Problem description

Backyards present an opportunity for families to learn and grow together.

We designed Sprout as a way to help parents and children spend more time playing together in the context of the backyard


Final solution

Our final video (2 minutes):

Sprout Interaction Design Video from Diana Chen. on Vimeo


Our process began with research into currently existing technologies, then a brainstorm of over 50 possible ideas that fit into our scope, and followed by one on one interviews in order to better understand the needs of our users. Interviews were conducted on a one on one basis with four parents that have at least one child, ages three to eight as well as a teenager. All the participants have a single family houses in the suburbs with backyards.

We took inspiration from concept phones such as Nokia 888, which allows user to interact with friends and family at all times and acts as a ubiquitous device that the user can wear at all times. We tried to probe into what makes online games so engaging, and how principles of social sharing could be incorporated into our product.

Nokia concept phone Farmville game

We created digital moodboard as a starting point of images and colors as a starting point for further exploration. Then we conducted a brainstorming session of possible concepts. Ultimately, we decided that we would let our users tell us their needs and stories, so we kept an open mind instead of attaching to any particular concept. Many of our original 50 concepts had merits, but not all of them were appreciated by our interviewees, who held professions such as attorney, homemaker, student, and writer. We took their diverse interests and common needs into account as we refined our concepts.


Then, we asked questions during the one on one interviews that were open ended and allowed participants to talk about their own experiences with minimal interview bias. They were encouraged to think about their daily lives as a family, their favorite memories in the backyard, family social activities they most enjoyed, and the types of activities that their children enjoy.

Generally, we found that our participants mostly use the backyard for family get togethers and celebration of events. Their most memorable experiences happen outside of the home, such as a trip to the beach. Some parents described their children as wanting to play with other children in physical activities like basketball, others liked reading or sharing stories. Some brought up how they watch movies with the kids in the backyard on a summer day.

Concept validation

Speed dating served as a hybrid of rapid prototyping and iterative design and allowed us to explore a wide variety of scenarios and a large problem scope. We conducted speed dating as a means to take users into our proposed scenarios, and use it as a starting point to hear about their stories and reactions. We hoped to elicit reactions that would help us understand their needs qualitatively.

We spoke with participants over the phone as we went over PDF's of our illustrated storyboards together with them. The idea of encouraging backyard gardens as a fun way of learning and bonding was well received. Our users told us that the value of having this technology was that it could be an effective way to encourage children and parents to go outside and get their hands dirty. Here are some key quotes from our interview participants.

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"I like the idea more for a kid to track those things and watch nutrient levels. Water is not as tricky."
"I don't want my son monitoring water levels in school when he should be studying."
"In the real world, you see it, it is still not growing, still not growing, ok I am gonna play Nintendo now."
"I like the idea that if your neighbor is planting something and you're not, you can share."
"I think it would be cool to have some system that can tell me when my garden has some pest in advance because it sucks when you lose your plant to bugs or pests." "Having kids share whatever they grow would be interesting to them... Kids would like that."


We took our findings from the interview data to create interim personas.

Michael, Age 7, 2nd grader. Likes soccer in the park after school with friends. Favorite book: Where The Wild Things Are

Sammi, Age 6, 1st grader. Loves to go on road trips with her family to the beach, excited to stay in hotels.Favorite book: If You Give a Pig a Pancake

Our solution

The interview data was instrumental in helping us achieve our final product. After research and multiple iterations, we came up with "Bloom Garden Sensors", which are physical devices that have interactive water and nutrient sensors that children can install in their backyard. The device allows them to be involved with the planting, growing, and harvesting cycles of the plants, and also keeps them engaged by alerting them to when pests or other problems occur in their garden. The sensors are customized to monitor the optimal conditions for each type of plant that it is set to monitor. In addition, children and parents are able to share the photos and stories of their garden online with their friends.

Our target age is from 5 to 10, based on the feedback we received about children’s dexterity, level of maturity and capacity for attention. The sensors resemble a cross between a lamp and garden stake. The interface is a touchscreen and provides colorful, haptic feedback. We also addressed the need for social connection by incorporating an online community that allows children to share their garden's happenings with their friends.

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