Posts tagged “noticing”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • A "Geography of Buzz" – Research presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers locates "cultural hot spots" by looking at frequency and spatial mapping of geo-tagged photographs. The exclusive use of for-sale Getty images to make up the research sample (as opposed to a diverse sample including photo Tweets, etc. that might have been more underground-inclusive) raises interesting questions about the definition of "buzz." What's buzz to one person–a Broadway opening, for example–may well be noise to another.
  • My photos from Los Angeles, Feb 2009 – I spent a week in L.A. doing some work, some cupcake shopping, and some vacationing. Here's the photos from that trip.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • What were arcades like? – This thread is making the blogosphere-rounds. The video game arcades that I and many of the posters grew up with are gone; gaming takes place in the home. But the question has produced a lot of good (if not yet thick) descriptions of the environment, the participants, and the social rules that developed. Personally, "arcade" suggests a dedicated business that would provide video games, pinball and billiards. But in high school, we would typically go to local merchants and hang out. Variety (or convenience) stores were obvious candidates, but we spent a lot of time and money in a laundromat/laundry service place. I opened my first ATM account at the bank next door and would take out $5 and get change from the laundry proprietor and play after school for a few hours. Even though we had computers at home with games on 'em, this was more fun.
  • WonderCon: Comic book subculture now mainstream – "This is popular culture now," said Ferioli, 41, of Oakland, who attended his first comic book convention in New York when he was 16. "Look at Heath Ledger winning an Oscar for playing the Joker (in 'The Dark Knight'). These things that used to be fringe are now icons. It's not a subculture, it's the popular culture."
  • Steve's photos from WonderCon 2005 – There's something utterly delightful seeing an Imperial Stormtrooper at a drinking fountain

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • IxDA SF presents Interaction09 Redux – Saturday, March 14th – I'll be leading a condensed version of my IXDA workshop from Vancouver (Well we did all this research…now what), looking at a framework for transforming questions into answers, answers into insights, and insights into actions.
  • Steve's photos from Vancouver, Feb 2009 – I was in Vancouver to run a workshop at the IXDA conference and to visit family. Some of the photos will make their way into dedicated blog posts but meanwhile here's the whole set.
  • Juice is in the details – Tropicana's redesign is being heralded for the caps that look like oranges. We've got a carton in the fridge and it's as plain as plain can be, so I'm not sure where these great caps are lurking. Meanwhile, back in 2006 we were seeing orange-looking caps on Florida's Natural packaging.
  • Tropicana reverts to "classic" packaging after their crappy redesign is met with broad scorn – Mea pulpa: "Asked if he was chagrined that consumers rejected the changes he believed they wanted, Mr. Campbell replied: “I feel it’s the right thing to do, to innovate as a company. I wouldn’t want to stop innovating as a result of this. At the same time, if consumers are speaking, you have to listen.”"

Notice Your Way To Happiness

Foresight’s Mental Capital and Wellbeing report has identified behaviors that can make people feel better about themselves.

Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you

See also

(Thanks, Gavin)

Human Behavior

I was in Chicago last weekend for IIT Institute of Design’s excellent Design Research Conference, and spent a day walking around the city. (I’m happy to say I can now use the term ‘Miesian’ with authority.)

I ended the day in Millennium Park eating a hot dog and looking at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture.


Actually, to say I was looking at the sculpture sells the experience short. I’d seen the giant silver bean from a distance earlier that day, but once I was next to it, the combination of scale, surface treatment, and form made it such an unusual and compelling object that I couldn’t help but start interacting with it. Chicago writer Lynn Becker’s article on Millennium Park sculpture-as-architecture delves further into the interactivity of Cloud Gate.

After a few trips around and under the sculpture, I decided to sit back and watch how other people were responding to it.

I saw people

  • photograph it
  • photograph themselves with it
  • photograph others with it
  • have strangers photograph them with it
  • use it as a mirror and check their makeup, hair
  • clean it and (while being photographed) lick it
  • fit their bodies into the smallest possible space created by the sculpture’s curves
  • smear their fingerprints along the mirrored surface (this seemed like a form of graffiti, a recording of presence)
  • pretend to be holding the sculpture up
  • use it to hold them up
  • pose suggestively on all fours next to it
  • talk about having come there other times
  • lie on the ground in poses to create specific tableaux in the funhouse mirror-like underside


It was fascinating to see how people reacted to having this functionless object placed in their midst. It struck me as a form of spatial/environmental prototyping, and I’m sure that noticing and examining what people do and what their patterns of motion around this object are and synthesizing that data could produce insights to inform many types of design.

In our research work, we periodically use objects to elicit responses from people to new concepts. Sometimes these artifacts take the form of storyboards, sometimes models, and sometimes we’ll just put something in a person’s hands to give them a starting point, something to react to. One time, I handed a person we were interviewing a CD box set that was on his coffee table, and he proceeded to talk us through a whole design for the product idea we were discussing. “It’d be smaller than this, I think the corners should be rounded, maybe this part could come off . . .”

We’ve been collaborating lately with a couple of our clients on the creation of storyboards and models for this purpose. It’s been interesting figuring out in each case the right balance of detail and abstraction; how to give people enough cues to get the basic concepts, while leaving them enough space to think about how they would like to see those concepts refined.

Of course, what gets created depends on where our client is in the development process and what we want to learn from the people we’re talking to, but I think that what I saw at Cloud Gate is a good model for what one hopes an artifact will spark in a research participant: the urge to experiment, to hypothesize, to test, to interact, to play, to see what’s possible.


Related posts:
On using objects for generative research

On noticing
On prototyping and fidelity

DRC08 Workshop: Tapping into super-noticing power


Last weekend was my workshop (“Did you see that? Tapping into your super-noticing power”) at the Institute of Design’s Design Research Conference. Most of the folks in the workshop completed a homework assignment where they went out and took photos of something they noticed (similar to the assignment I had given to the students I taught at CCA, discussed here). During the workshop itself, people presented their photos and stories, while I asked both speakers and listeners to think about the noticing process more than the details of the specific examples (all of which were interesting and enjoyable).

We did just a first pass at synthesizing the observations, and some of the things that came out may or may not be obvious to others. Here’s a sampling:

  • To notice, we filter on our previous experiences, our personal backgrounds, and our professional experiences
  • We react to something that evokes an emotion in us
  • Rather than noticing details, we may simply grasp the gestalt of the details in the moment
  • Taking the picture helps you notice, even if you go back to the picture later and notice things in that picture
  • The importance of slowing down, relaxation, being calm/still, having a time of contemplation (in contrast to “trying” to do a noticing activity…several people reported that they couldn’t do the exercise when they tried to do it, but then later on they noticed all sorts of stuff
  • In contrast, for some, there is no on/off button for their design research way of thinking/being
  • There’s a need to give ourselves permission to look silly by stopping to pay attention to something seemingly trivial
  • Notice similarities when you expect differences
  • Notice differences when you expect similarities
  • Most importantly to me, was that it’s okay not to know the “why” of something; this was tough during the workshop when some people had a strong urge to try and explain what others had noticed; to rationalize, clarify, or even solve it

I look forward to the next opportunity to lead this workshop again.

See also: Ever notice? by Steve Portigal and Dan Soltzberg at AIGA Gain

London Bananas

In our recent AIGA Gain article about noticing, we relate how the process of noticing once and then noticing again is a way to find patterns and uncover themes.

During my recent trip to the UK, I took this picture of a discarded banana peel.

I didn’t notice other bananas, but someone else did and they’ve started the London Bananas Project, a fantastic archive of banana peels in the London public space.

When I arrived I noticed something straight away: there’s a lot of banana skins around.

I see them everywhere. They’re languishing on doorsteps, hanging out in the middle of the road, dangling off street signs, peeking out of piles of garbage, reclining in the middle of the sidewalk, riding the bus for free. A great number of them are bright yellow as if they’re fresh and have just been dropped, although they appear in all states of decay. I don’t know how or why they caught my attention, but within a week of being in London I couldn’t get my mind off these banana skins. Where were they coming from? Who was eating all these bananas and leaving the skins around? Why was it always bananas I was seeing, and not, say, oranges? Was it a sign? Was there something sinister going on? Apparently these little hazards were a covert operation going completely unnoticed; everyone I asked about it said that they had never noticed anything of the sort and looked at me as if I was nuts.

That’s a great description of the power of noticing (even if it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s still a great set of muscles to keep flexing).

Here’s bananas in Bangalore:

See also: Street Mattress

Now Hear This

I liked this article about the creative process of Ben Burtt, the sound designer who designed the sounds for the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones films, and now Pixar’s WALL-E. The whole piece is great, but I especially liked this bit, which is analogous to what we talk about for noticing…keeping that Spidey sense active and then figuring out what it means later.

So he continues to gather sound, even though he’s not always sure where it will end up. He recalls the last thing he recorded, just days before the interview, while walking from the sound-mix room to his office. As he passed a closet, he noticed some floor panels missing.

“I could hear this great humming – something was wrong with the air conditioning down there,” Burtt says. “Some fans were running and they were rattling and buzzing. I just stuck my microphone down there and recorded. I’m not sure what, but it will definitely be used for something in the future.”

Body Self-Image

Photos from my various travels depicting global cultural variations of the fundamental person icon.

Bali, Indonesia. They’re some pretty small people, so why does that first person seem so hulking and Cro-Magnon-y?

Taipei, Taiwan. Note the hip chapeau the stroller is sporting, and the protective headgear (?) worn by the worker.

London, UK. This fellow toils as above, but without the benefit of a helmet. Less chance of sunburn, maybe?

Tokyo, Japan. The Japanese cute aesthetic shows up in the large head and even larger cigarette.

Bangkok, Thailand. Who takes care of children?

Providence, RI, USA. Not just walking, but actively moving forward, dancing, and exuding joie de vivre.

And Karrie Jacobs has a nice example here.

More on noticing and reflecting

Recently I wrote about the importance of practicing our noticing and reflecting skills. A few weeks ago I read on MetaFilter about John Stilgoe “a professor at Harvard who teaches his students how to, among other things, mindfully observe the urban and suburban environments they inhabit.”

I bought his book Outside Lies Magic, and although the book itself is so-so, the introduction is passionately articulate about some of these same issues I’ve written about

It is a book about awareness in ordinary surroundings. It is a book about awareness that builds into mindfulness, into the enduring pleasures of noticing and thinking about what one notices.

I hope this book encourages each reader to widen his or her angle of vision, to step sideways and look at something seemingly familiar, to walk a few paces and see something utterly new.

Hack 2 School: Practice noticing stuff and telling stories


In honor of the start of the school year, Core77 has put together the definitive set of tips, tricks, and lifehacks for design students: Hack2School. Divided into 5 groups–Classroom, Dorm Room, Represent, Crash Course, and Cheat Sheet–everything you need to survive a design education has been hunted down, written up, and offered to you on a blue foam platter. So to all the returning students, we say “welcome back.” And to all the new ones? Well, maybe you better read this first.

Super Bonus: Guest essays from: Ralph Caplan, Alissa Walker, Alice Twemlow, Steve Portigal, Jessica Helfand, Scott Klinker, Steven Heller, Sam Montague, and Jill Fehrenbacher.

My contribution is Practice noticing stuff and telling stories.


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