Ember Johnstone

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A digital mockup of the Sprüt gardening system in action, including the companion app, the smart-planter, and some characters from the app.

Sprüt takes the guesswork out of gardening.

Sprüt is a speculative IOT design concept that combines a smart planter with a companion app so that gardenin can feel like a game. As a fully integrated gardening system, Sprüt makes growing food at home fun and easy.


Learn more about Sprüt’s integrated gardening system.

Sprüt’s planters in action at The Show demonstrate each phase of the growing cycle from installing the mat, germinating the seeds using the lid, and a successful microgreens harvest.

Download the process book

Try the app’s prototype


Sprüt empowers people to fight food insecurity by making vertical indoor farming more accessible to those in urban environments. With the companion app, seedlings can communicate their needs to their caretaker who receives real-time updates from the smart-planter.


My Role: UX/UI & Product Design

Project Length: Sept 2022 — May 2023

Tools Used: Figma, Miro, Notion, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Premiere Pro, Rhino3D, Tinkerine Cloud,  Procreate, Canva

Methods Used: Sketching, mapping, personas, storyboarding, paper prototypes, clickable prototypes, clay and wire prototypes, wizard of oz, user interviews, market research, card sorting, brand identity, rendering, 3D printing, video prototyping, wireframing, information architecture & gardening. 

Screens from the Sprüt companion app and a digital illustrated mockup of the Sprüt smart planter


At the current rate of global warming, food yields will decline up to 30% by 2050. Growing food at home can reduce dependence on grocery stores, especially during times of shortages, inflation, or disruptions. While the popularity of gardening among young people facing food insecurity has skyrocketed, there are a few barriers in place preventing people from growing their own lunch.

According to a study conducted by Ember Johnstone at Emily Carr University in 2022, 85% of students wished they could grow food at home. The main barriers they listed were space, money, knowledge, and time constraints.

Many people living in urban areas, which are especially at risk of food insecurity, may not have enough space in their homes or yards to garden effectively. What’s more, learning how to properly care for plants requires a massive learning curve. Figuring out when to water the garden, how much sunlight it needs, and how to harvest the plants at the right time can make the idea of starting a garden seem overwhelming.

According to a study conducted by OnePoll: 70% of millennials call themselves "plant parents." 67% of millennials call themselves "plant murderers," the average "plant parent" has killd 7 houseplants, and 40% of gardeners quit in their first year.


Sprüt was designed to empower people living in food deserts in times of increasing food insecurity to grow a sustainable source of fresh microgreens to help supplement their diets. Microgreens are ready to eat as quick as 2 weeks after planting, and contain 40% more nutrients than fully-grown produce. By learning how to properly care for an indoor garden, individuals can gain greater self-sufficiency and supplement their diet with healthy home-grown produce.

What makes Sprüt stand out is that it makes growing a garden feel like caring for a digital pet. Through the app, users can interact with their planter and receive feedback on how their plants are doing at each step of the growing journey, winning accomplishment badges for each crop that makes its way to lunch. 

An illustration of a smiling person with long hair using the Sprüt companion app while the smart planter is hung on the wall behind them, full of fresh grown microgreens.

“Growing food is an act of resistance.”

– Karen Washington, food justice activist


The mobile app pairs with the smart planter to make sure each harvest is supported through their lifecycle from seed to plate. 

Design evolution: mobile app

Screens from Sprüt companion garden app showing the features that include planter set up,. seed insights, gardening steps, and harvest tracking.


  • Supports each new gardener through the process of setting up their new microgreens planter, with simple instructions and a clear onboarding process.
  • Gives an overview of available microgreen types to grow, along with helpful information to help support their choice of which seed to plant.
  • Turns the tedious steps involved with growing microgreens into an easy to follow game.
  • Tracks the progress of each harvest cycle, alerting the gardener when their seeds need to be watered, moved into the sun, harvested, or if they need a bit of extra love.

Design evolution: smart planter

The Sprüt gardening kit includes the compaion app, the growing tray, the light cover for germination, hemp growing mats, and seeds.


  • Hangs vertically on the wall with zero footprint, supporting the home garden while framing it like a picture to make growing food feasible in small spaces.
  • Includes sensors that communicate the plant’s needs to the user via the companion app *
  • Includes replaceable and renewable hemp grow mats that are fully compostable.
  • Made of recycled PLA, it supports thousands of potential harvests – cutting out the need for plastic containers from the grocery store while also reducing the need for up to 7000 km of food-mile transportation from harvest to destination. 

*The planter is still in the prototyping stage. It is designed to work with moisture sensors to update the user on their plants’ watering needs, and light sensors to work with embedded grow lights to make sure the crop gets enough light.

“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.”

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World


Since this was a project tackled entirely by myself and the skills I have in my toolbelt, in terms of market readiness – Sprüt is still a seedling. Bringing the design from where it is now to a fully integrated working product will take a village.

At this stage, it is a speculative design with prototypes for the visual design, behavioral flows, the industrial design of the planter, and the brand identity. Before it can launch, it will need to be developed in other areas with the help of a team of engineers, horticulture experts, and other professionals.

By sharing my design journey and the experiences uncovered through testing Sprüt’s prototypes, I hope to inspire others to think creatively about how we can create a more sustainable food system. 

Digital mockups of Sprüt's indoor gardening system including screens from the companion app and a group of smart planters hanging on a wall.


Sprüt was born from the frustration I felt when my summer patio garden shriveled to dust. Despite years of study and a permaculture design certificate under my belt, I do not have a green thumb. 

Learning how to expand my practice of empathizing with users to encompass plants was fascinating. Balancing the design process of the companion app, the smart-planter, and the way that the microgreens would thrive between them challenged me to redesign the way I approach prototyping and user testing for digital and physical spaces simultaneously. I have spent most of my career designing products to keep people hooked on their screen, so encouraging gardeners to engage with the natural phenomena outside of their phone was refreshing. As the demand and technology for IOT starts to flood the market, I am grateful for the lessons and challenges Sprüt brought into my design practice and excited for the potential to design more interactions that can deepen our connection with the outside world. 

Any questions or ideas to help bring Sprüt to life? Send me an email. 

Ember Johnstone

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Ember is a multidisciplinary designer graduating from the interaction design bachelor’s program at Emily Carr University. With a background in industrial design, architecture, and jewelry design, they pivoted their career towards digital design with a diploma in full-stack UX/UI design from Brainstation. Since then, they have worked on small and large design problems for products ranging from early stage startup to a global industry-leading information technology firm. Their design practice is centered in a desire to create cohesion between people, technology, and nature. Originally from Toronto, they draw a lot of inspiration from their experiences exploring places where nature is allowed to thrive.

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