Bruce Monroe Community Garden
End-to-end mobile application for a DC-based community garden
The Bruce Monroe Community Garden is a public garden located in Washington DC. The end-to-end mobile application project for the garden was completed in Designlab’s UX Academy.
Bruce Monroe Community Garden Overview
Role: User Research, Design, Prototyping, Usability Testing
Tools: Sketch, Proto.io, Adobe Illustrator, Vimeo, Quirkos, Google Surveys
Duration: 4 weeks
The Bruce Monroe Community Garden is a public garden located in Washington DC’s Ward 1 Columbia Heights neighborhood. The garden was established in 2011 by Ecolocity with the mission of addressing the issues of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
Implementing a digital transformation via an end-to-end mobile application for the Bruce Monroe Community Garden.
Identifying garden pain points to improve overall the user experience of the garden and administrative efficiency.
DC gardening 101
Like most DC residents, I live in an apartment with no access to green space. I joined the Bruce Monroe Community Garden two years ago to gain access to an area to grow food for my partner and myself.
As I became more active in the garden, I joined the Bruce Monroe Steering Committee, a volunteer board that makes decisions for the garden. From this vantage point, I could see how introducing a mobile application could improve a user's overall experience in the garden. This experience gave me the idea to approach the Steering Committee with my project proposal.
Steering Committee presentation
As the garden's overarching governing board, the Steering Committee has the final say on what goes on in the garden. In our monthly Zoom call meeting, I presented my project with a breakdown of the overall project scope and the benefit my project could bring to the garden. The Committee approved my project on the call, and I started work on the generative research phase.
Generative information digging
One of the most exciting parts of this project was that the garden was a rich setting to conduct research, given a large pool of over two hundred gardeners. The garden was also a rare opportunity in the COVID-19 era to conduct in-person ethnographic research.
Given the broad range of tools available, I conducted generative research, including a Google survey, user interviews, landscape analysis, and an in-person field study.
My generative research aimed to explore the following questions:
1. What makes people want to garden and participate at Bruce Monroe?
2. How do gardeners learn about growing, and what are they interested in learning?
3. How do gardeners participate and think about the Bruce Monroe community?
4. What is the onboarding process like for gardeners?
Ethnographic field research
After conducting my initial generative research, the gardeners' experience contributing to the garden, and the volunteer workdays were repeating themes. For context, gardeners at Bruce Monroe are required to attend at least four volunteer workdays during the season. The volunteer workdays are important events in the garden since this is where gardeners get to meet each other and learn how to contribute to the garden's general maintenance.
From here, I wanted to dive into how gardeners contributed to the garden by conducting an in-person field study of a garden volunteer workday.
After wrapping up the field study and my generative research, I coded my qualitative data based on descriptive themes in a program called Quirkos. Quirkos helped me organize my raw transcripts, survey quotes, and field notes while drilling down on specific themes that emerged from the data.
Validating the generative research
From my generative research, I had found significant user pain points of the volunteer workday experience and that many gardeners were not attending the required workdays.
My subsequent validation research triangulated this finding via a second Google Survey, confirming that 70.9% of gardeners had not fulfilled their four required volunteer workdays. This is significant since gardener participation in the volunteer workdays is critical for keeping the garden well maintained.
I also found that 58.5% of gardeners were affected by COVID-19 in their ability to attend or feel safe attending the garden volunteer workdays.
To better visualize my research findings, I completed a user journey of a gardener’s volunteer workday experience and synthesized my research findings into the below conclusions:
1. Gardeners needed more flexibility in how they contributed to the garden and alternate volunteering options.
2. The majority of gardeners were either not completing required volunteer workdays or not coming to volunteer workdays.
3. Garden volunteer workdays had a rigid hierarchical structure where gardeners were dependent on the workday leader for volunteering instruction.
4. Garden administrative tracking was labor-intensive, and volunteer workday tracking was inefficient.
Two types of gardeners
From my research, two distinct user personas emerged:
Sylvia Martin: The new Bruce Monroe gardener who is looking to escape the hectic busy DC life. Sylvia is looking forward to making new friends in the garden and getting back in nature to start growing some of her food.
Marc Thompson: The seasoned Bruce Monore gardener, who has now taken up a leadership role in the garden. Marc is a busy professional and is finding it hard to commit the time to garden administrative tasks that he had been a few years back.
Weeding out requirements
Writing the requirements was an especially helpful task in this project. From my research, I knew that there was a need for a way to improve the volunteer workday experience and a more efficient way to track volunteer workday hours, garden administrative paperwork, and plot payments. The below tasks addressed these core features for the mobile garden application:
1. Create a garden profile
2. Learn about the garden through gardener resources
3. Record/track volunteer or volunteer workday hours
4. Learn about volunteer/workday tasks
Building out the UI kit for Bruce Monroe was a fun exercise. The garden to my users represented a place of learning and an oasis away from the city. I wanted to capture the joy and fun of learning how to grow your own food and spending time in nature. I decided on an illustrative style, green brand colors, and colorful red to yellow accent colors drawing inspiration from the different shades of ripening tomato plants.
Conceptualizing a mobile garden
I first built out a wire flow of what screens I would need to complete the four general tasks laid out in my user requirements. After this, I started on my wireframes. I found that during this process, visualizing the application came easier when I worked in color. I quickly built out the mid-fidelity wireframes that evolved into my final refined high-fidelity wireframes.
For inspiration during this process, I took my laptop many times to the garden and sat out working on my wireframes, taking in the summer colors and sounds of Bruce Monore.
04. Testing & Iteration
Guerrilla garden testing
I used Proto.io to mock up the mobile application. It was very important for me to conduct the usability tests in the garden on a workday. I wanted to observe how users navigated the application under a realistic setting that included variables like heat, high humidity, and a noisy atmosphere.
Driving garden optimization
Overall the usability testing was a success with a 100% test completion rate and 93% completed task error rate. Having the usability tests in the garden highlighted the importance of in-the-field testing. Factors like the heat and having dirt-covered hands affected the usage of the mobile application, where gardeners wanted to learn how to volunteer quickly and be able to do hassle-free volunteer tracking to fulfill their volunteer workday requirements.
I compiled my notes from the usability test and found four major pain points to address in my design iterations.
This project was a joy to work on, and I felt like I was contributing to a worthwhile organization that has been a healing place for myself and so many other people during COVID-19. If successfully implemented, the mobile application would help track a minimum amount of 800 volunteer workday hours of the two hundred Bruce Monroe gardeners helping improve and enhance an important DC community resource. The next steps include finding a local state grant focused on environmental sustainability and community engagement to fund such a project.