Agrity increases productivity and efficiency in the specialty agriculture industry. Our team's challenge was to bring digital solutions to an otherwise pen and paper industry of non tech-savvy users.
Joining a startup can be daunting, especially when you’re unfamiliar with the market. Agrity was a team of three founders, and I was brought on to help in bringing their ideas in the AgTech space to life using design.
First and foremost, it was essential for me to understand the specialty agriculture space and how it currently functions. We established that there were inefficiencies, a lack of transparency, and inaccurate information disrupting the moving of a commodity from a grower to a buyer. This was due to the numerous middlemen that strike deals on gut feeling alone without any use of data in this “pen and paper” industry. Deals are made by phone and offline, which promotes these inconsistencies and lacks in any data driven decisions. In short, the specialty Agriculture industry was stuck in an archaic age and needed a revamping of digital tools to enhance that process.
As the sole designer, my next step was to understand the target user. The cofounders tried to paint a picture for me of our 55 year old non tech-savvy male user, even having me sit in on cold calls. But it wasn't giving me the best idea of how they currently conduct business. In order to design for the ideal user, I needed to meet the ideal user. I accompanied the cofounders on a 3 hour drive to the Central Valley to meet with a few almond handlers and understand their pain points. I asked them about the current technology that they use, their everyday schedules, and any other feedback they would have on a possible tech solution to their everyday problem. We concluded that not only does our solution need to be extremely simple and easy to use, certain "wow factors" needed to be included in our design interactions in order for the user to abandon handwritten scribbles and ease into a digital platform.
Founder, Jack McCarthy, in a meeting with an almond handler in Manteca, CA.
An accurate representation of the current tech used in the industry.
By focusing on the user's pain points, we established a minimum viable product for handlers to create bids, send them out to growers via text, and track responses. The certain "wow factors" were the ability to send the same bid out to several growers with the click of a button, and seeing responses automatically updated and stored for future records.
I then proceeded to sketch user flows, interactions, and a basic interface to accomplish these tasks. The process began on a whiteboard, moved to pencil sketches, and quickly made its way to low fidelity mock ups.
Discussing interaction flows and features with the team.
Once the mock ups were finalized by the team, I created a static webpage in HTML/CSS/JS to iron out the interactions and present our high fidelity mock ups to customers in another trip to the Central Valley. In order to efficiently test our mockups, we used a Wizard of Oz technique. The "wow factors" that had not yet been implemented were simply replaced by manual texts when a button was clicked or hardcoded messages to show updated responses.
The Wizard of Oz technique was useful in ensuring that I was designing for the user, with consistent interactions and visuals that had the same "feel" as their existing desktop programs. I decided to remove the “pretty” and “distracting” pictures from the background of each page, because although it was aesthetically pleasing, it was confusing to the user. The revised mockups can be viewed below.
With a large project and a small team (2 engineers, and 4 undergrad CS interns), we broke down the development into stages. First, it was a necessity that our digital tool is web friendly. We needed to build a web app for Handlers to send bids to Growers and for Traders to send bids to Handlers. These were ideally 2 separate projects and were treated as such. We began with building the Handler side, then transitioning to building the Trader side. The estimated time developing and iterating on both is 10 weeks.
After many iterations and post-its taken off the walls, Version 1 of our product was live in September of 2016.
Though we were able to achieve verbal confirmations from 20% of the specialty agriculture almond industry to use our web app, our product is unfortunately not in use today. We concluded that even though we built a minimum viable product directed towards our users, and gauged their interest in preliminary meetings, it was not enough for non tech-savvy users to adopt a digital product. As they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Nevertheless, this was an incredible learning experience for myself and the rest of team Agrity. We were able to build a product from the ground up, from analysis to definition to ideation to idea selection to implementation to evaluation. I was able to own a full design process and have a heavy hand in the development stage as well. So despite the lack of success, it was worthwhile to be a part of the process.