Gamifying the learning experience to create useful daily habits

Being a plant parent is more than just buying a few and watering them occasionally. It takes acquiring a plethora of knowledge to be done successfully. After extensive user interviewing and uncovering the struggles faced by all, I explored techniques I could employ to design an app where a user could participate in learning about their plants in a fun and compelling way. My goal was not just to create a useful and entertaining app, but one in which the user would instill a lasting habit that would carry over into real life - the habit of caring for their plants properly with the knowledge gained from using the app . This was a conceptual project in which I was the sole designer. It lasted a duration of 4 weeks.

user research
interaction design
UI design
user testing
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Buying is just the beginning.

Plant keeping is seen across different cultures all over the world. Having plants in the home can add some tranquility to your space, and our need to nurture is satisfied by caring for something living. Perhaps we humans have an innate desire to live in harmony with nature, as we did much more-so in the past before industrialization.

The appeal of house plants entices many newcomers into trying it out for themselves, and purchasing a few from a local store. The plants come back home and find their spot on the window sill or coffee table, and the vibe sets in. A couple weeks go by, the plants get admired daily and watered when needed - but then they start dying and you just can’t seem to stop it or figure out what went wrong.

More than what you bargained for

Many are quick to discover that this newfound plant parenthood isn't as easy as they had thought; it’s a lot more involved than simply buying some plants and watering every few days. All plants are different beings, and have different requirements to thrive. Learning about all the needs of individual plants and managing the care schedule is where the work comes in. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the different needs of various plants, caring for them must become part of your daily routine.

user research

First I set out to speak with some people about their experiences with learning to care for house plants. My target individuals for the interviews were not those who were skilled with plant keeping, but those who had to undergo the process of learning as a beginner. Essentially people who had to start from scratch and figure it out as they go.

After speaking with over a dozen interviewees, the struggles they faced consistently came down to two serious areas of issue, light & water management. Each person reported in their initial struggles with learning to care for their plants that keeping these conditions ideal was essential to maintaining long term plant health.


• overwatering & underwatering

• knowing the signs of too much or too little

• tracking and remembering watering frequency


• knowing the signs of too much or too little

• unsure what categorizes different levels in their environment

• concern that their environment isn't getting enough light


Same struggles are experienced by everyone.

Aside from fine-tuning plants for their desired light & water needs, the next most common problem I found was people having a hard time maintaining a consistent schedule. For example, someone may water a plant when it appears to be in need, forgetting that they did give it water just a few days ago and perhaps the issue they are seeing isn’t water related at all.  

Here another common problem surfaced - diagnosing problems correctly. For the novice plant keeper, this can be rather frustrating when you know the plant needs help but you can’t tell exactly what’s wrong. Often times using Google to troubleshoot a problem leaves one overwhelmed with nuanced results.


Exact light and water requirements
for each plant is unknown
to beginners


Maintaining a consistent
schedule is something most
people struggle with


When a plant is showing signs
of stress, it's often hard to
determine what it needs

Nearly all novice plant owners experience the same issues with learning to care for their new plants. This made it easy to imagine a single person and the struggles they may face.  I developed a user persona, and moving forward Hannah was used as a representation of the target user so that I could better unify the ideas about who I was desigining for.


Looking for a heavier layer of value.

It was rather easy to identify the issues new plant owners face, and they were surprisingly consistent. Some clear ideas emerged of features that could solve for many of the problems uncovered from user research. An app where one could identify their plants and learn about their needs, get notification reminders for things like watering, and could even help diagnose problems the plant has. This kind of product could make for a useful mobile app for someone like Hannah.

The reality is that to be successful at plant keeping, it has to become part of your daily routine. Plants are living beings that can’t just be given attention when you feel like it, similar to how you can pick up a book and read more pages whenever you wish, only to set it aside afterwards on your nightstand for weeks. Creating a tool that provides all you need in one app isn't going to add much value to someone who only uses it intermittently. I wanted to create a product where people could genuinely learn about their plants, and help create a long term habit of caring for them as part of a daily routine.

interaction design

To make something become part of your daily routine, it has to be done consistently over a long period of time. For something to be desired enough to be performed consistently over that long period of time, it needs to be something that feels enjoyable and worthwhile, with clear long term value in sight. From human psychology we know that creating habits happens with behavior reinforcement. One approach popularized by author Nir Eyal is the Hook Method. This is an effective strategy for forming habits that has very useful applications within the product design space.

trigger, action, reward, investment

Hannah gets a notification that a friend liked her Instagram post (which is the trigger) that prompts her to open the app and start scrolling (the action). Eventually, she's bound to land on some type of variable reward - a hit of dopamine after seeing something stimulating that provoked a certain emotion in her; good or bad. It could have been a funny cat video or a video from a concert she missed out on.

The fact that scrolling acts as a virtual slot machine creates a desire in the user to make more of an investment of their energy into the app. This isn't something that just so happens to work on Hannah; in reality this susceptibility can be labeled as part of the human condition. We all are subject to having this pattern work on us and control our behavior, whether we realize it or not.

‍After studying this method and understanding how it can be applied in my design, I wanted to add another layer to this app's purpose and value. If this app was going to be used everyday to create a long term habit, it needed to be fun and enjoyable. A very influential strategy in making a product enticing to participate in continuously is to implement elements of gamification. A system of challenges, goals, and rewards that can be very effective with creating user retention. By adding a few of these techniques to the app, it could become a much more engaging and repeatable experience.

Boosts knowledge retention

Gamified courses lead to high performance learning and help users in committing knowledge to long term memory.

Enhances the learning experience

Applying game elements and their mechanics makes the user more likely to spend time on learning as the courses are fun and enjoyable.

Motivates people to learn

With a system of rewards, users are eager to participate further in hopes that they may receive more stimulating benefits of the product.


Exploring solutions with a gaming concept.

After understanding the approach of the hook method and elements of gamification techniques, it was time to apply this to the design. My idea was to create a product where the user has a virtual representation of the plants in their own home, and the app teaches best practices on how to care for those plants through a series of quiz challenges that test and reinforce their knowledge.


Notification reminders with a clear call-to-action that motivates the user to keep up


Challenges on the app to test user's memory and reinforce newly acquired knowledge


A point system to rank score, and different rewards are given to the user in intervals


The more time a user invests into the product, the more value they will get out of it


Turning ideas into something tangible.

After discerning what was vital for inclusion on the app's home screen, a dashboard was sketched out to maximize functionality while maintaining a minimal design. With these elements present, the user is able to access all functionality and information on the app from the screen intuitively.

Initial wireframe sketch of screen elements
With everything fitting into the dashboard that was needed access all the apps functions, experiments for different solutions were made into low-fidelity wireframes that were tested with an InVision prototype.
wireframe of home screen
improved wireframe of home screen

After initial testing, some changes were made to the dashboard to simplify its design and create further clarity about functionality. Next, screens for the Challenges were sketched and then made digital, which were also tested on the initial prototype.


Receiving feedback is essential to behavior reinforcement, I created a way to provide this to the user with fun notification reactions that included a character to narrate.

Gamification feedback in app
UI design


Designing for intuition & engagement.


During a Challenge, the user sees a Progress Bar to indicate at which stage they are within the Challenge.

If the user is unsure about the question, they can tap "show hint" to see a recap of information so they can relearn.

The Check button at bottom awakens from its blank state to become colorized after the user taps a desired answer.


Whether the question was answered correctly or not, the character appears to notify the user how they performed, and provide a quick reminder of the information.

What if the user answers wrong?

When a user answers a Challenge question wrong, this signifies they did not retain the information presented when they first added their plant and learned about it.

Upon answering a question incorrectly, the user is walked through some additional screens to review information about what they missed, and then confirm the knowledge has been well received.

Highlighting user accomplishments

When a user performs well, they will be rewarded in various ways. One example is a notification of their Streak - how many days they have participated consistently in app learning. Users are subconsciously encouraged to keep up their streak.

As points increase, Tools are earned for rewards at different tiers to signify to the user that their investment of time is benefitting them within the app.

user testing

Now that all screens had been produced, it was time to test the user flow with a high-fidelity prototype that I made using InVision. I devised a flow that prompted an existing user to open the app and complete the day's task as well as a challenge to get some extra points. The prototype included blank states for each question as well as feedback and points increasing as questions were answered.


If all is well, only time will tell.

Most users tested had no problem with completing the daily tasks and as well as the challenge about knowledge of a recent plant addition. Two of my test subjects had a slight vision impairment, which brought light to some accessibility issues in the original design. Some elements did not have high enough contrast, and feedback was received that the colors were too bold, so some colors were reworked so these issues could be corrected.

The real test here would be to see if these techniques used created for a product that was desired to be used consistently over a long period of time to solidify knowledge and create lasting habits.

Additionally, some feedback was received about how the dashboard could be more conclusive and simple.

Dashboard Tweaks

A checkmark was added to signify that a daily task has been completed.

The Tomorrow's Tasks button was determined to be too prominent with the previous gradient color treatment, and was moved to a different location without the use of a button.

The Challenges section was reorganized to minimize the design and feel less cluttered.


This project to create an app was a fun journey of exploring different strategies and techniques. Along this path of research and discovery, numerous ideas came to me as potential functions and purpose of the app. Through lots of experimentation and revising, I was able to arrive at a product I felt made the learning experience fun, and would provide useful lasting knowledge to users that could be implemented into their real lives.

If this project was shipped in real life, the KPIs I would track to assess performance would be Number of Active Users and Customer Rention Rate.

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