August 31, 2020
Sometimes, a helping hand (or several) goes a long way in nurturing the product development process. For their smart hydroponic garden ‘Foop’, Delta Electronics looked to FabCafe for support in field research, ideation, design and even procurement of materials, enabling them to quickly and successfully bring the product to market.
Foop is not just your garden variety hydroponic system for the home. Backed by smart technology, vegetables and herbs can be easily grown and harvested, with sensors monitoring everything from CO2 levels and temperature, and sending information to owners via a phone app. Combined with its sleek and compact design, Foop has been a proven hit with various markets around the globe, having even been described by The Verge as an ‘adorable mini vegetable drawer’ for the ‘abrasive city life’.
As one of Delta Electronics’ earlier forays into IoT (Internet of Things) technology, Foop’s journey consisted of a mishmash of various creators and teams, including FabCafe. With limited resources under a newly established IoT department, one of the key features of Delta’s experimental project was the use of outsourcing for research, product design, PR and more – something IoT business development general manager Maverick Shee likened to setting up a ‘film production crew’.
Development Process with FabCafe: Manufacturer × User × Creator Co-creation type product development
Part of Foop’s success comes from its market-oriented approach, with user research findings used to flesh out the details of the product itself. With FabCafe at the helm, a prototype was first brought to FabCafe Tokyo, to effectively gauge the public’s reaction to Foop.
According to Toshimasa Kawai, one of the FabCafe project members, it was always expected that cafe patrons would take an interest in Foop, but one of the crucial findings from this field research was the number of female customers it attracted. Based on this, FabCafe Tokyo invited female participants to an ideation session, pushing the project forward to its next research phase.
FabCafe is no stranger to ideations, with global branches hosting and facilitating regular sessions, garnering great insights and generating creative new ideas – be it for clients, collaborators or in-house projects. For Foop, 20 women of various backgrounds and perspectives participated, with only the concept of ‘future hydroponic farming for families’, rather than the product itself, being shown. Opinions about everything from design to IoT functions were provided, with the popularity of ‘warm’ wood materials eventually forming the basis of Foop’s final design iteration.
Even Maverick was surprised by the findings: “During the workshop, various ideas about the technical aspects of IoT emerged, and we found that users are looking for more advanced communication functions than we originally thought!”
According to Kawai, the unique wooden design of Foop was not there to begin with. “The prototype before the workshop was a futuristic design with a ‘cosmic’ vibe, but I didn’t think it was too suitable for the female market.”
Based on the insights gained from female participants at the ideation workshop, wood was chosen as one of Foop’s primary materials.
Here, FabCafe Hida, and the affiliate studio Hidakuma, were able to step in to play an important role. Situated in central Japan, Gifu Prefecture’s Hida is an old town surrounded by mountains and forests with deep roots to wood and woodwork. FabCafe Hida acts as a bridge between old and new, helping to connect Hida’s abundance of wood, as well as local craftspeople and forestry experts, with products like Foop.
Though Maverick had been a little skeptical of the material choice, worried a wooden design would only suit Japanese tastes, the quality of Hida’s high-grade beech wood and the support of the Hida team put him at ease.
For the designer behind Foop, Hideo Kambara of Barakan Design, Foop’s union of technology and nature made wood a compelling choice. The convenience of procuring the material through FabCafe, as well as the quality of the wood itself, were also major advantages.
As an IoT product, the digital design of Foop was just as important. FabCafe was also engaged in the production of the Foop app and its website, leading a UI design workshop with paper prototypes. According to Toshimasa Kawai, he had not originally planned to be involved in the design of the Foop smartphone app.
“When I saw the sample design, I felt that it didn’t look like Foop,” he said. “So I proposed to use the same dot design elements for the app’s UI.”
The dot design, featured prominently on the Foop LED display, was already part of the first prototype Maverick shared. Kawai called the 8×8 matrix display, with its simple, analog-esque look, ‘charming’ and ‘endearing’. “The dot-matrix display gives you the feeling that you’re interacting with Foop on your smartphone, and that’s why it was chosen for the final product,” he said. To mirror the aesthetic, the FabCafe team highlighted the circular and dotted motifs throughout the app, creating a seamless physical-digital-physical experience.
When Foop went to market, their first pre-order event saw 50 units sold within a few hours on the first day. Over the next four days, the remaining 50 units were also sold out. Then, in the second event, 50 units were sold on the first day… and so on. Foop received a flurry of international attention, with media outlets reporting on the product, and news spreading on social media platforms. Foop proved to be a hit, both in Japan and overseas; with urbanites, as well as mothers in smaller towns; and with adult women, as well as kids – as a pizza party at FabCafe Hida showed. According to Maverick, even the people at Delta were surprised.
“Creative ideas can’t be created without an environment that allows for open communication,” Maverick said. “Instead of prioritizing delivery date and cost, it is becoming more important to prioritize what users are really looking for. I think that Foop is following this trend.”
“And I think it’s only through co-creation with many partners and users that we’ve been able to make this impact.”
Inspired by the ‘Fab’ revolution as prescribed by MIT maverick Neil Gershenfeld, FabCafe is a series of ‘Fab’ innovation labs that specialize in creating products, services and experiences of the future. Here, maker enthusiasts, businesses and everyday people can access digital fabrication tools and experiences for fields ranging from fashion to bio. Founded in Tokyo in 2012, FabCafe’s global network now serves and fosters creative communities in 11 locations around the world, including Bangkok, Barcelona, Hong Kong, and many more.
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