A small case study about feeding fish
On a fine evening, a good friend of mine was wringing his mind out for a new idea. After a day of nothing, he sank into his couch frustrated and said, “Alexa...feed my fish.” Then he sat up, wondering if a genuine need existed. So he found out.
After surveying ~100 passionate fish owners, he found a sizable gap. There weren't any reliable automatic fish feeders on the market, let alone any that could connect digitally – which were in high demand given our digital landscape.
Automatic fish feeders essentially have 1 job, feed your fish exactly when asked to. And they all did it surprisingly poorly. Everything jammed, meaning fish waiting for food while their owners are unaware on vacation. Customer trust was a big issue.
In a clever new device manufactured in-house, they solved the first big step; they constructed a fish feeder that never jams. It also bridged the next gap of another lag ask. It was built to communicate with any smart phone or voice assistant. And that’s when design was up to bat.
Frontal view
Feeder in action with LED lighting
Problem Summarized
Lack of trustworthy and tech driven fish feeders in today’s market left a huge opportunity for innovative solutions as all options today are analog and untrustworthy. Atlantis Aquatics objective is to bridge that gap by providing a reliable fish feeder that connects to any smartphone. 
A Small Dose of Research
Our survey of ~100 fish owners was a god-send since user testing was unfortunately not in budget. It became a beacon of truth, and revealed a strong need for 5 functionalities, which became the major pillars of the design.
5 Pillars
1. Operate remotely from an app 
2. Set up an automatic feeding schedule
3. Feed different amounts of food at different times
4. Notify when food is low
5. Send a confirmation message when a feed is completed
Initial Designs
Some Guiding Questions
1. How should someone be introduced to a new concept like this?
2. How do we instill trust?
3. Do we need an onboarding explaining it's features or do we dive in? How does it coincide with the physical instructions in the packaging?
4. How does the hierarchy of the app look?
5. How can we achieve a light, trustworthy, easy barrier to entry experience?
Some Ideas Scratched out
I initially thought an explanatory onboarding would be a helpful addition. But in this scenario, it started becoming more of an obstacle than a benefit.
Since this device has 6 steps to getting it up and running, I designed the first interaction to just dive right into the set up. I assumed people are buying the hardware to interact with the app, not the other way around. Folks will already have the hardware in-hand before downloading the app.
Stylistic photo of me working on things
In case you're very curious about how I write
Android or iOS?
With Android being the first implementation, I decided to go with a card based system to segment out the Smart Feeders and their feed times. To address the lack of budget, I relied on Material 2 design systems. This gave instant consistency and allowed for easier implementation on dev side and time to completion on the design side.
6 lovely things needed to set-up a functioning SmartFeeder.
1. Remembering their modem with modem name and password (a very fun activity)
2. Turning on and connecting to Smart Feeder
3. Mount the feeder on the tank
4. Adding food into the feeder
5. Priming the feeder
6. Creating a feed schedule
Setting up a Schedule
For a schedule set up on Android, I wanted to ensure I didn't re-invent the wheel. That guided me towards using a universal pattern that is already prevalent to nearly everyone - a schedule for your morning alarm. Leveraging this pattern fit perfectly into the feeding needs. It showed time, frequency, amount, name, and sound notifications.
This satisfies the history ask of when your fish have been fed. Very reasonable ask.
Taking actions within an app is kind of like giving a good speech: Tell them what’s gonna about to happen, tell them what’s happening, then show them what happened. That’s the idea behind the feed history, or in other words, the timeline.
To further instill trust of what’s happened, I embedded this timeline with successful feedings listed below. In worst case scenarios of the feeder jamming (which it hasn’t yet after hundreds of tries) it’ll notify and list the feeding.
It’s always a good idea to think of worst case scenarios (like the feeder jamming) and design for them. At least that’s what I've learned from Interstellar (Murphy’s Law)

I really hope you get this reference.

The last pillar! These can be turned on and off from each scheduled feed. Just a simple notification that takes you straight to an opened timeline. 
Wrap Up
What I learned /would do differently
#1) I wish I would have pushed back on budget for user testing. Since it’s such a new idea in their market, I felt a dose of guilt handing off designs that met survey and business criteria without user testing. Of course I expressed the importance of testing, but I should have made it a requirement for these new business owners before the project begins. Lesson learned.
#2) Material design is a great system, but I could have pushed the boundaries more visually. The narrowed budget got the best of my visual ambitions. I played it quite safe.
#3) The app hierarchy likely could have been improved. This comes with user testing too. I wanted to make sure that the scheduling makes sense within a certain smart feeder. I think the android alarm pattern will translate well into the app though.
#4) Discovering limitations with dev far earlier. There were a few non-negotiables with setting-up the feeing that came up too late in the process. These should have been defined and communicated beforehand before design begins.
What I’m excited about
#1) To see this project appear on kick starter and see my designs in the wild! All my designs have been enterprise apps so far. The day I get to see these designs in the app store will be a big moment for me. I love the idea of pointing to something in the real world and saying “I helped make that”. I love making things I’m proud of.
#2) Helping a new company make it big! I truly think this company will make a big stride in the market. They’re filling a need that seems (from research) highly demanded.
#3) Designing iOS for them! They’re still launching for Android, but when the time comes for iOS, i’ll be ready.
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