• Anastasia Mikhailitchenko
  • UX Designer
  • February 27, 2024

User experience design is an indispensable part of digital products, especially when it comes to AgTech.


UX for Agriculture

User experience design is a valuable part of any digital product, it allows us to seamlessly use any app on our phone without even thinking about where to click to find what we want. For an agriculture app this is especially important – farmers don’t have extra time to waste and they are often not used to using apps for their farming business. Over the years at Combyne, we’ve learned a lot about designing for agriculture. Our process is built on understanding farming and farmers, understanding what works in other industries, and putting those things together in a strategic way to make farmers’ lives easier and their practices more efficient. 

The importance of knowing your audience

The foundation of UX is designing for the user. After all, that’s why it’s called User Experience Design. It sounds obvious but when working on a specific product it gets more nuanced. With a product that is as niche as Combyne, we’ve made it a priority to get to know our target farmers and their business needs. There are stakes to getting this right. For example, if we don’t understand why a farmer would want to know how much it costs to grow their crop, we have very little chance of building a tool to help them with their crop marketing with any sort of efficiency. So at Combyne, we make it a priority to understand every aspect of crop marketing and how real farmers do it. 

How does this inform UX? 

A practical example of this might be our recent revamp of our Storage and Marketing features. 

We had to think about when a user might be using this feature whether it’s out on the field vs. in the office. This can inform how many steps we should allow in the flow and how much focus we need to have on speed and efficiency. 

We also had to think about the different variations in practices in different regions and different commodities. For example, in Ontario there are more farmers who store their grain at the elevator and don’t track quantities by bin. However, out west this is often the opposite, where farmers prioritize knowing exactly how much is in each bin. Because we want to cater to both user types, we had to build a solution that incorporated both ways of working without confusing users.

One other major piece we had to tackle was language. How do we speak the farmer’s language? We realized that nailing titles and headlines was crucial to users’ understanding of the features. So we prioritized asking farmers to describe things in their own words and mirroring that in the app.

Overall, understanding farmers and farming goes deeper than understanding a more generic user population. We aim to understand both a lifestyle and a business. An intimate knowledge of this is the only way to go about creating efficiencies in it. We may think something will work based on other apps doing it or general UX principles but that doesn’t always resonate with farmers.

Finding inspiration from tech and farming

The entire field of Ag Tech is a relatively new industry and thus designing an app for agriculture sets standards for the future. Whereas, in an industry like banking where there are plenty of examples of features similar to what someone may be designing, this is simply not possible with an app like Combyne. 

One way we get around that is by getting inspired by other industries. We take a look at a lot of apps – from finance apps to habit tracking apps – to bring inspiration to Combyne. However, the challenge with doing this is deciding which parts of the inspiration work and which ones will not work for farmers. For example, a lot of apps have quick log in options like log in through Google or Facebook, which I’m personally a big fan of. However, when we did our research on implementing this in Combyne it actually turned out to be something farmers didn’t want. From our conversations with farmers, this does make sense upon reflection. Most of them don’t really use those other platforms very often so it wouldn’t be faster for them to log in. This highlighted the importance of double checking if the things we’re referencing still apply to our customers – the farmers. 

Another way to start designing an app in a new industry is to mirror what people in the industry already do. We’ve looked at many industry documents from contracts to famers’ excel sheets for tracking their grain. This has informed the information we present in many areas of the app. For example, the contracts in the app have the same fields as real grain contracts.

In the end, the real key problem to solve is how can we make something that feels familiar and simple but that handles complex problems smoothly. We aim to combine inspiration from other industries and from farmers’ real work flows to build a product that does this.

Applying our learnings to our process

So what does all of this mean for our actual UX process? Our process is influenced both by industry standards and by agriculture and farming processes. We aim to collaborate with farmers to create something that feels like it was made for them. When approaching any new feature, we generally go through the following steps: 

1) Figure out what problem we are trying to solve by interviewing farmers and looking through past conversations we’ve had. This is where a lot of the team learns something new about agriculture and how farmers run their business. 

2) As a team, generate broad ideas of what a solution might look like. At this step, we like to have a person from every specialty involved, as everyone can provide a different perspective. For example, a developer may be able to think of what data we might be needing and how that fits into the app, while a researcher may be able to ground the discussion based on what farmers are actually doing. 

3) Take a look at the ideas and see what we might not know as much about. This is where we might do more targeted research with more specific questions in mind.

4) Do some mapping of the feature. Depending on the feature, I may jump to some rough sketches and generate as many versions as I can for a particular screen or I may map out the journey the user might take through this feature to figure out where it needs special attention. Often, I do both of these things. This is the step where I really try to think about what context a farmer may use this in and what information they may need. 

5) Create a 1st draft version (wireframe)  of what the feature looks like. This draft will get revised many times based on feedback from the team and from farmers. This step is where I’m the most inspired by other platforms and what they are doing. 

6) Test out what we’ve made. For bigger features, we often test out a prototype version to gather feedback from farmers. I’ve personally learned so much by doing this and it’s a lovely way to collaborate with the people who will actually use the feature. It’s an opportunity to not only listen but watch what people instinctively do with the interface. 

7) Compile the feedback from testing and make some changes. 

8) Finalize designs and hand it over to the developers.

Often, these steps get repeated again to make features even better after they come out. It’s important for us to be ready to optimize on features because we acknowledge that our solutions won’t be perfect on the first try. This is why we continue to look to look for feedback from farmers on things we release. We want to keep getting closer to a farmer’s ideal crop marketing tool with every release.

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