In the context of needfinding, hacks refer to situations where an informant repurposes something designed for one purpose to satisfy a very different need.  For example, using a screen of a phone as a source of light or using a phone book as a foot rest.

We saw in class how hard it is to expect the unexpected. Watching out for hacks and workarounds is an effective way to focus your attention during needfinding.  In the words of Don Norman (a leading design theorist):

“I am not a fan of undirected, explorative ethnography. This is an excellent procedure for developing our scientific understanding of human behavior, but it is too diffuse for practical application. I prefer directed observation: search out the workarounds, hacks, and clever improvisations of everyday life. That’s where the answers lie: someone else has already encountered the need, someone else has already hinted at a solution.”

Read more: “Workarounds – Leading Edge of Innovation” by Don Norman, Communications of the ACM, volume 15, issue 4, 2008.

About the author: Krzysztof Gajos

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