Wonderful Weeds

Wonderful Weeds is a prototype iPhone application by Felicity Meade as her Bachelor of Design (HONS) major project. It has since won a Bronze award from the 2015 New Zealand Best Design Awards.

Design can effectively be used to inform and educate New Zealand’s 20-35 year-olds on the environmentally and financially sustainable practice of finding, identifying and using edible weeds.

To inform an appropriate response to my central proposition I performed extensive research into edible weeds and analysed several precedent examples, including blogs, books, food maps and apps. I developed a strong understanding of my topic and where these existing information sources both succeeded and failed. While these precedents generally succeeded in providing the reader with written information, they were often difficult to navigate, the books were too large and heavy to carry while foraging, public food sharing maps seemed untrustworthy, and each stressed the avoidance of poisoning through credible plant identification while failing to actually provide the user with this information.

My response was to develop a design that optimized the positive aspects of my precedents and solve their underlying issues. An iPhone app was a perfect solution for carrying information around easily while foraging, as well as comfortable to a young adult audience who’s daily lives tend to be dominated by digital technologies. I approached this by firstly creating a user scenario and basic wireframe, keeping the layout and navigation as simple as possible. I created layout experiments and presented them during the formative assessment. Here it was realised that I had too much information to scroll through on each page, and I either needed to limit this information or break it up further. Limiting the information was not an option as it would endanger the app’s goal and the user experience, so I developed a chunking method using icons and drop down information. Each icon is representative of its own drop down information/function and acts intuitively as a button. This system ensured all necessary information was included and easy to navigate.

To solve the issue of helping users confidently identify each weed, I adopted botanical illustration techniques to accompany the written descriptions. This form of illustration involves detailed observation, literal, to-scale depictions, and includes several developmental stages, including budding, flowering and seed dispersal. Using a combination of both my own photographs and images from the internet, I created appropriate compositions in which to illustrate from. For the treatment of my illustrations I chose a style that I have developed over the last few years at Massey using drypoint printmaking and watercolour. This technique involves high levels of time and craft, and using brown ink creates an old timely quality like that found in early botanical illustrations and books. Early printing methods like etching, which is similar to drypoint, were often used in combination with watercolours to create beautiful, scientific botanical illustrations, like that of George Edwards’ ‘Rice-Bird Hen’. Such an aesthetic is appreciated, sought after and admired in today’s fast paced, mass produced society. It also gives my app design a point of difference, and juxtaposes nicely with the digital interface. 

To push this aesthetic further, I added large letters to each illustration so that the weeds appeared to be growing in and around them. These letters are a modern take on initials, which were commonly used in early books at the beginning of words, paragraphs or chapters, which are larger than the rest of the text. Initials were often ornately decorated with flora and fauna, such as in the Gutenberg Bible, a book admired for it’s beauty and craft.

I wanted the recipes section to not only provide users with easy recipes but to also encourage creative recipe generation and sharing. This would help users to feel more involved and like they were contributing to the Wonderful Weeds community. I developed an ‘add a recipe’ section where users could add everything from the recipe name to photographs of their creations. This crowd-sourced material would be rated by a starring system, so that other users could gauge the recipe quality. The food map also gathered crowd-sourced content by allowing users to add locations that could then be rated by others. This starring system was important, as a location with a consistent one or two star rating could then be removed from the map altogether, maintaining its trustworthy nature.

To accompany the app I created Facebook and Twitter pages, navigated to through the connect section. Here users could ask questions, get support, and post information such as foraging/cooking groups and events. These pages would help to encourage a community spirit and provide any necessary support. I hope to find a way to incorporate data feeds from these social media platforms into the app itself rather than having to leave the app altogether, and plan to look into this further over the next couple of weeks. I also hope to work on the profile section of the app, which will allow users to view their own recipes and locations, their saved recipes and locations, and change their sharing settings.

I presented my app design as an interactive PDF using buttons and text anchors in Adobe InDesign. It successfully mimics how the app would look and function if it were to be coded. The resulting prototype provides all the information an individual needs to find, identify and use edible weeds. User testing on friends and flatmates has proved that the app is simple to navigate and understand. It is perfect to carry around while foraging, trustworthy, and any further user support is provided through Facebook and Twitter.