome, as only a few of our members have done this before. Also, programming the calendar and the humidity-sensing functions of the widget will be other programming issues that we’ll need to deal with.

3. We believe that we can deal with these issues as we have two members who have had prior experience working with Flash and Arduino together (Kiks and Brian), as well as an expert ActionScript programmer (Manuel); the other remaining members of the team also have working knowledge of Flash.

4. Our primary option is to use Flash and Arduino together. But, as a backup, we are willing to try other options, such as Max/MSP and Arduino, or Max/MSP and the Teleo kit (most of our members have experience with Teleo).

5. All the members of our team have access to both Flash and Arduino-related applications. Any “special” equipment, such as the Arduino board, can be borrowed from the library. Alternatively, Andrew is planning on purchasing an Arduino board himself, so we will most likely be using his, with the library’s as a backup (and/or for testing purposes).

B. Hardware Issues
Our main focus is to have the hardware detect information to send to the Arduino board which will take a bit of trial and error. Enough time is alloted for this task and if we have extra time, we can shift our focus to having the buttons and the watering work.

1. Hardware involved:

  • Arduino - library (then later on, buy one for ourselves)
  • sensors - potentiometer, temperature sensor, humidity sensor (?)
  • LED’s
  • wires
  • wood
  • housing (start of with cheap plastic for the prototype)
  • buttons (to control the light and water distribution)
  • soil
  • plants - start off small (Pete II)

2. Getting multiple sensors to interact with the Arduino board will be one of the major technical issues that we will need to overcome. Making sure that the water and soil from the plant’s environment do not disrupt the electronic hardware components (and vice versa) will be another issue. Finally, getting the buttons to work correctly (e.g. releasing water whenever the water button is pushed) is another issue to deal with.

3. Though we’ve had prior experience with Arduino, we’ve never tried connecting more than one sensor at a time, which will require more research and experimenting in this aspect. Some of our members have dealt with electronics before so we’re fairly confident with solving most of our hardware component concerns.

4. In the case that a specific sensor does not function as we intend it to, there are other sensors out there that we can use as substitutes. Our options for the hardware will depend on the availability of supplies in the stores that we will be going to.

5. All the hardware that we will be needing are easily accessible at any hardware store. We will be doing most of our purchases at Lee’s on Main Street and the other electronics store on the same block. The whole group has agreed to pitch in to pay for the materials that we will be needing for this semester.

1. We have roughly 4 weeks to prototype before the presentation and user testing.

  • First Cycle: Rough construction of the form of our box, and a low-fidelity interface of our widget;
  • Testing: Running our tests with the same, or at least similar, types of people that we interviewed in the first semester, as they represent our actual user group.
  • Second Cycle: We’ll take the feedback from the testing and put it towards our “Final” prototype, which will hopefully be working…

2. Most of the construction will be done on Saturdays and Monday nights. We will also want to bring whatever we have ready to class to get instructor feedback, ask questions and to continue working on it.

3. We will be taking care of the funds that we need for the project. Outside dependencies will just be help and advice from instructors. The amount of supplies and resources that we will be needing is undefined as it will continue to change through our trial and error prototyping process but we have already listed down what we need for the initial construction session this Saturday.

4. Roles of members:

  • Hardware-wise, Andrew, Derek, Kiks and Kurtis will be dealing with wiring and attaching the sensors, buttons, etc. to the constructed physical prototype. Brian will be in charge of getting these components to transmit the necessary input to the software side of the product.
  • Software-wise, we will be assigning Manuel to do the Flash ActionScript programming, working closely with Kiks, who will be handling the Flash-to-Arduino programming components. Derek and Brian will be assisting Kiks and Manuel wherever they can.Sammy will continue to manage the group, make sure we stick to the timeline and do the shopping for materials needed.

5. We have back-ups for most of the aspects of the prototyping phase. The alternatives for the technical software and hardware components are discussed in our feasibility study above.

Whew! That was a long post. We’ll try keep it short and sweet next time :)