Thoughtless Acts: The Importance of Observation In Design

“Some actions, such as grabbing onto something for balance, are universal and instinctive. Others, such as warming hands on a hot mug or stroking velvet, draw on experiences so deeply embodied that they are almost unconscious. Sill more, such as hanging a jacket to claim a chair, have become spontaneous through habit or social learning. Observing such everyday interactions reveals subtle details about how we relate to the designed and natural world. This is key information and inspiration for design, and a good starting point for any creative initiative.”

Jane Fulton Suri + Ideo, Thoughtless acts?

Real world observations are a great source of inspiration when it comes thinking of new ideas.  As designers we often look at the world around us for inspiration, everything out there has the potential to be interesting.

 “You need to see everything… You should rid yourself of any preconceptions of what is and is not worthy of your attention. Everything has potential to be interesting and influential. Not everything will be, but the more you see the better your chances are at seeing something that will be useful to you.”

A Design Education Manifesto, Mitch Goldstein

It isn’t something that comes naturally (I still find it difficult), but when you start to get the hang of it, it really is a great source of inspirations and ideas.  With modern phones we can carry cameras around with us virtually everywhere we go, helping us to observe and process the world around us.

An Introduction To Thoughtless Acts

Jane Fulton Suri’s + Ideo book ‘Thoughtless acts?’ is a great example of how designers can use real world observations as inspiration for new and exciting ideas, there is even a Flickr group dedicated to it.

The basic idea behind thoughtless acts is observing how people behave in a world that isn’t perfectly tailored for them, intentionally clever solutions are not a thoughtless act.

Jane Fulton Suri and Ideo segment thoughtless acts in the following ways:

  • Reacting:  The way we interact automatically with objects and spaces that we encounter;
  • Responding: Where some qualities and features prompt us to act in a particular way;
  • Co-opting: When we make use of opportunities in our immediate surroundings;
  • Exploiting: Where we take advantage of physical and mechanical qualities we understand;
  • Adapting: Where we alter the purpose or context of things to meet our objectives;
  • Conforming: Where we learn patterns of behaviour from others in our social and cultural group;
  • Signalling: The way we convey messages and prompts to ourselves and other people.

See more details about each segment on the thoughtless acts website.

Idea Generation

I recently purchased a new book, which would not stay open.  I wanted to use my laptop while reading the book at the same time, the solution was a thoughtless act.

Mobile Phone Holding A Book Open

When I purchased my phone, I didn’t think to my self, wow that looks like it would be really good at holding books open when I don’t have a spare hand.

I didn’t really think about this till I started to find out more about thoughtless acts, I just did it without thinking. This is where as a designer having my eyes open to to world, could have been a great piece of inspiration for a new idea, as it happens the idea already exist, but it’s a good example.

To encourage me to try and spot more of these thoughtless acts I am aiming to post an image of one thoughtless act that I have discovered each week here on my website.  I will also include a brief description of the act.  Lets see how it goes.

You can see some good examples of thoughtless acts on the Ideo site and Flickr group

Find Out More

Want to know more about my work, my design process or just want a general chat?.  Please get in touch with me by phone on +44(0)7986 513187 or email me.


Cover Photo CC: Tanel Teemusk

3 thoughts on “Thoughtless Acts: The Importance of Observation In Design

  1. Oh my goodness! I am so excited to see it all come together! I love the new plan. It sounds, well, amazing! Haha, I think this house had the same linoleum when we bought it. How fun to get to redo your childhood home. So happy for you!Hugs,CeciliaPSThe wedding went great!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.