Mystery Plant

Encouraging pro-environmental behavior through gamification.



Behavior and habit change — particularly in regards to environmental behavior — can be challenging for many people.

How might we help encourage gardening among young people who live in cities?


  • Brandon Caruso
  • Eugene Meng
  • Edward Roberts (me!)

Project Length

  • 2 Months


  • Popcap Games



From our research, we found that our users would want exposure to nature, as well as knowledge about nature itself. Combined with other restraints, such as providing player agency in making decisions, we came up with Mystery Plant below.




The impact  for this project was personal rather than external. It represents my first experience doing UX Design, and should be viewed as such. For me I took away some key learnings to impacted my later work:

  • It is critical to identify an audience with specific needs early on, even if it is a hypothesis. 
  • Ideation is not just a machine-like process, it's a human skill that needs to be nurtured.
  • Informed and focused critique is the life-blood of good UX design.


Our Design Approach

This project being my first exploration into UX Design, we focused on learning the important design skill of negotiating with each other through the design process.


Identifying a Problem Space

We started this project with little direction other than to make a game or app that could drive positive changes in behavior. In light of that, my group and I started by identifying different areas of opportunity we could focus our efforts. What were we interested in? Where could we make an impact?

Through affinity diagramming and dot voting, we collectively decided to move forward and focused on encouraging pro-environmental behavior.
problem identifciation.png

Reviewing Literature for Known Needs

Through a few iterative explorations of the current literature on pro-environmental behavior change, we were able to first identify a hypothetical audience we could design to.


Formalizing Design Constraints

Still leveraging existing literature, we were able to understand some key constraints that could guide the rest of project.

Enable Knowledge Building

Enable people to understand environmental issues and processes. This is critical to promote change.

Build Emotional Connections

Allow people to build an emotional connection with their environment over time.

Create Responsibility

Have people be responsible for their environment, creating investment on the part of the user.

Provide Agency

People should have agency over themselves and their environment so that they have personal impact.


Brainstorming the Problem Response

Through several iterations of ideation, we moved forward with Mystery Plant due to it being the concept that most resonated with our identified needs and constraints.

Final idea.png

Making a First Pass on Refinement

With our concept in hand, we moved towards expanding on the idea:

  • Defining experience touch-points a player would come into contact with

  • Scoping a low-fidelity userflow to understand the core game loop.

  • Reflecting on our work and identifying holes in the work and edge-cases.


Finalizing our Core Loop

Through peer critique, we had a solid idea of where we needed to go from here. The next step was to define our final userflow for the experience.


Designing the UI Layout

Knowing exactly what our app experience needed to be, we were able to easily move into creating wireframes.

Credit: Eugene Meng

Credit: Eugene Meng


Refining Look and Feel

After finalizing our visual style guide and wireframes, my team created high-fidelity mock-ups to pitch our work.

Credit: Eugene Meng

Credit: Eugene Meng


Next Steps

This was not a perfect design project, but it was an excellent exploration of what it means to ideate and develop a concept well. If we were to take this project further, I would do some things differently to make Mystery Plant more robust.

  1. Validate our audience's needs through generative research.

  2. Pivot if necessary and iterate to respond to identified insights.

  3. Perform early, and quick, formative research to ground our work more closely to task-level user needs.

  4. After a potential launch, initiate a diary study to understand long-term user satisfaction and engagement.