In 2001 Tom Williams co-founder Point Forward, “a pioneer in helping companies understand the texture of human experience and why it matters to their business”.
Sixteen years earlier, In 1985, Tom worked with me on a project at the Herman Miller Research Corporation in Ann Arbor. We were doing a project with the Burroughs Corporation in Detroit, MI just before they merged with Sperry to form Unisys. We were trying to understand how the personal computer was going to impact the nature of office work and the environments in which it would be done.
We set up a tricked out office suite for 10 members of Burrough’s industrial design and human factors group – with networked personal computer in each cubicle made easily moveable and adjustable on a system of rails and pneumatic lift arms. For 2 weeks we observed them at work taking photographs of every workstation from two angles at 15 minute intervals. We gathered mountains of data and concluded that computers were going to increase the volume of paper and reference materials that would be littered around the office. We were right about that but that wasn’t enough to save Burroughs. Geoff Hollington drew on our insights to design a desk with an adjustable display shelf built in.
Our early efforts were clumsy – but Tom persisted and has stayed in the field, extending and perfecting the methods that excavate the kinds of insights into human behavior and sense-making that are essential to innovation.
So I invited him back to reflect on what he has learned in the interim 35 years to my Hult DSN 328 class – Design for Business Leaders. Tom didn’t disappoint.