We’ve been working for the past couple months on a really cool web and iOS app called Bucket Load.

It’s a way for farmers to manage hand-picked crop harvesting and payroll by counting buckets using their iPhones, then generating reports from the web app.

Nothing else exists like it right now, so farmers have been using any number of archaic means to get buckets tallied for the day – from poker chips to hand-tallies to Excel spreadsheets.  Whether inefficient or inaccurate, the counts have always been contentious and the pickers have always had reason to distrust the system.

Until now.

I spent the day in the blueberry fields of Polk County today, watching our app in action as the farmer with whom we’re building the app started his spring harvest.

These berries are not quite ready to pick – obviously.

But these are almost ripe and ready.

When the farmer has enough berries on the bushes to pick – even if it’s not all of them – he starts hiring pickers to pull them off.

It all starts with entering the pickers into the system.  This usually happens at the beginning of the season, and today was their big sign-up day.

We added pickers straight from the iOS app today.  The truck is the mobile “office” that moves around the field with the pickers as they harvest.

When the farmer adds pickers, they assign an ID number that coordinates with a QR code on their ID badge.

After they’re added to the system, they start picking berries.

When they fill up a bucket or two – or three – they bring them to the truck and dump them into the lugs.  One bucket on each side.

Here’s where our app comes in:  the pickers get paid per bucket – so we needed a way to quickly add buckets (“picks”) to a picker’s daily total and get them back into the field.  During heavy picking weeks, there can be 20 or 40 pickers standing in line to dump their berries and get back out there.

Speed is essential.  Language is an issue.  Remedy?  QR codes and a touch-screen bucket add screen.

We scan the code, which pulls up the picker’s name and ID, then type in the number of buckets.

Save, and scan the next badge.

It was a beautiful field to be working in – and truly the most authentic user experience I could’ve hoped for in which to test our app’s performance.

We ran into a few bugs which we quickly fixed and I was able to determine where our bottlenecks in process and flow are.  Instead of watching server logs and data, I was able to watch the farmers when the scanner wouldn’t read, find out if the QR was too small or see if the pickers were wearing their badges appropriately.  I saw how they worked around or with the features and functions we’d built into the app, and found out what they want to be able to do with it next year.

The experiential data gathered today – through observation and interviews – was invaluable. The field conditions are indeed a different user experience than anything we’ve encountered before, and seeing it first hand is the only way I think we could’ve really understood and optimized the app before we launch.

Oh – and did I mention we were picking blueberries?  Fresh, juicy and literally just off the bush?  Cows and horses wandering in the yards on either side of us.  Bugs buzzing and biplanes cruising above us.  The crack of a shotgun as a farmer tries to scare birds out of the field.  Our office pales in comparison.