Growing Guides are the body of OpenFarm; they are the primary piece of content that capture the methodology of growing a Crop based on a single author’s perspective. Growing Guides are both creative and highly structured documents. They are fixed in concept while fluid in detail, as the exact data they convey changes not only on what the author decides to share, but also on who is reading the Guide, where they live, and their farm or garden’s environmental conditions. The data is not only meant for humans to read, but machines and other applications too. Guide content can be translated across hemispheres, units, and languages alike. Guides are complex, and yet I think we are approaching a beautifully simple interface and experience for creating and consuming them.
This blog post is a story of how the Growing Guide has evolved since I started thinking about OpenFarm nearly one year ago.
The Initial Intention:
My primary project is FarmBot – an open-source CNC farming machine. When I published the FarmBot Whitepaper in September of 2013, OpenFarm was a mere small paragraph, a sub-component of the larger FarmBot ecosystem:
To help FarmBot owners create and manage their farms, there will be options to share and publish many different data types. I hope that an Open Data Repository will be created that can help centralize and make accessible and free all of the information needed to grow every type of plant, in every location, in every condition….In addition, the data repository may have it’s own frontend interface for browsing, searching, and downloading the data. This will allow other applications and technologies to use the data for their own purposes as well through an open API.
And so the initial idea of OpenFarm was very much tied to FarmBot – it was just a means for FarmBot owners to create very detailed growing instructions for their machines to use, and then a platform to share the instructions with others. In fact, there is no mention of ordinary farmers and gardeners contributing or consuming content.
The first mockup I made in November 2013 heavily reflects this intention. You can see that the ‘Plant Page’ is broken down to be day by day – how precise! Who would ever want to (or even have the knowledge to) enter in data for how much to water every. single. day? Probably only FarmBot nerds, and maybe not even them.
A Switch of Perspective
Once I began assembling the FarmBot team, the ideas around what OpenFarm needed to be began coming together, and I needed to answer some questions. Where was the initial data going to come from? What if FarmBot owners are not the experts at growing all the things they want to grow? If we built this resource, why should it be exclusive to ‘FarmBot and other applications and technologies’ rather than just be open to everyone?
And so I had a switch in perspective about what OpenFarm could and should be. It was from then on going to be a standalone service, one that was completely independent of the FarmBot Project, with the only tie being the API such that it was now FarmBot and the API that was a small component of OpenFarm.
This switch allowed me to put a different user story in my mind: an ordinary farmer or gardener using OpenFarm to learn and to share. The ‘Plant Page’ had to be fun, intuitive, easy to understand, and rather than hide information that FarmBot was going to automate, show it!
In this April 2014 mockup, I added the ‘Plant Requirements’ section and the Compatibility score – glanceable pieces of information that everyday people can understand to determine if the content is suited for their needs or not, rather than leaving this information to a behind the scenes algorithm within the FarmBot software.
More Content, More User Friendly
In this June 2014 mockup, I added an author and their description of the Guide to make it more creative and human. Ratings allow feedback to be given about the content, allowing future readers to be more informed of its quality. I changed the granularity of the Guide’s data to be from Daily to based on ‘Life Stages’ – a more descriptive and recognizable period of time that everyday people can grasp and understand that the growing instructions must change. The Timeline shows valuable information that was going to be hidden from view because the FarmBot software would know what to do when and so there was no need to show it previously. A future idea for what OpenFarm could become made its way in: the ‘Recipes and Usage’ section. This was also the first time I started calling this page a ‘Growing Guide’ rather than a ‘Plant Page’.
I got excited about color in late June. Too excited one might say (including me). But hey, this is the mockup that 1,605 people gave us $24,293 for so I’m not complaining! In this mockup, I removed the water and other operations graph because I felt it was too technical or constraining feeling. However, I am now having second thoughts that it might still be useful for users to more visually understand how actions change during different times of the plant’s life.
Cleanup and Reconsideration
This is today’s mockup for the Growing Guide. It is considerably less colorful and it breathes much more via negative space and page gutters. It puts the compatibility score higher on the page as that is determined to be of high importance. The ‘Prerequisites’ was renamed to ‘Basic Needs’ to feel friendlier and less set-in-stone, and the ‘Growing Instructions’ section was renamed to ‘Life Stages’ to be cleaner and less lecture-y and more advice-like. The 5 star rating was replaced with a ‘Green Thumbs Up’ button to play on with mother nature and to stray away from the 1-star or 5-star stratification that commonly happens on the web in favor of positive-only reviews. The ‘Growing Instructions’, now called ‘Life Stage Actions’, are displayed in sentence format rather than data table format. This may not be technically feasible though with internationalization efforts.
Where will the design go next? Who knows! Now that we are actually building OpenFarm though, I’m excited to see! I think the design is beautiful as it stands today though I know it can always be improved! Everything is an evolution.