Redesigning the Growing Assistant for a New Product Vision

Dates Worked On: 2017-2018
My Role: UX Design Director/Lead, Full Time


In early 2017,  we decided to stop manufacturing our own hardware, and instead pursue a partnership model. Global appliance companies and other indoor-growing companies were expressing interest in our user experience, and in packaging it with their own hardware.

This pivot to a partnership model was an opportunity to rethink the customer journey and create a packaged growing experience that truly fit into the daily habits of the target customer.


I led a round of user research to create an updated journey map for the Grove Garden experience. The goal was the identify opportunities to improve both the physical and digital product experience.

Research Methods:
  • Intercept Interviews (phone + in person)
  • Email Surveys
  • Mixpanel Funnels 
  • Ethnographic Field Studies
  • Customer Feedback

Journey Map
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Defining the Problem

This research uncovered a few weaknesses in the existing product experience. The biggest dips in customer satisfaction occurred around optimization of IoT controls and the management of water chemistry in the garden.

Those insights led to major changes in the hardware design, specifically around planting, care, and harvesting, and resulted in packaged seed pods that are easy to plant, easy to harvest and produce about the equivalant of a box of salad greens.

My packaging concepts for our consumable goods. >> Branding Case Study.

As we mapped out additional areas for improvement, the area of harvesting and eating stood out as the touchpoint where the mobile app might better engage customers to meet both user and business goals.

We noticed gaps in some customer experiences that more ‘extreme’ users were filling with creative solutions. We identified that happy customers harvested often, but less satisfied customers were leaving things to overgrow, which had a negative impact on their perceived utitlity of the product.

Armed with that information, we identified three opportunities for the app redesign:

Problem #1
Users let a plant overgrow instead of harvesting because they’re not sure it’s ready to harvest and aren’t sure how to properly harvest it.
Problem #2
Users let a plant overgrow instead of harvesting because they aren’t sure how they’ll use it and do not have a plan to cook it.
Problem #3
When deciding what to grow, users select things that complement their grocery shopping but don’t know how to plan ahead based on harvest amount or timeline.

From the business side, we were pivoting to a model in which the sale of renewable goods (in this case, packaged seed pods) was the focus. That meant that harvesting early and often while retaining users on a seed pod subscription drove our decision-making.

The goal of a redesign was:

Encourage higher plant turnover (frequent planting + harvesting) by removing barriers to eating fully grown crops.

In the existing product, users chose from a marketplace of seeds and had free reign over what to grow in their Grove Garden. We began to explore what a companion app that was part of your eating habits, not your gardening habits, looked like.

Honing in on Plant Tracking

Early cardboard prototypes helped us walk through the full vision of a self-optimizing fridge-like device with seed pods. I led scripted UX studies in the lab and after a few early prototypes, it became clear that solving the aforementioned goal was dependent on tracking what was growing in the device. 

Plant tracking allowed for automatic environmental optimization, contextually relevant plant guidance, and opened the door to all sorts of engagement mechanisms to accelerate planting and harvesting.

We worked with the hardware team (mechanical + industrial design) to explore possible recording strategies, from NFC to QR scanning. After validating that plant tracking was technically feasible, we moved on to a mobile experience that was fully aware of what was currently growing.

Gathering Content (Forming Patterns)

The first step was to identify what information a user needed when (the atoms in our design patterns). To figure that out, I worked with the ecology team to define ‘care guides’ for extreme plants, like a basil that might grow continuously for many months and required trimming, and a quick-turn salad mix that a user could eat within weeks.

By creating care guides for extreme cases first, we identified patterns consistent between them and generated templates for 3-4 types of plants.

Early Concepts + Prototypes

With an outline of the necessary content and context in which a user would need each atom of information, I began prototyping plant tracking. 

We knew we wanted to create molecules and components that could be reused throughout the app in creative ways, so that plant guidance was easily identified on multiple pages based on the plant’s growth stage. 

We also knew that in this redesign, we wanted to put food photography front and center for the first time. I pursued a card-based design that laid over colorful photography.

Prototyping + Visual Design

Early concepts of timeline-based designs that highlighted a plant in its stages of growth performed very well in user tests. We doubled down on concepts that turned the moment of planting into a moment of planning so that users would envision their upcoming harvest right when they started a new crop. 

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

In Progress Execution

As the plant tracking (which we now call garden tracking) evolved, we decided to put it front and center and lay the ‘inbox’ (the message center, which contained tasks and messages) over the garden using a floating action button. This allowed users to see their garden at a glance upon opening the app.

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Ongoing Challenges

Removal Tracking
The moment of removing a plant remains elusive - we look forward to shipping this redesign and getting feedback in the field. For the garden tracker to be accurate, a user has to record both the addition of a plant and its removal. I question the many contexts in which a user can remove a plant (a positive harvest or a negative clearing out of a dead plant) and how to accomodate all outcomes.

Future Opportunities

Integrating with grocery-purchasing and recipe applications.
We hope to close the loop for customers further by integrating with a recipe content partner (as opposed to scraping web copy) whose recipes we can feed to users based on what they’re growing and how close it is to harvest. When a plant nears harvest, we could also trigger the purchase of the necessary ingredients for a complete meal.

Feedback and subscription optimization.
At the time of harvest or at key touchpoints during a plant’s growth, we’re excited to perfect a feedback loop that helps us customize a user’s seed subscription to ensure they’re growing the right things -- which we now know is key to customer satisfaction.