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Tech x Farming: Morgan Sweet talks AI, UX, and the future of digital agriculture

Morgan Sweet standing at speaker podium

Morgan Sweet, Senior User Experience Principal, represented Kin + Carta at The Future of Digital Agriculture conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on March 6th, 2024. The conference brings together industry leaders to explore the intersection of technology and farming.

She was a member of the Integrating Human-Centered Design in Agriculture Automation to Autonomy panel along with Dr. Mark Moran, Head of the John Deere Technology Innovation Center, and Dr. Alex Foessel, Managing Partner of Balanced Engineering. The panel discussed the importance of human-centered design as the agriculture industry moves toward fully autonomous systems.

The panel covered a range of topics, including the user aspect of design, how to involve users at the right times, and the importance of empathy. Farmers are exposed to so many different—and often complex—technologies that incorporating human-centered design principles into solutions is essential. Morgan discussed an additional layer of human-centered design—creating an environment of empathy within the design process to fully understand what farmers need. To successfully create autonomous solutions, organizations must actively use that empathy and involve the end user every step of the way. This is especially important early in the design process to prevent costly missteps and ensure that technology solutions match farmers' requirements.
Morgan Sweet standing at speaker podium
Morgan Sweet, Kin + Carta and Dr. Alex Foessel, Balanced Engineering

Balancing business needs and user experience  

Morgan also spoke about the balance between business needs and the user experience. A key aspect of building successful solutions in agriculture is bringing the end user along from the start. Additionally, the design has to work for an ecosystem that includes a wide variety of roles that support farming infrastructure. This means considering not just the farmer but the entire team that will use the technology in each phase of the design process, from ideation and journey mapping to iteration and validation. 

Failure to gather feedback in each design phase risks wasting time and money on impractical or unnecessary features. Farmers have very small margins for error, and a misstep can result in the loss of an entire season. They need to trust the solutions being built for them. When a solution doesn’t work, rebuilding that trust is difficult.

A unique perspective on farming experiences 

Morgan understands this first-hand because she has a personal connection to agriculture. She grew up in a farming family, which gives her a unique perspective when it comes to interacting with farmers. She has built connections with the farmers she interviews because of her understanding of their world, and they often remind her of friends, family, and neighbors. 

As autonomous solutions become more accessible for farmers, there is some resistance to adoption—often this comes from fear of job loss. The reality is that these systems are not eliminating or replacing jobs. They're increasing efficiency by allowing people to tackle multiple value-driven tasks at the same time.

Morgan shared an example of this from one of her ride-along experiences. Because the cab is essentially self-driving, the farmer she joined was able to complete tasks that would normally have been relegated to after-hours. So, rather than taking away from the end user, an autonomous system can actively support farmers by freeing up their time. When farmers understand this, they’re more likely to trust these systems.

As the agriculture industry grows to embrace autonomous solutions, the evidence becomes stronger that these technologies improve productivity and quality of life for farmers. But only when implemented thoughtfully and with empathy for users. By prioritizing user-centric design, digital agriculture can better support innovation, efficiency, and collaboration between technology and farming communities.

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