product designer


Cultural Probes

This week I produced cultural probes to gather research and insights of peoples engagement with growing. My previous research using questionnaires suggested there is an interest among non-growers to participate in growing their own food. Although, this group of people are discouraged as a result of a lack of resources, knowledge and time.


I was eager to find out more about this, so I distributed these probes to twenty participants. Participants varied in age, occupation and previous experience with growing. The majority of participants live in the Urban area of Dundee and its suburbs. Many of those living in the city centre live in flats with limited space and without any garden access.

What's in the bag?

I figured what better way to find out peoples current engagement and experience with growing, than to have participants grow something for themselves? So I created these 'Grow Your Own Cress' bags which were filled with the basic equipment needed to carry out a basic growing exercise. 


As you can see, the bag contained:

  • Garden Cress Seeds  
  • Compost
  • Plant Pot
  • Instruction Booklet
  • Grow Diary  

Participants were asked to grow their own cress, by following the steps found in their instruction booklet.

Having completed these steps, participants were then asked to use the grow diary to record their engagement with the exercise over the twelve days. This included things like change to their plant in terms of growth and any interactions they had with it (e.g. activities like watering, trimming or repotting).  The first two pages of the diary were 'fact file' pages, where I asked participants their age, occupation and current/ previous experience with growing. This later helped me analyse the diaries on return, helping me spot any habits and consistencies accordingly. 

On completion, participants returned their diaries to myself to be analysed. For the purpose of this blog post, i picked four different diaries at random. They are described below: 

Grow Diary 1

Age: 21

Occupation: Student

Experience: Hasn't grown their own food before. But their family has a vegetable patch in their garden.

Day 1: "The cress has been planted! Sitting on the living room window for lots of sunlight!"

Day 2: "Still no sprouts, forgot to water it today"

Day 3: "Gave it a little water. Still no sprouts"

Day 4: "Where is my cress! I don't think I have green fingers"

Day 5: "Turns out I put too much soil on top of my cress! It has been growing underneath though! Removed excess soil"

Day 6: "Cress is a little dirty due to growing under the soil! Might need a wash before I eat it!"

Day 7: "Cress grew nicely"

Day 8: "Nibbled on my cress today"

Day 9: "Began to abandon the cress"

Day 10: "Cress is looking pretty dead"

Day 11: "No cress"

Day 12: "No cress"

Feedback: "I enjoyed watching the cress grow. Wasn't sure if I planted the seeds correctly and I lost interest after growth"

Suggestions: "Automatic watering or an alert to water it"

Grow Diary 2

Age: 21

Occupation: 21

Experience: Has never grown their own food, although their family has.

Day 1: "Just planted the seeds and I'm weirdly excited to see them grow. I have always meant to buy plants for my room but never got round to it. Hopefully they don't die, I need that bit of greenery"

Day 2: "Still waiting"

Day 3: "Still waiting... getting worried I done it wrong"

Day 4: "More worried, thought it should be showing by now"

Day 5: "Found the cress growing underneath the soil! Turns out I put way too much in. But seeing it growing and alive helped my hangover (at least something was alive) "

Day 6: "It keeps growing, got a nice picture of it for my Instagram" 

Day 7: "Still growing! It kind of feels like having a pet with a lot less hassle! Nice to come home to see it alive and well"

Day 8: "Missed a day of watering because I went home, it survived though"

Day 9: "Cress is needing cut soon. It is so tall! Kind of scared incase I kill it"

Day 10: "Disaster woke up to see the cress flopping down the side of the pot... tried to cut it without scissors and ruined it!"

Day 11: "R.I.P my wee buddy cress"

Feedback: "I was surprised how easy it was- until cutting it! Although, the short period and watering everyday didn't suit me. I want a plant for a long time (Plus I don't eat cress)

Suggestions: "If you could easily miss a few days, not full automated machine but delicately designed for more natural automation"

Grow Diary 3

Age: 21

Occupation: Student

Experience: Grown rhubarb and strawberries before.

Day 1: "Planted the seeds yesterday. Due to todays weather there wasn't much light in the living room (in a basement flat) No change overall"

Day 2: "No change"

Day 3: "Watered plant- no real change even though in sunlight, its very cold"

Day 4: "Watered- no change"

Day 5: "Watered- moved by the tv- warmer in this room"

Day 6: "Moved during the day to the window. Noticed underneath growth- removed some of the soil on top"

Day 7: "A lot more growth- soil is starting to rise over cress"

Day 8: "A lot of growth- soil has risen a lot"

Day 9: "Forgot to record"

Day 10: "Finally a decent amount of growth- soil is in-between the plant- ready to be cut"

Day 11: "Forgot to record"

Day 12: "Cress cut back- lots of growth"

Feedback: "Challenge finding the right place for the cress and remembering to water it"

Suggestions: "Something that reminds me/ something I can leave and it grows by itself"

Grow Diary 4

Age: 34

Occupation: Student

Experience: Yes

Day 1: "Just planted it"

Day 2: "Today I sprinkled some with water. By the evening i could see that the seed closest to the surface popped"

Day 3: "Hand sprinkled water in the morning, the evening the soil was dry and began popping up"

Day 4: "Sprinkled with water and noticing more seeds popping through. I was surprised how quickly they popped out the soil".

Day 5: "Watered, wow, look how green and natural they grow, most seeds are out and ready to sprout out".

Day 6: "Watered in the morning! Feels that they are thirsty- growing well!"

Day 7: "Watered, looks well out of the pot (grown i mean)"

Day 8: "Watered, looks edible!"

Day 9: "Watered, all the seeds sprouted into a cress plant"

Day 10: "Watered, looks like I can use it"

Day 11: "Watered and waiting on my plant to bush up. By the evening I felt the soil is dry, it might need watered twice a day at this stage"

Day 12: " Watered in the morning. Looking like its still growing and bushing up. Tomorrow I will take a picture then repot it"

Feedback: "I like to see how it grows (you don't have to wait too long) Plant is bring freshness to the house. The challenge is to keep watering it"

Suggestions: "Self Watering system and in a nice location in the house- shelf almost"

Additional Comments: "As long as growing your own crop is effortless, more people would enjoy it (Maybe even an alarm when to water or indication of when its ready to harvest"


Alongside the grow diaries, I asked participants to send/ upload images of the exercise on social media sites using the hashtag "growwithdjcad". Photographs received were mainly uploaded on Instagram and twitter.  Here are a few examples:




While reading through the returned grow diaries, the following points were very evident:

  • The satisfaction from growing something by yourself
  • Participants were weary of planting it wrong
  • A loss of interest once the participant seen their plant had grown
  • Uncertainty over how to maintain their plant (e.g. how to water, trim, repot it)
  • A lack of remembrance to water their plant

From these insights, I am going to explore two different options:

  • Creating an automated growing system
  • Creating a growing system that alerts/ reminds the user when maintenance is required
Rebecca Williamson