"Why do they call it a ‘building?’ It looks like they’re finished. Why isn’t it a ‘built?'"
Like many of you, I love listening to a lot of stand-up comedians. The other day when I was watching the Netflix special Relatable, Ellen DeGeneres was handing out all sorts of observations. One line was about getting stuck behind an NPR-listening, hemp-knitting, slow-moving Toyota Prius and wondered why they were going so slow. She quips, “Maybe they’re transporting soup.”, and on she goes about that observation.
So, I started to think about how similar a stand-up comedian is to designers. We observe, then react. One with humor, the other with product solutions, but at the core, it is about developing a keen sense of observational abilities. Where one person sees a rock, a comedian will wonder what's so special about them, what are they good for and can we live without them; a designer will see opportunities to build with it, paint it and use its color as inspiration in designing a product. It just not a rock!
One of the best skills a designer can possess is observation. Figuring out a problem is important but figuring out what the problem might be is another. Sure, designers are often looked at as just stylists, but the truth is even a simple stylist will observe what is happening today and what happened in the past to create something fresh. A good designer will really look hard at, well, everything!
For product designers, especially children’s product designers, the powers of observation are critical. Understanding, by observing what a one-year-old can do compared to a 3-year-old is astounding, and watching them play evokes discoveries, and you wouldn't probably think of. Sure, licensed characters are always a great crutch for a solution, but it's what you do with that licensed character should be born out of observing what a child can do, how they react to that character, and actually how they might play with it. So many times, that step is missing in a products’ development, and sure enough, the toy sits un-played with.
Importantly, how do we instill a sense of observation into a child? Observation is part of critical thinking and a tenant of 21st Century STEAM learning. Asking questions, trying on ideas, and observing what kinds of outcome happen when we look at things differently, are so important to even the youngest child. It doesn't have to be a product that's steeped in programming, electrical connections, and beakers! It is the job of a product or experience for a child that sharpens that observational awareness. More importantly, what does the product offer that gives the child an opportunity to observe and form opinions? Little things like details on a label or something a child can do with the product beyond the obvious that gets discovered as they play. All this gives a reason for great product and experiences to be designed. Oh, and the humor certainly can be part of the play!
So, watch how a child plays; you will be amazed! Design product that lets them be amazed and actually develop their inner sense of observation. Let our stand-up comedians and designers' sense of observation serve us in developing the best products for children. After all…
"A two-year-old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have a top for it."
― Jerry Seinfeld