WindowSoil is a gardener’s almanac for digital age Plant Parents. WindowSoil allows you to view the care requirements for your plants, track their growth, and receive notifications that will be sure that between grad school, hot yoga classes, and pints with your pals you remember to water your jade plant and prune your chives. This project began as a prompt for one of my courses in my Master's programme at University College Cork. The one month academic web design sprint included market research, systems design, and back-end development for web. I went on to develop WindowSoil's mobile UI as a passion project, applying the mobile UX best practices I learned throughout my Master's curriculum.
According to the National Gardening Survey 18-34 year olds now make up 29% of all gardening households. HuffPost hypothesizes that the rise of social media, mental health awareness, and growing online planting communities all contribute to the craze among this younger age group. These gardeners are not sowing a back garden; they are filling their homes with cheap-to-purchase, easy-to-acquire, low-maintenance plants. I am one of them. However, whenever I try to find plant care information, I spend a lot of time on wasted google searches. I'm forced to sift through latin names and soil chemistry, or to read Sarah's monologue about how much her grandmother loved spider plants when all I need to know is how often to repot aloe. I created WindowSoil as the sweet spot in between whimsical and precise. WindowSoil offers something more beautiful and streamlined than other plant care apps: a chic, modern interface that displays plants on a windowsill garden rather than just a library list. WindowSoil provides just the practical "need to know" plant information and highly customizable reminder options in a beautiful, modern interface that doesn't take itself too seriously.
END USER RESEARCH
User descriptions were derived from online market research regarding plant ownership, professional lifestyles, and digital habits of 18-34 year olds. Narrative use cases were written to describe the typical path that particular user would take to arrive at and navigate through the website. These qualitative narratives in turn derived the technical site implications and the interactions necessary to follow through each user flow.
Plant loving, Media Savvy, Entrepreneurs
This user is likely to access the website via a direct email or phone call invitation for partnership. May also arrive to website via link in social media or online ads. Primary function will be to assess popularity and benefits of WindowSoil and get in contact with relevant admin staff.
Implication for Site Design
Website must provide a partnership-specific contact page that appears professional and efficient, and is easily accessible from the home page. The site aesthetic and branding must be serious enough to attract serious gardeners as well as trendy enough to attract instagram influencers.
Trendy, Techy 18 - 35 Year Olds
This user will likely access the website via mobile either clicking from an ad or social media page. Likely to spend minimal time browsing; priority will be to sign up for an account and/or download mobile version of app.
Implication for Site Design
Aesthetic must be simple, intuitive, modern, trendy, mobile-friendly. Landing page from ads and social media must provide easy access to sign up, searching in the plant library, and links to download the mobile app. Beneficial features must be outlined simply and efficiently as a call to action. Available contact page does not need to be immediately visible but should be present in a side menu.
Creative, Earthy, Developers & Designers
Visit website and log in daily to perform work tasks i.e. website editing/management, plant database management, customer engagement, etc.
Implication for Site Design
Website must have an admin sign in portal with appropriate securities tailored to each admin role. Each admin user would have separate access views depending on their role; marketing/development teams would be able to view website statistics; HR/marketing/sales teams would be able to view partnership requests; data analysts and horticulture experts would be able to view and manage the plant database.
The following diagrams were created to outline the Data Structure, Requirements & Systems necessary to support the use cases, user goals, and touchpoints found in user research.
ENTITY RELATIONSHIP DIAGRAM
This ERD model was used to develop the database on PHP myAdmin and determine the inputs, storage, and data types used in the website's forms.
WindowSoil’s database consists of three tables including separate account information for administrative employees, registered users, and plant data. Information from the Partner contact page is not stored; instead, this information would be emailed to an administrative account at WindowSoil to be vetted. Partnership information does not need to be in a relational database; therefore it would simply be stored separately on a Partners spreadsheet in the company’s dedicated cloud storage.
Employee Data Table
User Data Table
Plant Data Table
BACK-END DEVELOPMENT: WEB
Codeanywhere was used for a first round of database & interface development for WindowSoil. The prototypes were used to demonstrate high integrity implementation of SQL & PHPMyAdmin to meet the functional needs of WindowSoil's primary users. Each walkthrough video demonstrates how users will be able to easily interact with the website in real time as they perform their typical user flows.
The high fidelity prototype shown in the video was made using CodeAnywhere's LAMP stack with Apache and PHPMyAdmin. The video highlights the forms and links that allow admin to manage user and plant database information. The individual pages and single-flow forms ensure error mitigation.
Separate Admin Login
Admin login is located at the bottom of the page; this follows common website structure that users will be familiar with.
User Data Management
Upon login, administrators are able to edit their email address in the database and view their current password. They are also able to view the database of current Registered Users and delete accounts from the database.
Plant Database Management
Like target customers, admin personnel are able to view WindowSoil’s plant database with the added capability of adding a new plant and its care requirements to the database.
TARGET CUSTOMER USER FLOW
The high fidelity prototype shown in the video was made using CodeAnywhere's LAMP stack with Apache and PHPMyAdmin.The video highlights the forms and links that allow target customers to interact with WindowSoil's database in a limited, secure fashion. The website utilizes cookies to ensure customers & admin have separate access and capabilities. At each stage of the user flow, there is a call to action, ensuring users are naturally guided to register, log in, and follow the brand.
Calls to Action
Both app users and potential partners are consistently called to action with the large "Garden With Us" and "Partner With Us" buttons at the bottom of the Home and About pages. Once Partners submit a request, they are encouraged to engage with the brand on social media. Once target app users create an account, they are directed to download the app. This ensures there are no dead pages; visitors are always led to the next step to further their relationship with WindowSoil.
Website as Funnel
Since WindowSoil is an app, the primary purpose of the website is to sell the app to potential users. Click through should always lead to downloads. Its secondary function is to act as a way for partnership requests to be filtered by contact information and type, rather than having to manually sort through emails to an info@ email account or messages via social media.
FRONT END DEVELOPMENT - MOBILE
The user interface for Windowsoil's mobile app was created using Adobe Suite: Illustrator, Fresco, XD. All images and icons are my own.
The video below demonstrates a user flow for Target Customers, undergoing the whole variety of actions available within the free version of the app. The screenshots also show content for notifications, including watering reminders, and a call to action to sign up for the app's plant care newsletter, which would also be part of a premium subscription plan.
EDIT CARE REMINDERS
This 1 month design sprint laid out the groundwork for the websites information management structure, interface design, and user flows. There is a long way to go before WindowSoil is a Minimum Viable Product.
WindowSoil needs more complex database management. For example, users should be able to add plants to their specific windowsill garden and see any changes reflected both visually in the app and on their profile online. Employees would also need to be able to add new plant images alongside the plant care information.
These changes will provide the sophistication necessary to make WindowSoil competitive amongst the "overgrown" plant care app market. Emphasis must always be put on simplicity of the information presented and ease of use. WindowSoil's value proposition is to make creating an instagrammable home garden achievable, enjoyable, and maintainable. A clever balance of simplicity of use, customizable options, and a laid-back feeling interface will make it stand out against the market competitors.