Bridging the gap between research and real life

Janine Googan | February 17, 2020

  • Product Development

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to work with smart people. Not just everyday smart. I’m talking about the kid in your class that seemed to always top every exam without even trying. You know the one.

At Circul8, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on projects with academics who are at the cutting edge of research in their fields. Bull genetics and avocado yield forecasts, for example, are things that I am definitely no expert in.

I look at these experts in awe, but one thing I’ve realised is that whilst these super smart people might know a lot about their field of research, they often don’t know much about how to turn it into a consumer facing product that is used and loved.

Designing for the user

This is where Circul8 fills an important gap: the gap between research and real life. To bridge this gap we believe that good design is essential. We don’t mean just making something look good (although we like doing that too). Good design is a process and way of thinking that makes sure that you empathise with your user and understand how your product will work in the context of their lives.

Imagine designing a chair. Functionally, chairs are pretty similar, they have legs, arms and somewhere to put your bum. Now think about all the different places chairs are used, how they are used and who they are used by. A well-designed chair has to look good but also work well in context for the people who will be using it. Essentially, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to build the chair but not enough time thinking about the people who are going to sit in it.

Designing for avocados

Our latest project, Crop Count is a good example of this. The researchers at UNE had been using their brainpower to work out the best scientific forecasting model to improve the accuracy of yield forecasts for avocados. They knew that the current process was time-consuming and inaccurate. By improving the accuracy of avocado forecasts, farmers and the industry would benefit because it would help them plan their harvests, resources and marketing. Our part of the project was to build an app that facilitated the farmers to count the avocados growing on the trees. We wanted to make sure that they could easily count and collect data using GPS location assistance. This data could then be run through the scientific model and generate a forecast to let them know how many avocados they could expect to harvest that season.

Farmers first please

Where did we start? With the farmers, of course. The researchers knew that the farmers would find accurate forecasts helpful, but they didn’t know much detail beyond this. We set up interviews with farmers to understand how they might use the app, what they would find most useful to know and how the process might fit in with their existing farm management practices.

Video chat user testing
Video chat user testing

Interestingly we discovered that whilst the yield forecast was important, the real value for the farmers came in understanding their crop health better. Knowing how many avocados you are going to harvest is good, but knowing how to increase that harvest through better field management was even better. We also had to consider devices and connectivity which was an issue when out in the field at several locations. This meant that we had to build the app to work effectively offline with the ability to sync when users were back online.

We’ve since gone on to create a prototype app that will be tested across 3 farms in real life harvest cycle.

Crop Count Avocado

This blend of science, creativity and user research is what makes a great digital product. I’ve learnt a lot about the avocado harvest cycles, varieties and farm management but I’ve also shared a lot about product design, user research and how to use design to uncover real value for users. 

It’s early days for Crop Count but we are all confident that by involving farmers right from the beginning of the process we are creating something that has the best chance of being used in the real world.

Note: Smart people we worked with to make Crop Count include Andrew Robson from the AARSC (Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre) and Vino Rajandran from Hort Innovation.


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