Observation method

The design and innovation company IDEO has developed various methods and approaches to foster creativity and generate innovative ideas. One of the methods they use is called “Observation”.

Observation is a technique used to gain insights and inspiration by carefully observing people, environments and experiences in their natural settings. By delving into a problem or challenge, designers can uncover unmet needs, identify patterns, and generate new ideas.

Here is a description of how you can become more creative and generate elegant ideas through observation:

Define focus

Start by defining the area or problem you want to explore. This could be a specific challenge, a user experience or a particular environment. See examples of how the method has been used later in this article.

Explore reality

Then go out into the real world and immerse yourself in the context relevant to your focus. Observe people, environments, interactions and behaviors related to the current challenge. This can involve conducting interviews, shadowing individuals or simply watching and documenting what you see.

Just sitting like a fly on the wall and observing without participating is an effective way to observe. When you observe any different information, place or behavior, ask why it says so, is in a certain place or does and feels a certain way.

Document observations

Record your observations systematically, using different methods such as notes, photography, video recording or sketching. Capture details about people’s actions, feelings, motivations, and any interesting patterns or insights you notice.

Analyze and draw conclusions

Review and analyze your observations, looking for commonalities, patterns and anomalies. Look beyond the surface observations and try to uncover underlying needs, desires and problems. Look for connections between different observations and identify possible opportunities for innovation. Large boards or tables that provide overviews where you can work with the information, cluster, etc. facilitate this step.

Generate insights

Based on your analysis, generate key insights and make sense of the information you collected. These insights should be specific, meaningful and actionable. They should act as a springboard for idea and concept development.

Idea generation and prototyping

Once you’ve identified insights, use them as a basis for brainstorming and generating ideas. Explore different opportunities and potential solutions based on the insights from observation. Create rapid prototypes or visual representations to further explore and communicate your ideas.

Test and repeat

Bring your ideas and prototypes back to the real world for testing and feedback. Collect user reactions, insights and learnings to refine and improve your concepts. Repeat the process as needed to continue refining your ideas and solutions.


Here are some examples of products that can result from using the observation method:

Ergonomic office chair

Through observation, designers noticed that office workers often struggled with discomfort and back pain after long hours of sitting.
By carefully observing their posture, movements and interactions with existing chairs, designers identified opportunities to create a new type of ergonomic office chair.
The product featured adjustable lumbar support, customizable seating positions and breathable materials to increase comfort and promote healthy sitting habits.

Smart distance lock

By observing homeowners’ concerns and behaviors, designers realized the need for a simpler smart home security system.
By observing entry and exit patterns, points of vulnerability and user interactions with existing security measures, they were able to create a connected system of smart locks. The system provides real-time monitoring, alerts and remote control through a user-friendly app, improving home security and above all peace of mind.

Child-friendly food packaging

By observing children’s eating habits and parents’ frustration, designers identified the need for child-friendly food packaging.
They noticed that children often struggle to open food packages themselves, leading to frustration and mess.
By observing children’s dexterity and interaction with packaging, designers created innovative solutions such as easy-grip containers, tear-off tabs and colorful illustrations that made it easier and more fun for children to more safely open packages of things they use. The focus had previously been solely to make it more difficult for children to open certain packages.

Ticket system for public transport

By observing commuters’ experiences and problems when using public transport, designers identified opportunities to improve the ticketing process.
They noticed long queues, confusion about ticket types and difficulty accessing ticket machines.
Based on these observations, they developed a contactless payment system that integrates with smartphones, allowing commuters to easily purchase and validate tickets in peace and quiet without going to a store or a hassle-free ticket machine, which in turn reduces friction and improves the overall public transit experience.

Durable water bottle

By observing people’s frequent drinking habits and considering the environment, designers noticed the widespread use of disposable plastic water bottles.
They observed users’ behaviors, preferences and challenges in carrying reusable bottles.
Based on these insights, they designed a durable water bottle that is lightweight, leak-proof, and aesthetically pleasing.
The product contains innovative materials, such as biodegradable or recyclable options, which encourage users to drink water more environmentally friendly.


These examples show how the observation method can lead to the creation of very simple and natural products that have great impact but which we perceive as trivial ideas. Are they well implemented. The observation method often gives precisely elegant ideas that show that the difficulty lies in creating the simple.

By carefully observing people in their natural environments, designers can gain valuable insights and generate innovative solutions that improve the user experience and create meaningful and elegant impact.

The observational approach emphasizes the importance of immersing oneself in the real world to gain a deep understanding of the problem. Don’t skip it and don’t assume you know how it works without actually going out and observing!

By observing and empathizing with people and their experiences, designers can unlock new perspectives and uncover valuable insights that drive creative and innovative solutions.