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I Watch, you Watch, we all Watch for People

Part of what we do, as graphic designers, is translate cultural nuances, intricacies and oddities into not-so-simple visual manifestations like posters, packages, brochures, annual reports and web sites. We react to what goes on around us and channel that as cohesive (or, at least, semi-cohesive) messages for any given product or service for a business or institution. Call it trends, call it Zeitgeist, call it dumb luck or even collateral damage, yet as designers we can’t help but let daily culture permeate into the work we produce. And culture — not in the smarty-pants sense — is nowhere more prevalent than in people. Just people. In any given country, city, town — even down to a single neighborhood — each person possesses a unique essence that is, again, a reflection of, and for, culture. No wonder then that people watching is one of the world’s finest, and easiest, pastimes.

When traveling to other countries, cities, towns — and once more, other neighborhoods — there is no better way to absorb the feel than by sitting at a coffee shop, a central plaza, a tree-shaded park… heck, even big cities’ financial districts are quite the spot for people watching. There is something extraordinary about contemplating people go about their business, in their daily routines; making up stories of where they have been or where they are heading; trying to figure out if they are happy at work and at home; wondering where they got that cool shirt, what’s the name of their dog, who are those flowers for? If there is a default in our system it is to watch people.

Living in New York — you can tell I’m new here, since I now constantly bring it up — provides a consistent (make that, overwhelmingly consistent) opportunity to people watch anywhere you go. No matter where you are, there are people to watch. And lots of them. In motion, all the time. In 1998 Tibor Kalman aimed to capture this ever-growing euphoria of bustling populace in 1000 On 42nd Street, a book — in collaboration with photographer Neil Selkirk — documenting one thousand people walking by the intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street. The purpose was to use the one thousand photographs to cover the fencing that would in turn cover the intersection during its reconstruction. While the book itself is a wonderful collection of people that you can, well, watch, it fails to convey the pace, livelihood and sometimes fear of standing in that corner and watching people go by. Which is, really, the beauty of people watching. The experience.

People watching is, of course, not for everybody; say, persons with agoraphobia (open spaces) or anthropophobia (people). There are many alternatives of stuff to watch: birds, whales, store displays, people’s apartments as you walk by on the street. But none are — I would say — as important as watching people, acknowledging that they are there, sharing the neighborhood, the town, the city and the world with you, with us. Birdwatching.com lauds the act of bird watching — connotation, and stereotype aside, of senior citizens wearing silly hats and carrying large binoculars acknowledged — as a “lifetime ticket to the theater of nature”.

People watching is undeniably a lifetime ticket to the theater of culture. And we always have a front-row seat.

As purveyors — please excuse the charged word — of culture in the form of graphic design artifacts — please excuse the use of the word artifacts — people watching might just be the best palette to draw inspiration from. And it is available everywhere: everywhere we go, everywhere we turn, everywhere we look. People are everywhere. Just watch.

This post came about after I received an e-mail from Aaren Esplin, a graphic design student at the University of Utah, asking to pose the question “why do we people watch?” as help for a project. My initial reaction was to decline, since it seemed an arbitrary question to raise here, but then as I thought about it, it became obvious that this was something that influences us in one way or another and that we perhaps fail to acknowledge when we cite our “inspirations”. So, as help for Aaren and ourselves, why do you watch people?

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.21.2004 BY Armin
M Kingsley’s comment is:

>yet as designers we can’t help but let daily culture permeate into the work we produce.

I had the pleasure of hearing Joseph Kosuth speak about his work last week. During his presentation, he briefly mentioned how he saw the difference between art and what he called "advertising".

The reason that art is able to connect with viewers over the course of centuries is its self-consciousness (kind of the 'art for art's sake' issue) and its ability to retard interpretation (continuing dialogue through repeated viewing). "Advertising" may have a degree of self-consciousness — inter-textual references, disrupting traditional hierarchies (front cover on the back, etc.) — but there's always the issue of the "message". And there are very few pieces that reward repeated viewing beyond basic formal issues — tasty typography!, cool color scheme!, we could never get away with that kind of typography today, etc...

We operate within the Here and Now, so it's only logical that we be in the Here and Now.

So there you have it... a perfectly good rationale for hanging out in coffee shops and watching what we call "the freak show". Its our professional responsibility!

p.s. Kosuth's next show opens this weekend at Sean Kelly Gallery, 528 W 29 St, NYC. The gallery's a client and I've recently had the opportunity to see sketches and visit during installation. Go. It's gonna be great.

On Oct.21.2004 at 05:08 PM
sheepstealer’s comment is:

As a graduate from UofU, I must help.

Why do I watch people? (and yes I do watch them—like crazy). I wouldn’t even realize I did except for the fact that when I was young my dad used to always tell me that he loved to people watch. Since then I’ve turned peoplewatching into a very deliberate pastime.

I think it is a subconscious hope that I’ll see something go wrong. Let me give you a couple of examples of the payoffs I've received while engaging in the sport of peoplewatching:

I was watching a little girl pushing a stroller at an amusement park. She was looking to the side and accidentally crashed into her grandmother's ankles. The grandmother turned around and shouted “Watch where you’re going!” and semi-slapped the girl on the forehead. The hand she slapped with was also the hand that was holding her camera. The camera fell to the ground and blasted apart into a thousand pieces. The lesson learned? Slapping children will break your camera.

I saw a lady wearing a very expensive fur coat in an ice cream store. She ordered a flavor that had lots of gooey chocolate in it. She took the first lick and the scoop of ice cream rolled off the top of the cone and left a nice fudgy trail down the front of her jacket. The funniest part was not the lady herself, but a fellow people watcher at the other end of the counter who burst out laughing so hard she had to run out the door to avoid embarrassing the poor lady.

These are just a couple of examples of me gaining my own personal amusement at the tragedy of others. And I don't think I'm alone in my voyeuristic pleasure at others’ expense. Look at the largest spectator sport in America, the Indianapolis 500. Are they there to see people race? No they’re there to see people CRASH! And I don’t even want to talk about the sickos that go to air shows.

On Oct.21.2004 at 06:35 PM
Viviane’s comment is:

Armin -

when did you move to NY?

You gave up the windy city?

Welcome to New York — the capital of small world.

On Oct.21.2004 at 07:42 PM
Paul Mayne’s comment is:

I don't recall ever watching people with the only intent to just observe. But as the result of working in a downtown area and eating lunch in large food courts it's inevitable to watch and imagine why people do, dress, walk, talk, and eat the way they do. The reason it may be so intriguing is because everyone is so different, without personally knowing a person the things you see them do are usually strange.

But I do think there is a lot to learn about our own self from watching others. For me it makes me look at myself as if someone else is watching me - how strange do I look to them?

On Oct.22.2004 at 12:05 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

People watching. I love it. I love to sit at the park, the café, the bookstore, an office, a boring meeting, a conference and watch people come and go. Mostly I try to figure them out based on what I see, trying to find the person underneath the first impression. If, say, I am in an office or a somewhat personal space I take it all in finding the sum of all things that will tell me more of that person.

And then, if I have time, I make up entire stories about the person. I let my mind go back three generations and what they did last night, and who they like to talk to, hobbies they pursue…

But most of all the amount of information that you can obtain from watching people is immense. No matter how much you read, or analyze or hear about this or that, people watching gives you a different level of visuals, of personal language and communication that you can’t find anywhere else.

ps. Feeling observed? Everyone is watching you...

On Oct.22.2004 at 08:04 AM
Matilda’s comment is:

I love to people watch, too, and imagine their stories. I draw people I see when I'm on the bus or in waiting rooms and I never fail to see the beauty of every person's face: the delicate curve of their lips, the thickness of their eyelids, the fleshiness of an earlobe, etc. They never notice me drawing them (although once, a few people noticed me drawing other people and actually started to speak to me about it -- I felt so self-conscious, I had to get off the bus a mile before my stop).

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:03 AM
ennimem’s comment is:

Watching people is for me like being in a movie, being unvisible among all this people while watching. I often find myself sitting in a shopping center and looking at all the people passing by, how stressed they are, all the stereotypes you can find all over the world, people who seem to be all the same, following the picture and life advertising creates. It's nice to sit between and just look, it's like being in a film, and you can imagine your own stories for every person. So there are hundred of stories passing by every minute...

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:09 AM
James Bogue’s comment is:

My house cat doesn't care if there is another dog running aound outside. But if she sees another cat, she will perch herself on the window sill and cat watch. Dogs enjoy watching TV dogs, and people like to watch people. Perhaps beyond the intellectual engagement of people watching, in terms of any cultural or contextual analysis that can be made (as many creatives do), there is a more basic satisfaction that is hardwrired into all of us. It's like staring into a bonfire and feeling mesmerized. People watching seems to have the same curious effect. Woof!

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:15 AM
szkat’s comment is:

i actually don't like watching people. i get really, really bored and start to wonder how many people stare at me when i'm not looking, making up hobbies that are most likely way off from what they actually are.

my version of people watching is more about small interactions. i start talking to people on the train, in lines, at concerts, at conferences. whoever sits next to me will probably get a random question directed at them before i leave.

this comes, i believe, from extensive travel. i've been to twenty countries, only two of them being in western europe. when you're in china and there's no germanic language to struggle through, you learn that being able to say "thank you" and pointing is just about enough to get you through anything. and having so few tools at your disposal makes you realize how removed you are from the culture at your fingertips. imagine the next time you get on the train what it would be like if you couldn't pick up a single conversation.

this brings me back to the interaction version of my people watching. the truest things, the minor dramas of people's lives, are richer than any series of events i could fabricate, and so instead of passively watching them walk by, i engage in petty talk and in doing so feel like i'm getting a similar thing to watching but more entertaining. and after being in places where i could hear but not listen, i'm much more into listening now.

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:57 AM
laura’s comment is:

They never notice me drawing them

Ooh, that's my favorite thing. I have sketchbooks filled with different people from all over. It's a game I like to play. But getting caught sucks, people get mad, and I do understand the invasion of privacy...it's like taking a photograph without asking. But that is what makes the drawing so interesting...people doing their own thing.

The other day I was sketching a prostitute. She was so beautiful, sitting on the sidewalk. I couldn't get her shoes right though and she felt me staring at her...for me it's like graffitti, you have an open window opportunity and you gotta do it quick. People watching is my favorite passtime. People are strange. Matilda is a lovely name by the way...

On Oct.22.2004 at 01:43 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

The reason it may be so intriguing is because everyone is so different...


...all the stereotypes you can find all over the world...


I'm more a stereotype noticer.

And I wonder if passersby are going to try to beat me up or kill me. This frightened me when I was a child. Now it's just something interesting to think about, and I wonder if my purple belt in karate will do me any good.

On Oct.22.2004 at 02:09 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> when did you move to NY?

We moved about a month ago. But it seems like ages.

> Welcome to New York — the capital of small world.

Thanks for the welcome… and, heavens yes, it is a small world around here.

> And I wonder if passersby are going to try to beat me up or kill me.

That's funny. When I was young(er) and I would walk with my mom to the grocery store if we saw a guy carrying, say, a briefcase, we would wonder if he would attack us with the briefcase, or if he was carrying a sack of oranges, we would wonder about the possibility of an orange-bag beating. We did this as a joke, but given that the propensity and possibility of getting beaten with a bag of oranges in Mexico City is high we laughed nervously.

Re: Sketching people

As part of the original post I was also going to mention Paul Davis' Us & Them as a somehow more vivid example — in contrast to Kalman's book — of capturing the experience of people watching through sketches, which is apparently quite the activity around here!

On Oct.22.2004 at 03:26 PM
laura’s comment is:

capturing the experience of people watching through sketches

My most favorite artist for that is John Copeland. Did anyone see his show at 31Grand??

On Oct.22.2004 at 03:38 PM
jenny’s comment is:

I'm glad I'm not the only one who sketches people... One of my favorite days ever was spent sketching kids playing with toy sailboats at the Jardin du Luxembourg - they push the boats around with these long pokers. In the US you'd expect the kids to beat each other with them, but they just ran around to try to push their boat from the other side.

You do have to be careful, though, at one meeting I'd done a particularly nice sketch of the woman across from me in the margin of one of the handouts. She hadn't noticed, but the person sitting next to me did, who proceeded to complement me (loudly) about it...

On Oct.22.2004 at 04:57 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

Goodness yes I love to "people watch"! I love the stories that they have, if you are able to watch them long enough. Even if they are alone and not talking to anyone, you can watch the way they move, their mannerisms, their posture, what they're wearing... it's great. I think part of this reason may be because people, or the human body in general, is one of my favorite subjects to sketch... but I've always been too timid to sketch the innocent bystanders. Afraid of getting caught I suppose.

For indoor settings, the airport is a great place to watch as well as Barnes & Noble (because it's more than just a bookstore). Bars and coffee houses are also some of my favorites.

Outdoors places that I like the most are in downtown settings where it's more crowded and people are going somewhere to do something. Watching people in parks are better just for sketching and not really watching a story unfold.

On Oct.22.2004 at 05:50 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

I'm not sure how much people-watching plays into graphic design. It appears that most of the comments relate to story-telling, and film. But obviously most people have their own little culture sometimes on the surface, sometimes not....

The first time I participated in a conscientious effort to people-watch I was actually in New York City. My girlfriend at the time took me up 15 stories to some bowling alley that was inside a large commercial building. We watched these super crappy and cumbersome bowlers. It was rather funny because everyone was sooo clumsy and 'out of their element'. However, I felt like a very simple person and soon became completely turned-off.

I tend to lean towards szkat's point-of-view, I'd rather interact with culture than hide behind my insecurity and premanufactured cultural anecdotes. America is the last place you'll find uninhibited culture. I'd rather spark a surprise interaction, at least then, it is real. I'm sure that the three girls passing by my table dressed in the same outfit have three different opinions. But instead, in the world you've created in the above comments, they're merely another thing for you to talk about, manipulate, and make fun of.

I suppose there is something to say about how reationary some of you graphic designers are, but that's another thread. Good luck, and keep your eyes on my hands as so much that you don't miss me quickly giving you the finger.

On Oct.24.2004 at 03:19 PM
Valon’s comment is:

Damn it ~

I wish I didn't read this post at all 'cuz wherever I went for these two past days I caught myself observing people (grocery store, mall, gym, nyc). Even though apparently I like to people watch, I was never highly aware of it...

I guess most people do - that's why Reality Shows are doing so well..

Oh well...now I have a new habit that I know of...Argh....

I'm not sure how much people-watching plays into graphic design.

Whenever I am working on a new project I go places, observe people and check if they fit the criteria of people that would end up using my design. This may sound like stereotyping or being judgmental, but I think it's crucial to know as much as possible about your subjects.

I was going to provide an illustration of a person and list descriptions on the side, i.e.: profession, education, age, hobbies... Just as an arbitrary description of what would go through my mind when observing someone...I know this sounds awkward, but I think you have to draw some rough conclusions when you lack the budget of using focus groups.

On Oct.24.2004 at 09:29 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

> I'm not sure how much people-watching plays into graphic design.


Comes in pretty handy when I am meeting a new client and I need to be able to understand them if I am going to understand what they want from me. Even if I am meeting an old client, they all still communicate with more than just their words.

I observe them so I can better understand them. It's a practice I take with me outside the office because I don't shut off at 5pm on the weekdays.

On Oct.25.2004 at 01:32 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

I tend to lean towards szkat's point-of-view, I'd rather interact with culture than hide behind my insecurity and premanufactured cultural anecdotes.

Not entirely sure as to what you are referring here, but my guess it to all of those of us who like to watch people and come up with our stories about them, other than approach them and ask them. Do you think this is simple insecurity? Or are we, in a way, approaching these individuals in the same way we have to approach our target audience for any given project on a daily basis. I, for one, rarely have the opportunity to engage in a conversation with my audience and I can only imagine what kind of individuals they are based on basic information provided by my client, the marketing agency, whomever. Very similar to the amount of information I would receive from watching you board the bus I am going home in.

You will surely get more information from people and be truer to their realities when you talk to them, something essential when you are traveling, as Szkat pointed out, and I have to agree. Nothing like taking to a fisherman in Serdenia, a black-market seller in Moscow, a farmer in Buenos Aires or a street artist in Saint-Malo. I have been lucky in that I have been able to experience all of the above and thousands more.

I'm not sure how much people-watching plays into graphic design.

I still love to people watch. Everyday, with each new observation my library of knowledge grows and everyday I apply what I learn to my life as a designer. They are, in the end, who I work for.

On Oct.25.2004 at 08:19 AM
jo’s comment is:

I've done people-watching automatically for a long, long time. I like watching how people interact with space, an object, a product, each other. I think we are hard-wired to watch each other; infants learn by observation...

I'd rather spark a surprise interaction, at least then, it is real.

I totally understand this point of view, but it really, really weirds me out when I'm the recipient of that surprise interaction. I've had a number of bizarre, disturbing, and at times frightening conversations with strangers, where I spent most of my time wondering what their motivation was rather than actually enjoying the interaction.

Of course, maybe that's just because I'm introverted and reserved. Or maybe it has to do with being a diminutive blonde white female with no martial arts or self-defense training. But then again, let's see you get on a bus and have a guy jack off next to you (apparently he thought I would want him if he did). Would you talk to strangers while travelling again after that? I do try hard to be friendly, and I recognize the importance and benefits of taking risks, making connections, and the fun of such interactions, but it's hard when I wonder 1) if it's worth making such a transient connection, and 2) if I'm ever being stupid and placing myself in danger.

Goodness, I sound paranoid, don't I?

On Oct.25.2004 at 01:36 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I'd rather spark a surprise interaction, at least then, it is real.

> Of course, maybe that's just because I'm introverted and reserved. Or maybe it has to do with being a diminutive blonde white female with no martial arts or self-defense training.

Jo, I'm introverted and reserved as well; and I'm a big (let's say "medium complexion"), dark-haired, not exactly-white male who if need be would kick someone's ass but I'm quite passive in that regard and I do not enjoy surprise interactions. I'm the guy who stands in the elevator looking pissed when somebody makes remarks about the weather outside. As if I frickin' care.

Anyway. People watching is just that: watching people. Surprise interaction is breaking away from the passive mode of watching people and it becomes something else. It's different. One is not better than the other… regardless of insecurities or premanufactured cultural anecdotes.

On Oct.25.2004 at 01:52 PM
F'luxe Red SoxWell’s comment is:

Welcome Arminio Hall-vit.... woop woop woop!

show me a designer who doesnt like to watch and draw and I'll show you ... a bad apple.

anyone here in ther apple in need of some free Paul Sahre "pls Posts" or GOP100's shoot me an e mail- i make a drop off in the am in midtown/ 14th st...

On Oct.25.2004 at 02:07 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

Michael H -

Clearly we are not talking about people-watching in some client meeting. That's just ridiculous dude. The normal vernacular of what you're talking about is called reading the client - "The account executive could read the client like it was his own sister." So, pfft on your pfft.

Valon -

I understand the theory of becoming a chameleon to better understand a certain surrounding. However, given that you don't go to punk shows, do you think that it's fair to the punk culture that a corporate designer creates a gig poster? I think you can figure what I'm getting at. Designers should know their strengths and forget their weaknesses.

Jo -

I understand how uncomfortable it would be if some guy was showing you their weiner, but that's way, WAY, out of context. To put things in perspective, take this scenario -

You've decided that people-watching isn't going to cut it, you just need to get some facts rather than assumptions (you're feeling proactive and responsible). So you unnoticeabley approach the suit standing on the corner, he notices you, you say, "How do you feel about the color blue?" The person responds, and boom now you know a little bit more of a suit opinion on the color blue. It's not weird, nor bizarre, not intruisive.

Besides, who cares what they think about you, all that matters is how you feel about you. Believe me people, you're not going to ruin anyone's day by asking them their opinion. Sure they might be too busy to reply. Or have a shitty attitude, which brings me to the next comment...

Armin -

I have to ask, why would you want to move to New York if you can't handle simple conversation? There's nothing uncomfortable or esoteric about someone saying, "Wow...what a beautiful day!" Furthemore, do you actually think 'they' care what some grumpy lookin' dude in the elevator thinks anyways? I mean really!

You so much remind me of John Stoll, a Jr graphic designer I used to work with. I always hoped that the world didn't produce more than one of his kind. What is it with you people?

It's so ironic that you run this forum, a place where free opinion is encouraged, yet you don't even have the decency to smile at someone's positive energy and respect for the PLANET?? Damn dude, and now you're talking about kicking someone's ass because they ask you a random design oriented question on the street corner?

I totally disagree with the notion that being passive is equal to being proactive. Please explain how placing a judgement on someone is better than asking their opinion.

On Oct.25.2004 at 04:49 PM
szkat’s comment is:

Jo - i understand what you mean - i'm living and working in downtown chicago, and round these parts, it's never a great idea to just go and start talking to anyone. the people i start talking to... interestingly (ironically?) enough, i usually "watch" them for a minute to see if they look like they'd respond well to chatting. usually someone will smile at you first, like in line at the bank, as if to express, "well, this sucks, but whatcha gonna do." that's the person who i talk to. not grouches at the elevator who have no meteorological cares.

Armin - just teasing. i agree that they're two very different things, and i try to be respectful about it just like any sketcher on a park bench. at least i don't think i'm annoying... i don't think everyone should just go about striking up conversations. not that i'm miss suave or something, but i do feel particularly well equipped to discern who would be more willing to shoot the shit on the subway.

and it's kind of funny to me that you don't like random conversation but here we are having one. i just spoke up on Speak Up one day and here we are in a minor dialogue. for me, it's just about making a minor connection, like this, a small connection with a premise.

On Oct.25.2004 at 04:58 PM
szkat’s comment is:

and i'm not going to change anything i said, but i'd like to point out that Kevin's post was posted while i was writing mine! not trying to gang up on you, Armin.


On Oct.25.2004 at 04:58 PM
graham’s comment is:

i say just go with it, you know, see where the wind blows, free-form, yeah, free-form just words that are yours out of your mouth from your mind, ending up munted with bruised ribs early morning or in a hot paradise of newness all jabber-born like a slow motion leg rub surgery.

On Oct.25.2004 at 05:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Ah, Kevin, and there I was sitting comfortably for a few months thinking that you had gone away. Please, read carefully before you write:

> and now you're talking about kicking someone's ass

I was making a parallel to Jo's comment that she didn't know Karate or self-defense.

Other than that, I will not respond to any of your other comments. Feel free to keep heaving personal attacks. You only make yourself look bad.

On Oct.25.2004 at 05:36 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

These are clearly not personal attacks, but inquiries.

Keep smilin'

On Oct.25.2004 at 10:07 PM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

I think as designers we were either taught or had the intuition to "read" people or clients. We need to have that knack of assuming what the client wants so we "read" into their lives, thoughts, needs, etc...

I look at every person as a puzzle, there are so many different sides to people like a rubik's cube. If you can match all of the colors up right, you have them figured out. I enjoy figuring out everyone I know, it's a hobby, it's part of my job, it's what I like to do.

I am an observer, a listener, and I love it to the fullest. I don't think I would want to be any other way. I don't sketch people but I move each piece of their puzzle around to "figure" them out better.

Great topic, thanks for bringing this up.

On Oct.25.2004 at 10:33 PM
szkat’s comment is:

You so much remind me of John Stoll, a Jr graphic designer I used to work with. I always hoped that the world didn't produce more than one of his kind. What is it with you people?

and who, exactly, are "you people"? lumping Armin with this person you obviously don't like is not something i'd call an "inquiry." that seems to be a pretty clear personal attack to me.

just my $0.02

On Oct.25.2004 at 10:44 PM
szkat’s comment is:


i just caught "jabber" in your post and thought of the only person i've ever watched, the most beautifully animated person i've ever met. in freshman orientation, he rose up from the third row, cutting off the Drake Univ. president's speech at freshman orientation, and started delivering Beware the Jabberwocky. as the poem progressed, he picked a "son" from the crowd and they traveled around the room getting louder and wilder until he collapsed at the end of the stage. turned out he's a drama professor named Clive Elliott.

it was amazing. he's amazing. he caught me sketching, and it led to me designing a bunch of theater posters my junior and senior year. and diane, it's a bit to your point - i was able to appreciate seeing, listening, and interacting with a truly fantastic mind. all the parts came together to create new things.

i guess between this and my other recent post, i'm leaning towards using the two hobbies together, yeah? they are separate, and can still compliment each other.

On Oct.25.2004 at 11:05 PM
KevinHopp’s comment is:

ahhh...maybe a little personal now that I read it over again. But some of it is rhetorical as you can see. I hope that in essence you aspire to take life and design more serious, more serious than other things....

On Oct.25.2004 at 11:54 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

> Clearly we are not talking about people-watching in some client meeting.

Kevin, I think you're missing the point. I'm talking about observing and understanding. It's the same skill used in a client meeting as it's used in a public place. My point, in argument to your statement about people-watching not being related to graphic design, is that it is related because I think we all read our clients the same as we try to read strangers in public places when we're watching them.

I learn more about my clients by more than just conversing with them, I watch their posture, their body language, their fidgets... because I know clients can't always verbally articulate their needs and wants.

Getting away from Kevin's misperceptions, I think Diane's post probably summed it up better than mine does, because it's more than just doing my job... it's enjoyable as well.

On Oct.26.2004 at 12:58 AM
Aaren’s comment is:

"I'd rather spark a surprise interaction, at least then, it is real."

Watching people may not be a surprise interaction but it is an interaction and it is real. Noticing the guy next to me on the treadmill has a funny mole seems to be critical or not important, but I argue that is. I have thought a lot about this subject and I think the reason people watching is necessary is because everyone deserve to be noticed. Everyone has story that deserves to be told or observed. The interaction may not be physical or verbal; however, just noticing is respecting and acknowledging someone's life. I believe we watch each other to remember to pay tribute the beauty of life: the embarrassing icy falls of the winter, the desperate dashes to the grocery store, and all the other mundane details that are life.

If you aren't buying that explanation how about sometimes when life is smacking me in the face a little comic relief at someone else's expense is refreshing because it is nice to see that other people are struggling right along with me to "fight the good fight".


Thanks for all your comments this has been really helpful and thanks again Armin, I owe you one.

On Oct.26.2004 at 01:16 AM
ian’s comment is:

this is what i have a problem with. a lot of people have commented that they like to imagine stories for the people they watch and basically invent their lives with no information but a quick observation. that's fine and fun and harmless as long as it doesn't turn into openly stereotyping people. but the idea that this helps influence their design and a need to understand the target? how does this add up? imagining stories is creating fictions about people and this enables you to connect to your target? i don't get that at all.

keen observation skills a must for successful designers—yes.

people watching helps develop observation skills—again, yes.

that creating back stories for people based on a short period of observation helps understand a tagret audience—absolutely not.

my take on people watching: it's fun when i have nothing better to do. like waiting for a bus without a good book or just too lazy and burnt to sketch. or when i'm shopping in a store with my wife i don't want to be in and i get through analysing how all the diplay furniture is built and how the modular system works, then i'll watch the people in the store.

the exception to the nothing better to do is when i'm at a location that has such a diverse and interesting group of people that you simply can't look away, such as airports, bars, bus stations, the 16th street mall in denver. a place you know something interesting is going to happen. or somewhere so completely foriegn to anything you have yet to be exposed to that almost everything seems new (the flower and bird market in jakarta = surreal)

On Oct.26.2004 at 02:23 AM
jo’s comment is:

> a lot of people have commented that they like to imagine stories for the people they watch and basically invent their lives with no information but a quick observation. that's fine and fun and harmless as long as it doesn't turn into openly stereotyping people.

I agree with you on the stereotyping bit. If I ever happen to invent backstories about people with whom I probably have very little in common, it's interesting to look at the kinds of assumptions I make about the person. Creating backstory isn't just about pigeonholing the person sitting next to you; it's like looking in a mirror, enabling to see how you yourself tick when it comes to reacting to other people.

Creating backstory is also practice for genuine empathy. I find that if I spend time thinking about what other people's lives might be like, I'm less likely to criticize them for flipping me off in traffic or bumping into me on the street, or some such thing.

On Oct.26.2004 at 02:04 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

> I'm the guy who stands in the elevator looking pissed when somebody makes remarks about the weather outside. As if I frickin' care.

I forgot to tell you earlier Armin, I do the same thing sometimes. For me it's just a defense mechanism so people don't "spark a surprise interaction" with me.

> a lot of people have commented that they like to imagine stories for the people they watch and basically invent their lives with no information but a quick observation. that's fine and fun and harmless as long as it doesn't turn into openly stereotyping people.

Knowing how easy it is to stereotype (or at least to be perceived as stereotyping), I usually make a deliberate effort not to stereotype strangers. I usually don't make quick observations and I don't make any assumptions about these people that's not based on what I witness, and even then I do so with a grain of salt because appereances can be decieving.

However, that being said... there are stereotypes for a reason.

On Oct.26.2004 at 03:58 PM
Matilda’s comment is:

I think people who are truly observant of people know that they're much more complex than what their outside appearance may suggest. For example, if I saw a stranger with a pissed off expression on his face in an elevator, I may wonder what happened in her day to make her feel that way. A break up with her boyfriend? Her girlfriend? Is she tempermentally mad at the world because she had a lousy childhood? Or did she just have a very bad day at work? Is she angry because the world that she's so in love with disappointed her 2 minutes ago? etc.

I think people who like "surprise" interactions also watch people: after all, one would look for a person who looked reasonably receptive to conversation, not one who looked hostile. It's all about "reading" the situation for appropriateness, whether it's on a street in China or a business meeting where you're looking for the right moment to interject with an idea.

P.S. Thanks for the compliment, Laura (I always thought Laura was a prettier name...).

On Oct.26.2004 at 08:27 PM
Karon Miller’s comment is:

I think everyone is guilty of people watching at least one time or another in their lives. I know that I have and yes I often wonder what their life is like. I am not one to create a backstory however. I don't know why but maybe it is because there is no way to know what that particular person has experienced in their life. Therefore why even try?

I think people watching can be useful in a few different ways from a design standpoint. By remaining stationary it is easy to see how people interact with their surroundings. In a place like New York or Chicago with all the visual stimulus surrounding high traffic places it is easy to observe how people are responding to different methods of advertisement. Then it becomes easier to see just who is drawn to what. Whether it is a quick glance as they walk by or fully scrutinizing as they wait for the bus/train. This information can be used when designing for a specific target audience. Some may call that stereotyping but I like to think of it as relating to the viewer.

On Oct.26.2004 at 09:47 PM
Shannon’s comment is:

All this talk of stereotyping and people watching...

As I sit here in the computer lab of Central Michigan University, I can't help but people watch. I was doing so even before I began to read this. My favorite thing to pass judgement on while here is the computers people choose to work on. As a design student I'm comfortably nestled into the lone and often empty row of macs. I'm always curious why others visit this row too. Maybe they're designers. I see John from class a few computers down, and I know that's why he's here. Jameson to my right as well. Then I look at the full and bustling rows of pcs. I bet they're all afraid of macs like my roommate. Obviously they're not designers. I wonder about that kid over there...

Needless to say, whether it be stereotyping or just quiet observing, people watching can surely be called research when it comes to design. You learn things about your possible audience; you pick up ideas for new designs; you learn fun facts about slapping children with cameras. It's a good thing, in my opinion.

On Oct.27.2004 at 12:05 AM
Adib_J’s comment is:

as a student of architecture, people watching is important.very important for the fact that we are designing for these people.How can one design if there is no understanding of who or what we are designing for?

to me, the best thing about people watching is the imagination that comes with it.thousands of stimuli to inform the stories made up in our little head.stereotype or not,its just some parameters which we set in our heads as point of departures for our intellect.

On Oct.27.2004 at 12:55 AM
szkat’s comment is:

I don't know why but maybe it is because there is no way to know what that particular person has experienced in their life. Therefore why even try?

this is exactly why i enjoy interaction over watching. i don't really think the term created in this thread, "suprise interaction," has a good connotation. it's not that much of a suprise to have someone strike up a conversation with you if you give them an opening (like my first example, empathizing in line at the bank).

the act of interaction is not about yourself. it's about the other person feeling heard and that's when they speak something worthwhile, when they feel like a stranger is listening. no one owes each other anything, and it frees both participans to talk about things more simply.

we all do it all the time. "oh, you have such a beautiful baby." "can you tell me where 31st street is?" "your dog is very friendly." etc. just talk with someone for a minute without context or stereotype or anything on your mind but them. you'll see how that frees your mind to be open and quick and accomodating. you don't need a back story, you don't need to know their entire life experience. learn how they are reacting to right now.

On Oct.27.2004 at 10:14 AM
Ross Ciaramitaro’s comment is:

People-watching ahhh... I love it and so does everybody else. You have those capitalists that say mind your own buisness, but does anyone, really. I scan people up and down and even listen in on their conversations, its human nature to be ubsurdly nosey. Its also graphic designs nature too. Observations need to be made in order to assess and solve problems in the realm of design, so everyone who reads this start looking around there is an abundance of craziness in the world if you just look...

On Oct.27.2004 at 03:42 PM
Kate O’s comment is:

And it is available everywhere: everywhere we go, everywhere we turn, everywhere we look. People are everywhere. Just watch.

That's why people watching is so great. It's free entertainment. There is hardly a place you can go without someone walking by and you automatically think something about them in your head. It's habit, you can't help but think.

I've spent a lot of time in airports and people watching has gotten me through a lot of long layovers. I think it's fun to make up stories, the couple sitting over there, the women with the 3 kids. I wonder where they are going, home, on vacation, to visit family... and then when they get off the plane you sometimes find out if you were right from the signs and hugs that await them. It's fun, kind of like a game in your mind. I suppose that sometimes you do develop stereotypes, but nowadays everyone judges everyone. It's creativity taking over your mind, thinking freely without holding yourself back because they don't know what your thinking or what scenarios you have made up in you mind about them.

Also, about stereotypes, creating them in your head isn't necessarily harmful as long as you don't judge people by them. Putting someone that walks by you, never to be seen again, into a stereotype doesn't make you a bad person just for thinking about it. Now, if you take action on that thought, then I suppose that's different.

On Oct.27.2004 at 08:15 PM
ian’s comment is:

i want to clarify my comment about not understanding how people can use people watching to influnce their design.

when you watch someone and how they intreact with objects and othe people and that helps influence your design, that is fantastic. observing people and their responses can be crucial, as in the case of an architect.

what i didn't understand is several people were commenting on making up stories for people. and while that can be fun, that element of people watching should never influence your design unless you need to make up a story. because that is exactly what your doing, making things up.

On Oct.29.2004 at 01:18 AM