DXB101 | Thoughtless Acts

Reacting, responding, co-opting, exploiting, adapting, conforming and signalling – these are all what Exective Design Director at IDEO, Jane Fulton Suri, describes as “thoughtless acts”, (IDEO, 2016). When we use a newspaper to block the rain, rest against a railing or sit on a wooden crate, we are utilising the resources and objects within our environment, regardless of whether or not their intended purpose is being fulfilled. Fulton Suri explains that “these thoughtless acts reveal how people behave in a world not perfectly tailored to their needs and demonstrate the kind of real-world observational approach that can inspire designers and anyone involved in creative endeavours,”, (IDEO, 2016). Whilst shopping in Carindale, I was able to identify and photograph some examples of each of the seven interactions listed above.

Number 1 | Reacting

“We interact automatically with objects and spaces that we encounter.” – Jane Fulton Suri

In the first two images, people are interacting with the seats provided in the area as they sit for a break or wait to meet someone. On the other hand, the third image depicts the way that everyone automatically steps on the correct side of the escalator in order to get up or down to a different level. Without question, all of these people understand the use of these facilities and follow them with no need for instruction.

 Number 2 | Responding

“Some qualities and features prompt us to behave in particular ways.” – Jane Fulton Suri

In both the images above, each person has been prompted to behave in a particular way, based on the qualities of object/feature. The woman on the left followed along the pedestrian crossing and felt encouraged to stick within the path, knowing that she was out of the way of any cars. The man on the right, in response to being tired or simply needed something to lean on, utilised the height and sturdiness of the railing to support his weight as he used his phone.

Number 3 | Co-opting

“We make use of opportunities present in our immediate surroundings.” – Jane Fulton Suri

The two photographs on the left display the way that people make use of the empty spaces on shelves or boxes to dispose of a product they no longer want to buy. Their evident laziness and lack of concern for the workers within the store influences them to utilise their immediate surroundings as, essentially, a dumping ground. On the right, there are a group of people sitting around a table right next to the ice cream shop at which they purchased their dessert.

Number 4 | Exploiting

“We take advantage of physical and mechanical qualities we understand.” – Jane Fulton Suri

In the first image, the lady uses the flat surface of the stool to eat her dinner off, despite its intended purpose as a chair. Similarly, the area on the seat in the middle photograph was taken advantage of as someone abandoned their coffee cup instead of taking it to the rubbish bin. The third image, although already used above, exposes a young toddler playing on the table adjacent to his father’s seat. The boy made use of the physical qualities of the table, knowing that it would support his weight, as he climbed on top of it.

Number 5 | Adapting

“We alter the purpose or context of things to meet our objectives.” – Jane Fulton Suri

In the images above, both the trolley and the pram have been adapted to carry objects, or, in this case, people around the shopping centre. The first example is of a woman who utilised her pram to store her personal and shopping bags, while her child walked beside her. On the other hand, the image to the right is of a trolley that was being used to hold the two toddlers. The intended purposes of these wheeled carriers were adapted to meet the needs of the specific people and circumstances shown above.

Number 6 | Conforming

“We learn patterns of behaviour from others in our social and cultural group.” – Jane Fulton Suri

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In all of the images in the slideshow, people are conforming to the behaviours and rules that have been either been taught to them by society or have become second nature as a part of their day to day lives. Utilising the given box for used tickets, parking within the lined space, storing fruit in the plastic bags provided nearby, creating an orderly queue when lining up for food and entering the appropriate bathroom (based on gender) are just some of ways that people thoughtlessly conform to their culture’s teachings or upbringing. In particular, the line of people coming from the fast food restaurant was simply started when one person  stood patiently behind someone being served, until several people followed the same idea and waited for their turn.

Number 7 | Signalling

“We convey messages and prompts to ourselves and other people.” – Jane Fulton Suri

In the first two images, signs have been used (in written form and in symbolic form) to convey a message that will instruct customers when entering the store or utilising the bins. People would have also been prompted by the barrier across the path to go to/through a different check out, as that particular lane had evidently been closed.

From all of the photographs I took on this trip, there were two that I really found interesting upon review. The first, on the left, resembles the woman walking in line with the pedestrian crossing. I was intrigued by what psychologically would have influenced her to walk exactly between the two sides of the path without ever stepping over the edge. Was it the fact that she felt safe from her surroundings by staying on the painted area? Or did she simply feel obliged to stay on the designated path to ensure she was following the guides within her environment? The second sketch depicts the man sitting near his adventurous son as he scrambled across the seat onto the table. As I took the photo, I watched as this father was happy to let his child wonder freely and thus, perform thoughtless acts from a young age. I wondered at what point in our lives these reactions and responses began to happen.

Jane Fulton Suri, in her book, ‘Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design’, shares with us a similar range of images that reveal the ways in which people interact with  and respond to their surroundings. By  simply observing the patterns in our habits and living systems, we, as designers, can inform ourselves about the desires of and inspiring ideas within society when constructing human-centred designs. So how does this all link up?


[Source: joconlonoctel2013.wordpress.com]

In order to be a successful designer, nothing is more important than understanding your target audience and being able to create an experience suited to their wants and needs. Bill Morggridge’s famous statement – “We are designing verbs not nouns” – perfectly explains this need, illustrated by Cristobal Avendaño, (Conlon, J., 2013). With the example of a chair, the image above visually conveys that designers must focus on the end users’ experiences rather than the actual products – in this case, they must focus on how the man will feel when seated, instead of the chair itself.

According to a post on the Design Kit website, human-centred design is “a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs…. it is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for,”, (IDEO, 2016). While this concept relies on a balance of feasibility, desirability and viability, it cannot be achieved without observation, (Hunter, B., 2015).


[Source: atomicobject.com]

Reference List

Brittany Hunter. (6 January, 2015). Human-Centered Software: Creating More Value by Balancing Feasibility, Viability, & Desirability. Accessed April 10, 2016, from Atomic Object:  https://spin.atomicobject.com/2015/01/06/human-centered-software-creating-value-balancing-feasibility-viability-desirability/

IDEO. (2016). People | Jane Fulton Suri. Accessed April 7, 2016, from IDEO:  https://www.ideo.com/people/jane-fulton-suri

IDEO. (2016). Thoughtless Acts? at IDEO. Accessed April 7, 2016, from IDEO:  https://www.ideo.com/by-ideo/thoughtless-acts 

IDEO. (2016). What is Human-Centred Design? Accessed April 10, 2016, from Design Kit:  http://www.designkit.org/human-centered-design

Jo Conlon. (22 May, 2013). “We are designing verbs, not nouns.” – Bill Moggridge. Accessed April 10, 2016, from WordPress.com:  https://joconlonoctel2013.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/we-are-designing-verbs-not-nouns-bill-moggridge/


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