The Thirsty Crop Project

Creating awareness on water sustainability issues of crop production in California.



To develop a solution that could aid in solving a problem and affect change in a complex system.


Jamie Catt, Tiger Zhao


User Experience, User Research, Prototyping, Design Strategy


3 Weeks, Spring 2018


The Thirsty Crop Project promotes awareness on water sustainability issues of crop production.

Our case study explores water sustainability issues in crop production and how it affects California’s water footprint. By developing system diagrams, studying water intensive crops, and creating a metric, we designed produce labels, ad posters and a website to address the lack of awareness for consumers and lack of water sustainable practice for farmers.


What problems are encountered in the water system in California?


Looking Into The System

We started by mapping the system to understand the relationships that occurred within it and to look for areas of dysfunction. This lead us to focus on water as a resource for different sectors in the economic and domestic market.

Concept Model.png

Secondary Research

We know that drought and lack of water is one of the biggest environmental issue in California and that made us look into sustainable use of water in agriculture. Through our research, we discovered that crops yields the highest percentage of water usage in the agricultural sector.


Agriculture amounts to 80% of the overall water usage across different sectors in California. However, water footprint is an intangible variable in this process.

One important factor we discovered are the water intensive crops such as almonds. To better understand these types of crops compared to normal ones, we looked into infographics that shows how much water it uses to be produced.

Water Intensity

Illustration: Pacific Institute | Source:
Water Use

Illustration: Pacific Institute | Source:

Existing Solutions

We looked into existing solutions that tried to solve this problem, and we came across an article that states why these don’t work well to address the issue:

“Water pumping has helped farmers stave off short-term pain. But it's creating a long-term disaster. These underground aquifers aren't quickly refilled, since they were built up over centuries. As the drought hits, many farmers are switching to higher-value crops like almonds, in order to get as much value as possible out of their increasingly scarce water.” —

The irony in this situation is that almonds are one of the most water intensive crops as shown in the infographic we gathered above. Even with the scarce water, farmers still produce them because they’re high demand in the market which makes it a high value produce. This is where the heart of the problem lies — consumer demand for water intensive crops — and that’s where we believe a design solution is needed.


User Research

I interviewed local farmer's and vendors from the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Embarcadero so that I can get first hand stories about the farmer and consumer’s experiences.



Not many people are aware of the amount of water it takes to produce agricultural crops.

There’s no transparency on how much water it takes to produce the crops that are being sold in the market.


How might we create awareness around water usage on crop production?


Our Goals

  • Bridge the gap between farmers and consumers by providing transparency of water usage in crop production.

  • Encourage consumers to reduce their water footprint through the food they eat on a daily basis.

  • Encourage farmers to practice more water sustainable farming methods.


Understanding The System


To better understand the underlying problem, we mapped out how the elements in the system affects one another.

The Connection Circle helped us map out and understand the key relationships within the system; while the Stock-Flow Diagram gave us an insight on how the consumer's demand for certain crop production can indirectly affect the water footprint. 


Designing The Concept


Our Solution

We want to empower farmer’s who practice water sustainable farming ad encourage others to do the same. So we developed a rulated metric to encourage farmer’s in practicing water sustainable crop production.

We want to empower consumers to make better choices when purchasing produce from the market. So we designed a platform to educate consumer’s on water sustainability in crop production.


Produce Labels

A metric that determines if a produce is water sustainable.

We looked into how other food labels are created and we came up with a metric that is specifically to determines water sustainable crops. To make it standardized, we decided that the classification of the crops will depend on the amount of water it uses when produced. The water usage of a crop is measured by inches of water, for every season of harvest.


Ad Posters

A call-to-action for awareness on crop production as the largest contributor of water usage in the agriculture sector.

My partner, Tiger Zhao took on the role of designing the posters. We envisioned these as a call-to-action for awareness on water intensive crops. We settled on the catch-phrase: “Crops get thirsty too.” to indicate that crop production as the largest contributor of water usage in the agriculture sector.



A platform to educate and encourage water sustainable practice in crop production for consumers and farmers.

I took on the role for developing the UI of the website. My idea was to create a landing page where the overview of the project can be found. Since the education and the actions that can be taken are different for each user group, I created separate pages for each where they can learn more about how they can contribute as a Farmer or a Consumer.


Key Features


We wanted both farmers and consumers to learn more about water sustainable crops and thirsty crops so we designed a comparison table for types of produce to know how much water they consume.

Selecting and Comparing Produce

Selecting and Comparing Produce

Comparison Table

Comparison Table


We wanted consumers to make better decisions that will contribute to the community and environment so we decided to have a place where they can search and see where they can purchase TCP approved produce in markets and groceries.



We wanted farmers to take action so we designed the website to give information on how they can apply and be verified to produce water sustainable crops.


Prototype Demo


How Will It Lead To Better Consumer Decisions?

Our journey map indicates the consumer's experience when they purchase produce in the market or grocery and how our solution can provide an impact on the consumer's awareness.  

Small actions lead to big changes and as designers, our role is to empower people to make better choices that will be beneficial for the environment. While our solution itself may not largely affect the water consumption and footprint, we believe that it will create a ripple effect in the agriculture system that will lessen water usage when producing crops.



This project gave me the opportunity to work on a real-world problem which is something I’m strongly passionate about. It allowed me to see things from a broader perspective by understanding the whole system first before focusing on a particular area within that system. 

One of the key learning that I also gained from this project was the importance of discovering the pain points of users when conducting a primary research. The interviews were the main highlight for me because it allowed me to see things from the farmer’s and consumer’s point-of-view, which became a valuable lesson for me to design solutions to address their pain points, rather than designing solutions that addresses our own assumptions or conclusions of the system’s problems. 


What Else Can You Learn?