Observing and exploring behavior

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Stop coming up with solutions. Put down your pen, mouse and sketchbook… step away from the computer, pick up your camera and go out on the street. There lies a world of insights and inspiration, just by observing and exploring.

Some time ago I came across a video I immediately fell in love with (although I don’t know where to find it anymore *sigh*). In the video people got the assignment to show how they would put the light on and off without touching it. This resulted in a very inspirational video where you saw what kinds of gestures people would use. What this video mainly proved to me was the power of observation. By giving people this open assignment you saw the many different solutions people came up with (blowing, waving, clapping, etc), but at the same time the overlap and whether or not the gesture looked natural.

Observing is a great way to easily gather data and insights. It’s a way to jump into the world of your target audience and try to understand them. And… it forces you away from immediately thinking in solutions.

In line with this I came across this video from Nokia, where they explore mobile gestures out on the street:

One of my heroes in the field of observing is Jan Chipchase, who works for Nokia. He travels around the world observing how people, society and mobile technology interact. His blog Future Perfect is an absolute tip.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

4 comments on this article

  1. Joris Fabel on

    I think the video you are referring to is a study by Joris van Gelder. You can find it on his website by clicking magical interaction.


  2. Thanks for the reference, Joris.
    In response to the text: actually there were a couple of things going on in the test. One of them was that people got an open assignment but I feel that is not always enough to make people express their feelings or imaginations, which is my interpretation of what happened in the vid.
    These are some of the things what helped to get participant’s imagination going:
    - an enticing context: I asked people how they would turn on a light if they had magical powers
    - the fact that something happened when they made a gesture, that made the gestures look purposeful(think of what people do in front of a Wii)
    - i was standing next to light, talking to the participants. This might have made the vid less spectacular but it made the participants more comfortable.

    My point is that giving people an open assignment works best if you stimulate their imagination at the same time, just like in a good brainstorm.

  3. Yes, being outside can broaden your mind but it only gives you so much – especially with the decline of retail and the cultural embrace of other activities. There is so much info on what people are now up to through the web that you’ll never really stumble upon with camera in hand. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do it – it’s very important. But you have to find inspiration through others to be fully rounded.