Having run through that sketching exercise, I realized that I’d developed a lot of solutions for finding things that took the human element out of the equation — precisely the opposite of my goal.
So, back in the right mindset, I got to thinking about a few examples of connecting humans with help that I’d recently observed or participated in…
- I went on a little secret-shopper trip to Duane Reade as part of a research workshop around this time. I’d observed the way people turned to the pharmacist — rather than to Google — to get over-the-counter drug recommendations and answers about health concerns, and to ensure that their medication wouldn’t have any negative interactions.
- Alongside a few classmates, I’d developed a person-to-person knowledge-sharing network for the NYPL last fall, called NYPL Workspace. Workspace celebrates the human potential afforded by the library, and created a knowledge-exchange platform in which peers can offer each other assistance, with a little expert help mixed in.
- On a recent trip to the Brooklyn Museum, I’d come across Ask Brooklyn Museum, a chat app that connects museum patrons with in-house art historians and collection experts.
So, out of all this, I built a prototype called Dial-an-Aisle. It was designed to allow shoppers to speak with clerks at a variety of local shops, in order to ask for recommendations, help identify a needed item, or double-check inventory.
It was also designed to accommodate a certain obvious issue with managing inventory across different stores — that many merchants don’t have advanced systems in place for keeping track of their wares. I later found alternative workarounds for this problem, but Dial-an-Aisle still feels like a fresh and compelling alternative that leverages the unique domain knowledge of store clerks, one worth further exploration in the future.