Role

UI/UX Designer with Quartech Systems Ltd.

Duration

Oct. 2018 – Mar. 2019
Oct. 2019 – Mar. 2020

Product

Publicly-accessible calculator at: https://nmp.apps.nrs.gov.bc.ca/

What is the Nutrient Management Plan calculator?

The Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) calculator is a free and publicly accessible tool provided by the Ministry of Agriculture for different types of farmers (i.e. crop farmers, dairy farmers, cattle farmers, poultry farmers, etc.) and agriculture consultants. This calculator can improve the quality of your crop yield by recommending the addition of manure or fertilizer while taking into account your existing soil nutrient content. Additionally, the calculator also measures the nutrient content of manure generated by any animals on your farm or other materials (manure/compost, or fertilizer) and calculating how those nutrients can affect your soil nutrient quality.

Nutrient management planning was tedious and often outsourced.

Previously, nutrient management planning was completed using calculators that were created in Microsoft Excel or workbooks that were filled out and then calculated manually. This work was often completed by agriculture consultants for that reason, but the NMP automates most of the calculation work into an easy-to-use tool and has been future-proofed to allow the importing of NMP files for future soil and nutrient evaluation.

Previous calculators were created as a workbook that you filled out and guided you through manual calculations, or as a series of Excel files that did the calculations for you.

Understanding nutrient management planning

Prior to me starting this project, the Ministry of Agriculture built a web-based prototype of NMP. However, it was soon realized that a UI/UX specialist was needed in order to refine it and integrate all of the desired features and functionality.

I don’t have a background in agriculture or nutrient management planning, so the beginning of the project was spent interviewing several different nutrient management specialists within the Ministry of Agriculture. These co-located sessions resulted in several process maps being drawn out, in order for me to gain an understanding of what goes into nutrient management planning. In addition to these interviews, research on the existing prototype as well as the Excel and workbook-based calculators as completed in order to round out my knowledge on the project.

Whiteboarding session during one of several interview sessions.

Once I began to gain an understanding of the process, I began to wireframe solutions that integrated the features that were desired in the calculator, such as manure generation, storage, and nutrient analysis. In order to tackle the complexity of this calculator and maximize the efficiency of the team’s time, we started off by wireframing a section a time. A combination of lo-fidelity (static) and hi-fidelity (interactive) wireframes were created each week for user testing in the field by the subject matter experts, or SMEs, after a session of coaching on how to gather qualitative feedback that I can use.

An early wireframe created in Axure RP and used in one of our user testing sessions.

After each user testing session, I worked closely with the SMEs to iterate upon our previous design, before coming to a final design of the product that satisfied user needs, business needs, and worked within the technical constraints of the project.

Comparison between the original prototype (above) and the final product at launch in Mar. 2020 (bottom).

Problems and challenges

Some of the toughest challenges we faced during this project was striking a balance between the information architecture and the multiple user journeys we had to integrate into the product. Certain user journeys would only need to go through certain screens before generating a report. Other user journeys would require multiple data entry screens. Additionally, the team also wanted to make it easy to go back and make changes without starting from the beginning and creating a new NMP file.

Mapping out the needs of different users. Red ‘x’ marks are used to indicate portions of the tool that doesn’t apply to them.

In order to come up with a solution that addressed these different journeys, the team compromised on creating a linear journey that presented the required sections that particular had to complete based on some initial information he/she would provide, while also making it possible to add or modify aspects of the farm.

Comparison between the original prototype (left) to the final product (right).
Comparison between the original prototype (left) and the final product (right).

As the NMP is a publicly-accessible tool provided by the government, we also had the additional requirement of it being accessible to users to who assistive technologies such as screen readers. In order to meet this requirement, my role soon demanded that I become familiar with the Service Design Playbook and accessibility tools to ensure that the final product could be interpreted through assistive technologies.

End Results

The outcomes from this project resulted in streamlining the web app and building in additional functionality to support multiple types of BC farmers as opposed to only two types of farmers. The interface is more intuitive, compliant with Service Design standards, and eliminated the need for separate nutrient management calculators. The Ministry of Agriculture was very satisfied with the end result.

To make the tool as flexible as possible, we had farmers declare if their farm had animals, if they import manure/compost, and if the farm uses fertilizer. This determined what screens the user would then receive and then he/she could specify the kind(s) of animals on their farm, as well as any imported nutrients.
Modals were used when inputting specific data–in this case, defining a storage unit for manure, as well as the type of manure contained. This allows each storage unit to be assigned a set of nutrient values.
This screen takes all of the values you’ve entered, and calculates what nutrients will need to be applied to each field in order to optimize the nutrients in your crop yield. At the end, you have the option to save this data file for the following year’s nutrient management planning.

Tools used

  • Information gathering and facilitating discovery sessions through user journey mapping, interviews and observation for understanding problems and creating solutions
  • Wireframing and rapid prototyping using Adobe Illustrator and Axure RP for communicating ideas and behaviours between SMEs and the development team
  • Continuous improvement via analysis and incorporation of feedback from user testing for UX best practices (data-based decisions and iter           ative design)
  • Communication and presentation skills using Trello, wireframes and demos with Axure RP to inform SMEs and developers on product behaviour
  • Adhere to design patterns in order to ensure consistent branding in UI design pattern libraries against existing standards