Gardening for the Languorous Landscaper was the product of a six-week project that covered exploratory research, evaluative research, and the iterative process of component production. The solution to a problem space of our choice had to be a cohesive ecosystem of products, both physical and digital.
My chosen problem space centers around the environmental impact of current landscaping practices. Not only can common practices lead to detrimental effects on the environment, but also make the entire activity of gardening more labor intensive and economically difficult. For example, unsustainable plant choices for a region can result in the introduction of invasive species and a waste of resources, such as water and electricity. If one does not have a water capturing system in place and plants are not adapted for the regional precipitation rates, a gardener must either be inconvenienced by taking the time and effort to water the garden manually, or else use a great deal of energy in the form of sprinkler systems. In addition, if a composting system is not set up and plants are used that require soil amendments, it can result in fertilizers and pesticides ending up in the ground water or even in the river in the form of runoff. This can cause disastrous effects in the natural ecosystem, such as algae blooms.
While there has been growing interest in sustainable gardening, with multiple organizations attempting to educate the public on its merits, there is a disconnect between primary consumers and suppliers. When people go looking for sustainable plants and equipment, they often discover they are not easily acquirable.
The proposed solution – Gardening for the Languorous Landscaper – involves helping people curate sustainable habits for their personal and/or professional horticultural undertakings. Specifically, helping hobby gardeners create landscapes that work with – rather than against – nature. This includes creating a way to gain easy access to information (sustainable plant choices, water barrel irrigation methods, and composting systems) in the form of an app, signage for nurseries promoting sustainable practices, and a notebook to help gardeners with basic garden maintenance.
My goal for exploratory research as to examine people’s gardening habits in order to determine how they make decisions on plants and maintenance, and why. I aimed to answer questions such as: do hobby gardeners research first or do they make decisions on the spur of the moment?
In addition to basic research into sustainable plants and practices, I scheduled 5 in-person interviews with people with at least a passing interest in gardening. Each interview was approximately 10 minutes long, recorded, and documented by hand. At the start of each interview, I gave a brief statement of appreciation for the interviewees participation, and a reassurance that there were no wrong answers, and to please be as honest as possible. I also gave them an example of how to ‘think aloud’ and talk through a given activity to get the best picture of their reasoning and gardening practices. The interview questions are show in the document opposite.
After performing my interviews, I synthesized the data I had accumulated. I began by first creating a spreadsheet and entered the questions and their answers for each person to get all of my information into one place.
I then used affinity diagraming with this data to identify patterns in participants’ though processes. I found that the information clustered into four basic factors in decision-making about sustainable gardening practices: convenience, aesthetic, knowledge/awareness, and cost.
Using the four basic factors for decision making in this space that I had identified, I created two mental models for sustainability decisions: a current model and an ideal one.
In the current model, people make their plant decisions primarily based on the plants they know and what is readily available. The secondary considerations are aesthetic qualities and cost. If people do not know much about a given plant, they tend to steer away from it and go with known quantities. In addition, a lot of decisions made in favor of sustainable practices centered around the convenience and lower overall effort of them. An example appears in the quote from Michelle opposite, in which she describes the use of the rainbarrel and sustainable plants because they require far less maintenance than plants not suited to the area.
My designed solution would seek to shift the current model to the more ideal one, in which people have easy access to the knowledge of sustainable plants and practices, as well as convenient access to the necessary materials. This would then shift people’s primary concerns to more aesthetic and cost considerations that would fit their individual needs and style.
My research led me to two primary design principles:
Create a service or product that supports easy access to knowledge about sustainable gardening and helps to increase the availability and feasibility of obtaining sustainable plants.
Emphasize the convenience and the large return on the small investment of sustainable gardening practices.
Using the insight I had gained from my exploratory research, I created two personas for whom I would be designing.
My research for this round focused on evaluating how well my proposed concepts map onto individual’s existing gardening practices. I described two concepts with two separate storyboards: one emphasizing discovering and acquiring sustainable plants (top), and the other emphasizing sustainable garden maintenance (bottom).
I gave 2, 10 minute interviews to evaluate my design concepts. I began the sessions the same way as during my exploratory research: with a brief statement of appreciation for the interviewees participation, and a reassurance that there were no wrong answers, and to please be as honest as possible After about five minutes of explanations, I asked for the participants initial thoughts, and use those answers as a starting point for further questions. The remainder of questions came from the list displayed opposite.
I received positive comments about both solutions. The garden maintenance in the form of a smart rainbarrel seemed especially appealing to both participants. They also thought they could see themselves using the discovery and acquiring solution as a more wholistic and long-term approach. I decided to try to merge the two concepts, as they were not contradictory in any way.
We then entered a period of concept refinement and group critique to iron out our final concepts and move into component development. I found this extremely helpful in articulating and thinking through the scope and appropriateness of the concepts. From the feedback I received from my peers, I decided to abandon the rainbarrel as a potential component due to the fact that it was a more insular solution without a strong connection to the larger network of sustainable plant and material availability. I also found it easier to brainstorm more component options with the help of fresh perspectives.
My final three components were as follows:
A notebook to serve as a general gardening aid aimed to make gardening maintenance and documentation both easier and more fun.
An app that would serve as a repository of information for sustainable plants and practices and make the aquisition of materials easier and more reliable. It would involve a network of participating nurseries providing accurate information about their stock of sustainable plants
Print material for the retailers participating in the system, including a poster and plant tag.
I began to sketch each component, exploring layout and typography options. I started to develop my visual style, which centered around hand lettering to emphasize the personalization of the components as well as encourage participation.
I laid out the components of the notebook: planning sheets and logs, an envelope for storing receipts and plant tags, and a stencil to help with beg planning.
I also began to sketch how the app might work and bring in the hand lettering from the notebook. I identified several key features that I began to develop further: a personal profile, a plant profile showing any given species throughout the year, a searchable sustainable plant index, a compass to help with bed orientation, and a plant recognition component.
I started to wireframe the app to get a better sense of spacing and feature placement.
I began to work out the lettering, decorative aspects, and a layout for my notebook. I also finalized the stencil design and got it ready to send to be laser cut.
I further developed my hand lettering style to create a high impact sign for participating nurseries. I tried a few different shapes and layouts for the plant tag.
High Fidelity and Going Further
The final iteration appears below. If time had permitted, I would have liked to more thoroughly develop the app and more solidly work out how the notebook and app could work together. In addition, I would have done more iterations on the content layout for the notebook.