HCD Method 1: WoZ

In my last blog entry, I introduced the direction that this blog is going. Hopefully, I didn’t lose too many of you.

Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite HCD Methods out there. In full transparency, I haven’t had the opportunity to actually practice this one, but have read about it in two of my favorite HCD-related books (The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman and This is Service Design Doing).

In the Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman describes using the Wizard of Oz method with Palo Alto Research Center (a subsidiary of Xerox). Together in a lab in San Diego they set out to learn what people do when they try to book a flight.

They thought they were interacting with an automated

travel assistance program, but in fact, one of my graduate

students was sitting in an adjacent room, reading the typed

queries and typing back responses (looking up real travel schedules

where appropriate).” (Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things)

It would be one thing to guess what people wanted to accomplish when it came to booking travel, but that problem could easily turn out to be too narrow. The amount of money that companies spend trying to solve problems is enormous, so solving the wrong one can have huge business impact. When people book travel, they are thinking about how to fit the flight between the events in their life, whether it is a conference call, a wedding, a funeral, or anything else in-between. Using the Wizard of Oz Method in a situation like this might bring you from a problem statement of,”How might we make booking travel as simple as possible,” to something like,”How might we allow our customers to seamlessly plan their travel around their own calendars?” Those are very different problems to research.

I think the thing that I like the most about this method is the amount of data output you get from it. In the past, I always thought of prototypes as being something close to a real solution that you will likely iterate on to get to a final solution. This method taught me that some prototypes aren’t necessarily about solving the problem, but rather about making sure you have framed your problem correctly.

Have you ever used this method? I’d love hear from you and if you agree with my thinking.

Pardon any spelling or grammatical errors. I am an awful proofreader of my own writing.

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