What have you noticed lately?

A friend just shared this fascinating conversation on the AIGA website about noticing.  It touches on a few interrelated themes, but starts with the basic premise that it is important to be an “active noticer” (my made-up term) in the world if you’re going to be an effective designer (and, I would argue, communicator and storyteller).

I’m seeing the importance of noticing coming up more and more.  You need to be an active listener if you’re going to be successful at connecting with people.  You need to pick up on peoples’ cues, the flow of their conversation, even their language (I’ve noticed this last point especially when speaking in a foreign language, and how one’s accent naturally adjusts depending on the person with whom you’re talking.  I’m pretty sure it happens in English all the time as well, it’s just harder to notice).  But more broadly, the more you notice in the world, the more informed, connected, and aware you are of your surroundings, both local and global.

Noticing is also at the core of the design thinking mentality of great design firms, and IDEO has worked closely with Acumen Fund (where I work) to help us think about and incorporate user-centered design in creating products and services for the poor.

What a radical notion: start with poor people, their habits and their preference, when figuring out how to design a product.  Take their opinions seriously.  It’s about listening and valuing what you’re hearing and seeing, and knowing that you as an outsider don’t have all the answers.  It’s also the opposite of how lots of poverty alleviation has been practiced by international organizations, like the World Bank (“Bring in the experts!”), for decades.

From the conversation at AIGA, Dan Soltzberg comments:

It reminds me a lot of the approach we take to being with people when we do fieldwork. In the field, you have to simultaneously drink all kinds of information in, and at the same time be active in guiding the interaction. There’s this tightrope walk between action and non-action, ego and non-ego. To move back and forth gracefully between these different ways of being requires noticing not just what’s going on around you but what’s going on inside you as well. It’s one of these things that sounds so simple, but really takes practice to be good at.

If you’re going to be an effective communicator and storyteller, you have to be good at noticing – it’s the source of your raw material and the fabric of your conversations.

I’m discovering that it’s also part of the value of blogging: it forces you to notice and really pay attention to the world around you.

What have you noticed lately?

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