WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING

“CropShare” was driven heavily by the community that it was being used by. Due to the escapist nature of the allotments, I dismissed screenbased technologies early on and I think that I should have taken longer to examine, “Why?”  My justification was based on the idea that the allotments are a place of escape and that screens tend to represent work and commitments. Phones in particular demand our attention and break us out of our current state of mind.
This was a hasty decision. It limited me as I have more experience with screen-based technologies than building large, physical prototypes. I also learned that most people did bring phones to their plot so the disruptive presence was already there. However, working out what didn’t work off-screen helped me fully realise the limitations of working without screens and where the complexity lies.
I wanted to create a product which would help fill out the gaps in my experience and show my versatility as a designer. I would say that I have succeeded in that endeavour but there are places where I could have done much more. I learned about materials, adhesives, bindings and physical prototyping, but it didn’t come easily. I also had to learn a fair bit about using the Arduino Yun in conjunction with Temboo.
Through my iterations of the project, I hit many walls. Much of it came down to finding the right materials, inspiration and transport. I think this can be difficult with any project based on found objects as I was looking high and low for inspirational materials and found little. In the end, I found materials by accident at my parents house when I went home to visit them.

TRUST INSTINCTS

To begin with, I deliberately avoided my initial ideas because I suspected that what I knew about allotments was biased and that I didn’t have a full picture. Rather than investigating whether I was biased and resolving a concept, I went in other directions in order to try and create a more innovative product.
Running with the original idea probably would have been more innovative as I have already done a fair bit of legwork just by being interested in the subject and having my head in the right space. Fortunately I returned to this later and through trying other things, I’d worked out what definitely doesn’t work.
Before the first prototype, I spent too long focussing on details that did not take priority. I was also far too ambitious in terms of how much I could accomplish in that amount of time. I spent too much time on research and not enough on prototyping. For instance, I spent a great deal of time researching how I could make the project self sufficient, discovered no answers that could be done without a great deal of money and ended up with a prototype that achieved few of the outcomes that I hoped for.

Building Prototype 1

Building Prototype 1

Having said that, I liked the character that the first prototype had and ran with it as I wanted to create an iconic and emotive icon at the apex of the device.

I liked the rooster.

I liked the rooster.

RESOLVING THE FUNCTION

The first prototype was fairly basic but it helped me recognise the discrete functions that I was trying to create as I had buttons for each function used on the device. I was looking to make a small sculpture with an element of emotive animation. I discovered that it’s difficult to get any kind of movement that doesn’t strike you as incredibly robotic from a servo. It took me a long time to give up on the idea of a device that points in the direction you travel.
After the crit’ of the first prototype, I began to see how complicated it was to create a device with so many functions.
I spent a lot of time on the allotments but people weren’t keen on me bringing foreign objects or noticeboards in to try out.
Trying to find a solution that allowed people to find each other has been a problem throughout the project as I had difficulty making it easy to understand. I think the density of allotments make for a massive challenge if you’re trying to create any kind of communication infrastructure.
Eventually I decided to situate the CropShare totem at the entrance of the allotments. It allows people to habituate to the presence of the structure and become curious as to its purpose. I wanted to create a kind of water cooler effect where people would talk as they interacted or passed the totem. Many of these ideas were enhanced by my discussion on “Guru’s Day” where we discussed service design and allotment politics.

The Guru's Panel

The Guru’s Panel

It was just after the second prototype that I started to do much more role playing. I put my structure in front of anyone I could get my hands on and explained to them and acted out exactly what was happening. In most cases, people were perplexed. I kept having to strip it down until all I had left was the buttons. What I realised was that this was a functional project and that many of the ideas I’d had so far were technology for technology’s sake and I was losing sight of what was useful to the users.
It was around this time that I decided to make an app as I could be prescriptive with instructions and make the entire process very clear to the users. I decided to use an app because of how many people already have phones and I also saw it as an opportunity to show that I’m capable of mobile development.

I wish I’d had a little more time to work on the app so that I could refine the graphics and add some animations to the transitions. It’s perfectly functional and works well in tandem with the totem.

PEER CONNECTOR TO FOOD SELLER

The project started out as a device for newer allotment holders to get help from more experienced members. This was a way of encouraging a sense of community as I’ve found that relationships naturally grow when we work side by side. I think this was also related to the fact that I worked with Skillshare and admired what they did.

It was quite late in the day that I decided to return to one of my earliest ideas. I wanted to allow allotment holders to sell food. The reason I stayed away from this for so long was because I’d been told that it was against the rules to sell food grown on the allotments. People will often say that there is not enough food on allotments to supply any kind of distribution but I knew that people did sell and give away surpluses to friends and family. So I’d worked out a way to create a one to one connection between individuals while also providing a small income for the growers.
I’m really happy with the outcome; being able to create a device that helps communities, encourages sustainability and creates delicious food is more than I could have asked for.

 

Read more from Struan Fraser at http://interaction.dundee.ac.uk/~szfraser/blog/?feed=rss2