plink

Plants are all around us, often sitting quietly in the background of our attention. They are life forms that expose a lot of untapped interaction opportunities with humans. We were inspired to design within this space on the basis that plants are mutually beneficial to human beings and our strong urge to enhance human-human interaction through improving human-plant interaction.

Our team envisioned and designed a device that addresses two main issues we observed: The lack of real-time feedback to inform how the plant is being taken care of, and also the missed opportunity to enhance the connection established by the gift-giving of plants. plink comes in pairs, one for the user and one for his/her loved one. plink reflects the plant’s need for sunlight and water through direct visual feedback. Communication with the partnering device happens through ambient lighting, reflecting how the user’s loved one is taking care of his/her plant. User can actively communicate with his/her loved one by squeezing plink, causing the partnering device to light up more vividly.

Role: Interaction Designer
Duration: 03.2011 – 04.2011
Skills: User Research, Rapid Prototyping, Form Sketching
Tools: Illustrator, Clay, Sticks, Glue…

Research Process

We started off the user research by conducting an online survey to understand the overall space and to effectively obtain quick quantitative data. The results from the survey indicated that plant owners find it hard to know exactly what the plant needs, and over 75% of the plants owned are indoor houseplants.  We then came up with focused questions and interviewed a total of 10 plant owners with a diverse demographic and found that 7 of them have either received or given plants as gifts. In these interviews, we also conducted directed storytelling and discovered the process of using plants as gifts often involves some emotional significance of gratitude, appreciation, love, or celebration.

Liz, a volunteer at the Phipps Conservatory expressed the lack of connection between both parties after the plant-giving process. This sense of disconnection resonated across almost all the participants we interviewed, surfacing a really interesting opportunity space.

Synthesis

With all the data gathered from the research, we were able to synthesize it down to three main areas of focus:

Provide instruction for plant owners
Breakdowns occur when plant owners don’t know what the plant needs.

Real-time status updates
Plants are often seen as part of the background due to the lack of interactivity.

Appreciation
People often find it hard to show appreciations to the giver of their plant.

Prototyping

After the research process, we generated scenarios (focused on houseplants and gift giving) and went through an iterative prototyping process with the three focuses in mind. Low fidelity sketches and physical prototypes were presented to users to validate the effectiveness of interaction, at the same time exploring different forms. Both forms and features were reevaluated to inform the final design.

Final Design

Plink is a device that gets purchased as a pair: the giver will keep one and the receiver will keep the other. Communication between the two devices is a concurrent representation of how the users treat their plants. The device itself indicates the real-time needs of the plant it resides. The following diagram illustrates the physical locations of the components on the device. The “stick” form was inspired by the tags reside in plant pots.

To give an idea of how plink devices work, the following diagram explains the interaction flow of the paired devices and the plant giver/ receiver.