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Digital on Toast: Homer Simpson Design vs Human Centred Design

It's safe to say that, after 33 years on television, there is a Simpsons episode for every topic and when it comes to human-centred design, Homer delivered a veritable 'what not to do' in the episode 'O Brother Where Art Thou?'

Welcome to Digital on Toast – quick little tidbits about all things Digital in Queensland Government. In this special series we consider human-centred design

It's safe to say that, after 33 years on television, there is a Simpsons episode for every topic and when it comes to human-centred design, Homer delivered a veritable 'what not to do' in the episode 'O Brother Where Art Thou?'

In this episode Homer meets his long-lost half-brother Herb Powell, a rich executive who owns Powell Motors, a declining automobile manufacturer with out of touch engineers who pitch small cars with no pep called the Persephone.

“Instead of listening to what people want, you're telling them what they want,” Herb yells at them.

After meeting, Herb asks Homer to design a car for “all the Homer Simpsons out there!”

Huzzah! What should have been a moment of glory for customer-led design, turns out to be a failure so great, it sends Powell Motors out of business.

So, what went wrong? A fair bit.

Homer designed a car for Homer, there was no discovery of people's needs. While he could have spoken to the community, his friends at Moe's, or his family, Homer instead based the design solely on his personal wants. It was his vision of a product or experience.

Designing from the inside out can create false predictions of future behaviour. Homer's ideas for multiple horns, giant cup holders, shag carpet, an engine that sounds like the world is ending, a separate bubble for kids with various restraints and muzzles and, best of all, a bowling trophy hood ornament, were all very creative, but these features weren't tested with the people who might buy the car - the customers.

Human-centred design is more than just what customers want, it's also about what they do. During customer research they may tell you what they want out of a product or service, but that can be misleading as they may not really know what they want or what the possibilities are, and we may need to rely on their behaviour. When you know what customers actually do, you can design solutions that meet not only what customers think they want but also their unspoken needs.

By understanding what customer's need and what they do, Homer could have learned that he had pushed his design too far and iterated the design based on feedback, creating a better outcome and saving him from the giant ”Doh!” at launch.

If you want to learn about HCD the Queensland Government Customer and Digital Group has designed a number of short online modules to get you started on your learning journey.