THE UX OF SOIL | UX Studio Practices

Yiwei Han (David)
6 min readJan 19, 2021

26/11/20–10/12/20 (2 weeks)

📃Brief: Design an experience that explores planetary soil dependence.

🤝Group Members: Eric Dodd, Luchen Peng, Tiana Robison Randriaharimalala, Yiwei Han(David).

“For this project we will be using two distinct research methods:

Speed Dating & AEIOU.”

Want to know what happened? Read the article below!

First Meeting to AEIOU

“What is soil dependence?”

“In the future, what are the new dependencies that humans have on soil?”

“What are the different cultural connotations of soils?”

“Decomposing, we all become soil in the end?”

We discussed them at our first meeting, and also found the antidepressant function of the soil and the relevance of soil pollution to human disease via online research. We ended up with four ideas or design directions: 1) The future of soil. 2) Soil as a cure. 3) Circle of life. 4) Reconnecting soil and humans. We then started the AEIOU research based on these directions.

Luchen and I went to the cemetery and Tiana and Eric went to the city streets. We then collated the research findings for analysis:

Get Tiana & Eric’s AEIOU research outcomes.

AIEIOU Research Outputs about the cemetery (Made by David & Luchen).

We got some insights from this observational method and came up with 3 ideas:

  1. Soil Toy: In the cemetery we observed a little girl bending down to pick up stones from the soil, which reminded us of the “playfulness” of the soil.
  2. New Burial Services: The support of the soil (the ground) for the living and the burial or preservation of the dead remind us of the soil as a “bridge” between life and death.
  3. Soil is being destroyed and polluted in the city, but the role of the soil in our physical and mental health gives us the opportunity to the idea of Soil Therapy.

Design Fiction & Speed Dating

At John’s suggestion, we decided to develop our ideas using Design Fiction that was ideal for this situation. Based on the future context, we drew up storyboards of two ideas and quickly carried out Speed Dating.

Storyboard 1: Soil Therapy (Made by Tiana).

Design fiction is the creation and use of real-seeming hypothetical objects, and other media, to explore imaginary narratives and contexts.”

Storyboard 2: New Burial Services (Made Luchen & David).

We received some valuable suggestions. They would like to experience soil therapy, but are not sure what that experience would actually be like. And it was also difficult for them to understand the future context we had set, as they were hard to imagine and convince. New Burial Services was good, but it seemed difficult to interact with living people.

Speed Dating: We invited Sylvester from the second group and Fianda from Service Design (Courtesy of David & Tiana).
Soil Treatment Flow (Made by David).

Based on the suggestions, we made a flow to explain the instructions and brought some soil for the class to experience. On the class, two volunteers said it felt good to be in contact with fresh soil, just a little dirty after the experience, but they still had doubts about our future setting.

First Presentation (Courtesy of David).

Mor suggested that we should take our speculative design ideas, the future setting and experience to the extreme, and John reminded us in the tutorial to use more our imagination and design these ‘future objects’ and refine the service experience.

So we set out to address these three primary concerns with research and our imagination: 1) Contextualization: What does the future look like? 2) Appearance: What does it look like? 3)Experience: What service experiences does it include?

Future context analysis (Made by Tiana).

For the contextualization, we thought seriously and comprehensively about the future context, then each of us wrote our own ‘future context’ for the concept and finally merged it into the most appropriate paragraph.

Iteration of the prototype appearance (Made by Eric & Tiana).
Iteration of the service experiences (Made by Tiana & David).

For service experience, we thought about designing “treatment sessions” in three main demands: 1. Physical health demands, 2. Spiritual demands, 3. Mental/cultural demands. We came up with three different therapeutic services that combine taste, hearing and touch sensations and specify the details of price, course of treatment, procedure and efficacy.

Left: “2090 Background”; Right: SOLUM’s Treatments Menu (Made by Group).

Prototyping & Testing

Prototyping (Courtesy of David).

We test every process and step of the treatment, including the video link between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the pod; the experience of each session, the amount of soil, etc. Also, get the music, the voice, the suit and the speaker all ready.

Testing (Courtesy of David).

Welcome to World 2090 — Final Presentation

Ana 2090 experiencing the “Intense Soil Aroma Hibernation Therapy” (Courtesy of John).

“Definitely one of the top three projects.” — John Fass

The students all enjoyed this project, except for the expensive price.

John said that we really nicely put together with that experience, the suit, music, the sound, price aspect. Also, some suggestion for improvement: preparation materials should have been a bit high resolution to match the future concept, it would look kind of super glossy and quite sort of hipster chic; we should prepare An a4 leaflet sheet or something like that for the audience to understand the context better.

Reflection

I love Soil.

Design Fiction is probably the most interesting design method I’ve used this term. This embrace of speculation opens up an enormous range of possibilities. At the beginning, it was quite hard to understand exactly how to apply it and we had no idea how to design an object that “exists” in the future. Now I understand that the key is imaginability.

📚Reference:

  1. Cranmer, D. (2018). 7 Fascinating Facts About Soil. [online] Rainforest Alliance. Available at: https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/articles/7-fascinating-soil-facts [Accessed 18 Jan. 2021].
  2. DESIGN (2011). marie rouillon: daily haptics. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. Available at: https://www.designboom.com/design/marie-rouillon-daily-haptics/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2021].
  3. Fitzpatrick, D. (2018). AEIOU Observation Framework · Open Practice Library. [online] Open Practice Library. Available at: https://openpracticelibrary.com/practice/aeiou-observation-framework/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2021].
  4. Forum, W.E. (2012). What If the World’s Soil Runs Out? [online] Time. Available at: https://world.time.com/2012/12/14/what-if-the-worlds-soil-runs-out/ [Accessed 19 Jan. 2021].
  5. Hanington, B. (2019). Universal Methods Of Design. S.L.: Rockport Publishers.
  6. Paddock, C. (2007). Soil Bacteria Work In Similar Way To Antidepressants. [online] www.medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/66840#1 [Accessed 18 Jan. 2021].
  7. VALENTA, L. (2018). NNN / This artwork lets trees tell the story of climate change. [online] Next Nature Network. Available at: https://nextnature.net/magazine/story/2018/artwork-lets-trees-narrate-climate-change [Accessed 18 Jan. 2021].

🎬Post-credits scene

Soil Dream Team
Soil Aroma Hibernation Therapy
First meeting

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Yiwei Han (David)

MA User Experience Design - University of the Arts London