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User-Centered Design in Agriculture

User-Centered Design (UCD) is an interactive process during which designers focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process itself.

When adopting UCD, producers involve users throughout the path they follow via a variety of research and design techniques, to create highly usable and accessible products.

We can use this technique in different contexts. So, we wondered, why don't we employ it to develop an agri-tech project; why don’t we apply it to Farmer Charlie?

The main reason to use a UCD approach to develop Farmer Charlie is that the farmers know their needs better than anyone else, and UCD helps them to express those needs. Interacting with the farmers through the UCD gives us the opportunity to really understand how to build something useful and tailored to what they are looking for.

How does this process work?

The future users of the service engage in the design process, which includes activities to identify the problem(s), to select partial solutions and to provide inputs for refining a viable new tool.

As a first step in the design process, we need to understand the current constraints of farmers’ access to agricultural information, to identify existing solutions and their limitations. In other words, we should collect data on the environment and on users’ practices and needs. We can collect data through interviews or questionnaires, as well as by reviewing pre-existing literature.

The second step concerns the development of the product prototype, which is based on previously collected data. Next, we need real feedback from farmers and agronomists to review the design in a collaborative way. Finally, product implementation and refinement take place, thanks to the information obtained by the users and subsequent testing.

Farmer Charlie relies on input from local communities with a view to creating positive outcome together. We would like to foster better skills and techniques through education and training, to act on sustainability and eco-friendly practices, to establish communication and trust with farmers. We have chosen a bottom-up strategy for our project as we consider it the best suited for achieving these goals.

We are aware that data collection is not always easy. Obtaining information about farming practices, user requirements, and preferences implies interviewing, surveying, travelling activities. It is often a time-consuming process, and remote locations present further challenges, not to mention internet connectivity issues. Yet we believe in what we are building; persistence, skills and collaboration allow our work to progress. We cannot wait to show it!

-Margherita Magnini

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