Project 1: Thoughtless Acts

Due in class, Thursday January 10

What happens when people improvise design for their own needs?

As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by watching." In this project you will practice observing people and their interaction with objects or places, with an eye to the act of improvising – of making their world fit their needs in ways that weren't anticipated by a designer.

The project is based on the concept of "thoughtless acts" as explored by Jane Fulton Suri (IDEO) in her book of that name (see thoughtlessacts.com):

"... notice the subtle and amusing ways that people react to the world around them. These 'thoughtless acts' reveal how people behave in a world not always perfectly tailored to their needs and demonstrate the kind of real-world observational approach that can inspire designers..."

The goals of this project are to:

Read: Excerpts from Suri's book, the Thoughtless Acts website, and d.school notes on observing

Visuals: Look around you for potential situations of design improvisation. They don't need to be fancy – in fact everyday life is often the best source of interesting observations. Choose one that you find most interesting in revealing people's unmet needs. Take a photo that captures your example (like the ones on the web site – Note, this means actually going out and taking a photo, not finding one on the web). Then, draw a sketch that captures the essential elements.

Posters: Prepare an 11" × 17" poster for posting and discussion in class. The poster should include:

  1. A photo of the situation indicating the person and the interaction.
  2. Your sketch (with annotations as useful) of the observation.
  3. A short description, explaining the setting, the activities, tasks and motivations, and the underlying needs of the users.
  4. Design opportunities. This isn't to "solve the problem" but to see what directions for design it suggests (see Suri's examples).

Come to class prepared to display and discuss your poster. Use simple sketches and bold lettering on your poster so it can be easily read from 4 to 6 feet away.

Process: As you collect your observations and prepare your poster presentation for this project, document your process:

Grading (This is an individual assignment):
40%   Insight in the example
20%   Creative potential for design as expressed in the opportunities
20%   Clarity of exposition (writing)
20%   Craft and use of different media (sketches, photographs,...) in poster design

P1 Grading Rubric

Credit: This exercise was adapted from an earlier exercise by Terry Winograd and Bill Verplank, which in turn was inspired by a similar exercise in a course on Tangible User Interfaces taught by Kimiko Ryokai, Ryan Aipperspach, and David Nguyen at UC Berkeley.

Please feel free to e-mail us at cs247@cs.stanford.edu if you have any questions.