Hortus Chat is a smartphone application for visitors to engage in a dialogue with plants. Through the app, visitors chat with plants and trees as they stroll through one of 20 Dutch botanical gardens.
Engaging young audiences in new ways
Through this dialogue, things you might not notice at first glance become visible: how does this plant feel? What are its hidden features? Does it have a special scent? Why is a plant, or tree, the way it is?
Hortus Chat was developed by Waag in collaboration with (members of) the Dutch Association of Botanical Gardens (NVBT), and is one of the results of an extensive co-creation process with the associated gardens and their audiences and stakeholders in the project, Planting the Future. The project focussed on creating collaborative structures between gardens, on developing new public programming thereby broadening the gardens’ outreach.
Hortus Chat allows visitors to interact with plants via chat. The plants invite users to physically engage with them in three new ways:
- Choose which plants you want to meet: upon opening the app visitors get to select the plants and trees they want to ‘meet’ in an intuitive way, responding to a image of that plant and some inviting ‘quotes’ from the plants.
- Engage in a dialogue: visitors walk around in the garden and keep their device in their pocket. It’s only when a visitor approaches a plant or tree they have selected that they receive a message from the plant. At that point, the visitor can engage in a conversation with the plant and interact accordingly.
- Share pictures: because not all plants bloom at the same, time visitors sometimes miss the most beautiful stages of a plant’s life. To remedy that, the app allows visitors to take pictures of the plants and store them in the app so that future visitors can enjoy the beauty as well.
The app is aimed at ‘light green’ visitors: people with an interest in nature and botany, but no particular knowledge on the subject.
Elements in the app
At the beginning of the Planting the Future project, the connection between the gardens was limited. To plant the seeds for a closer collaboration, Waag introduced co-creation and creative methods that stem from ‘design thinking’. These methods foster ’learning by doing’ and create new interactions between people with different backgrounds and from all ranks of the organisations. It generated a broad range of possibilities and resulted in the common motto: ‘make the invisible visible.’
The application is supported by a content management system that uses catalogue information from the central Cordia database combined with custom, textual conversations written by the gardens. The platform is designed in such a way that the gardens are able to add new dialogues themselves. Currently, the dialogues are related to a selection of highlights in each garden, in line with the 2017 exhibition ‘Crown Jewels’, but will be extended with upcoming exhibitions.