by Megan Jewell

Veteran designer Jane Fulton Suri scoffs at designers who design for mere aesthetic purposes. Suri believes strongly in looking at human behavior for innovative designs to improve or develop a product. She calls them the “Human Factors,” and she and the group at IDEO, the international design consultancy, observe what they call “thoughtless acts.” These “thoughtless” acts are activities people perform every day, whether they’re brushing their teeth or pumping their gas. Suri observes how it is done and then looks for the less obvious: the way the experience could have been better.

The outcome of such observations have brought rubber grips to Oral-B toothbrushes, raised the height of Even-Flo’s strollers, and streamlined DePaul Health Center’s check-in processes. Suri’s group traveled to Puerto Rico to observe people cleaning their bathrooms. She watched as a woman cleaned the higher parts of her shower with a flat broom. This was then integrated into the Mr. Clean Magic Reach-a bathroom cleaning system with a telescoping pole. Proctor & Gamble, owner of the Mr. Clean brand, expects to sell $150 million of them this year.

The process she has refined uses empathy as a tool of design and design as a tool to uncover opportunities-whether to improve products or develop new ones.

So what does this mean for you? If you are able to open your eyes to the world around you and observe people and situations, you may learn a lot. Your primary source of information comes from observing. This is the best way to gather the information you may be looking for. Do you serve your area to the best of your ability? Is there a way to better design your current goals and strategies to better understand what it is that your community needs and desires? When is the last time you sat in the local park and watched the people around you? You can learn a great deal from looking at the parking lots of local stores about how they are doing. Are cars overflowing into the surrounding areas, or is there grass growing up in the parking lot with nary a “rush hour” at the store? There is so much we can learn from one another without even saying a word!