Bin Buddy is an educational web app that provides elementary school classrooms interactive experiences through vermicomposting.
Food waste is a huge ongoing problem in Los Angeles and around the world. Food waste contributes to climate change by producing powerful greenhouse gasses when it rots in landfills. We wanted to help divert food waste by introducing composting solutions.
As we began our research, we learned the main barriers that prevent people from composting are knowledge of the topic and limited space.
Our research led us to create a vermicompost concept bin (compost with worms) and web application combo, Bin Buddy. Designed to teach children in underfunded schools the benefits of vermicomposting, Bin Buddy is found in K – 6th grade classrooms and establishes composting habits in children who are disadvantaged and otherwise wouldn’t have access to this type of education.
View the full prototype here!
We began our research with composting data. One of the most important things we had found was California bill SB 1383. The bill states that as of January 1st, 2022, all residents and businesses will be required to reduce their organic waste disposal methods in order to meet the 75% organic emissions reduction goal by 2025.
Another piece of data we found was that underfunded schools are less likely to receive gardening & composting education. Not only does gardening & composting education help teach children how to make healthy nutritional choices, composting education combats climate change.
The other beneficial data piece we had found was the Waste Diversion and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Financial Assistance grant. This grant provides financial assistance to underfunded communities who may not have access to food waste education.
However, as we dug further we found that many people are unaware of composting benefits. The Summary of Composting Survey, which was conducted by stopwaste.org in various California cities, concluded that “There is an opportunity for education and messaging about the ease and necessity of composting.“
Research Methods Click to enlarge
As we progressed, we began our research methods with Personas, Journey Maps, and Moments that Matter.
Research Method Insights
Through our Persona, Denise, and her Journey Map and Moments that Matter breakdown, we learned that a better bin design was necessary in order to get someone to compost successfully. This was the most valuable insight that came out of our research methods.
We went on to interview 3 people. Christina interviewed John, who had no experience with composting and mirrored our first Persona, Sam. I interviewed Helena, who did have composting experience and mirrored our Persona, Denise. Christina and I then interviewed Ferris Kawar, Santa Monica College’s sustainability manager who maintains Vermitech.
Vermitech is a composting system on campus that houses approximately 400,000 worms. The worms convert about 500 pounds of food scraps each week from the cafeteria into valuable fertilizer. This is then used for the campus’ landscaping.
Ferris’ interview reinforced that compost awareness in the general public is especially low, and even though Helena had composting experience, John didn’t have any or even know what composting is.
Because of the common lack of knowledge, we decided to focus on elementary school classrooms in order to spread compost education and awareness. That way, children can not only be exposed to composting but can learn how to maintain it properly.
Design Methods Click to enlarge
We did three Competitive Analysis; composting apps, physical bins, and education apps before diving into actual designs.
Design Methods Insights
We compared Composting Apps, since there were no vermicomposting apps to compare to. We also found that there were no gamifying experiences in those composting apps.
And when comparing Educational insights, we found another opportunity to create interactive experiences while observing the natural recycling process with earthworms.
When comparing vermicomposting Bin designs, we found that there were no bins with an interactive component, or a transparent side for observation, or casters for mobility. This gap provided an opportunity to provide these features in a single product.
I then came up with several different bin ideas, and settled with a vermicompost bin that has a glass side so kids can look through to see the worms in action.
Once a solid bin design was established, we began working on the web app half which would help kids understand bin maintenance through a series of games.
Jake did the game prototyping work in Figma. He created a Food Picker game, where kids learned what is and what is not able to go into the bin by dragging an item to the drawers.
The Worm Simulator is the second game he created, where kids can play as a worm trying to find food, showing their role in the compost process. Then the kids watch as the food is digested and turned into worm poop.
We were able to test the games with 4 children, ages 7 – 12, and later 8 adults once it was more refined.
User testing: Food Picker
The Food Picker game initially left some of our testers confused as to why some items were compostable and some were not.
Additionally, one of the mothers during our user testing had brought up a good point about kids who may have visual impairments, like dyslexia.
Our solution to this was to inform the player the reason why the item was not able to be composted. We also added a speaker icon which reads the text in order to meet accessibility needs.
Food Picker Continued
Another feature we added to wholly inform the player of how composting works, was a Get to Know Your Bin feature on the main dashboard which I constructed. This interactive feature explains how to use the bin and what goes inside by dragging out the drawers.
User testing: Worm Simulator
The controls of the Worm Simulator game often confused testers because the W, A, S, D instructions only showed up on the first screen and because they were not familiar with them.
Our solution to this was to make the text larger and easier to understand.
Worm Simulator Continued
Additionally, some of the testers didn’t recognize the food.
Our solution was to change the red shape to an apple core, so it’s obvious that it’s something edible.
View the full prototype here!
I helped refine the prototype by adding branding, page animations, standardizing all text and buttons, and adding updates from the user testing.
Something that I found annoying was how Figma had unchangeable arrow controls for the prototype. We would have changed the W, A, S, D controls to arrows since it was so confusing to everyone, but we were unable to change it because the arrows control the prototype slides.
Something I would have done differently is spend more time refining aspects of the prototype (such as adding interactivity to the bin notifications on the top left of the web app and adding more information to the Get to Know Your Bin feature) as well as adding onto the games so they’re not too easy for older kids. One last feature I’d like to add is a gardening game where players could do something with the worm poop after playing Worm Simulator. I think I would have also spent more time refining the overall design / UI so its more appealing.
However, I had a lot of fun with this project because composting is something I’m already passionate about, but I also felt like I had learned a lot and really enjoyed what we learned through our interviews. I didn’t know there were different types of composting, like vermicomposting, so I enjoyed learning how to maintain a vermicompost bin and how we could educate other people about it.
I was totally blown away by Jake‘s clever way to build games, so I felt like I had gained a lot simply from understanding how he used Figma’s smart animate to create them.
I thought Christina was a great interviewer and appreciated the really insightful notes she had taken as well as her contagious enthusiasm for the project.
Overall, I’m happy with how the project turned out. Our goal was to expose and educate children about composting habits, and I feel that we achieved it.