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Don’t just see… OBSERVE!


Yogi Berra reportedly said, “You can see a lot by just looking”, but I wonder how well we’re really seeing the forces that are driving changes in the workplace. User observation as a methodology for understanding tacit and latent needs is nothing new. Industrial designers in virtually every industry have been watching people for years both to learn how to make current products better and to determine what people might want but can’t articulate. There are even professionals who specialize in user observation and command high fees to help companies find that next breakthrough innovation.

User observation in interior design and architecture is a relatively new form of practice, though many firms have already embraced the techniques. Watching people use an environment can lead to powerful insights about what’s working and what’s not. There are many frameworks you can use but the one I find easiest to remember is called: A E I O U.

Activities: What people are doing?

Environment: What is the space itself like?

Interactions: How are people relating to each other?

Objects: What are people using?

Users: Who are the users and what are they like?

Insights come when you change your perspective or step back from a situation. I remember being at my daughter’s high school and watching her classmate try to stuff his backpack and laptop into a locker. It hit me that although the things kids carry and the way they carry them have changed a lot since I was 16, locker design hasn’t really changed since my father was in high school!

Designers who become experts at observing how people work will create breakthroughs in design and planning. Users will be thrilled to get what they always needed or wanted but didn’t even know to ask for. Now if I could just figure out how to make a better locker…

| By Michael Fazio

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“A mega-trend is sharing instead of ownership of workspaces. We can either all ride in coach or we can share a private jet.”

Chris Blackadder
Principal, Woods Bagot