Syllabus Noticing 2013

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Spring 2013

NYU, Tisch School of the Arts

Interactive Telecommunications Program


Instructor: Rob Faludi

[email protected]


Course Description:

Artists, designers, inventors and scientist all want to see things that are new—often that no person has ever seen before. Yet our brains are designed to direct our attention to a thin stream of operational tasks. We screen out the shoes of the person across the subway and the leaves on the trees above our heads. We don’t pay much attention to the interplay of shadows or consciously hear the soft squeaking of distant doors. In conversations we rarely attend to what goes unsaid, though vital information lurks in the omissions. The seeds of a brilliant work might lie in detecting a simple gesture. We only need to notice it.

Of course the work we do isn’t really for shoe or shadows, nor for screens, spaces or devices. The work we do is for people. We need to notice and understand human beings most of all.  This class is a workshop that teaches techniques and tools for noticing—seeing, hearing and comprehending what might otherwise pass us by. In a short series of classes we’ll explore the observation process in an array of domains, from cognitive psychology to ethnography and drawing to data collection. Projects will include user studies, experimental research, observational exercises and other techniques for reaching that moment we all crave: when something unexpected and terrific bursts forward into consciousness. Because noticing requires context, this course will focus on a specific venue and its human inhabitants, in this case a creative workspace and the people who work there. It will culminate in a final project proposal inspired by what you see and honed with the help of the observational techniques learned in class. Students will leave with their eyes wide open to the inspirations and complexity that surround us all and their minds full of techniques for learning more.

Location: This class will focus on a specific location, currently being finalized, likely a dynamic business workplace at an interactive media company.


Students will learn observation and research practices essential to interaction design, artistic practice. They will gain experience in a real-world environment and think deeply about location-specific work. Assigned projects will explore observation, user research and human interactions.

Class Schedule (tentative, check back for updates):

  1. Schemas: Intro, mapping exercises, overview, basics and background: class introduction, student introductions, syllabus review, about observation, random walks.
    Assignments: Mysteries assignment; Read Calvino, Raskin, Gureckis & Kazan; assemble supplies.
  2. Quantitative Observation: group presentation of assignments with discussion, understanding data, understanding numbers, observation with data; take a workplace tour
    Assignments: Read Zen of Seeing; Cracking Creativity introduction, chapter 1; and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, chapters 1, 3, 4.
  3. Looking to See: discuss Observation exercises, drawing to see, drawing exercisers
    Assignment: form final project groups, read How to be an Explorer of the World
  4. Listening to People: focus groups discussion, focus groups organization, interviews exercise
    Assignment: Focus Groups Assignment
  5. Watching People: focus groups review, Guest Lecture: professional ethnographer, refrigerator exercise., presentations and discussion of final project ideas
    Assignment: Ethnography Assignment, Form Project Proposal groups
  6. Final Proposal Presentations: discuss Ethnography results, present project proposals (likely at target location)


Documenting Mysteries: Take a structured walking tour of a neighborhood to seek out things you don’t fully understand. Mysteries are all around us, from the unused bracket on a building (what was it for?) to the couple who eats without speaking (does their silence imply distance or comfort?) You will use  a random walk methodology to release control of your path. Consider the portals to other realms, like manholes, subway gratings and service entrances. What is behind them and what does their presence tell you? Document each mystery you find as a gateway to discovering some of what we normally ignore.

Behavior Observation: This assignment is designed to open your eyes to the multitude of ways that a space is used by listing all the different behaviors that you see. Next you will record the prevalence of each behavior type, to better understand their relative import. Finally, you will use this information as a thinking tool, to propose new projects that address what you’ve unmasked. The goal is to fill in your mental schema or outline of a place with the richness of what actually happens there, and by filling in the missing parts to discover something new.

Focus Groups: Conduct a focus group with the occupants of the class focus location. The purpose will be to learn about life in the building from the people who live there, and to understand the people themselves—their perspectives, personalities, concerns and aspirations. Your goal will be to replace the schematic representation of what you think the residents and their life is like with a more accurate and richer understanding of their reality. In the process, you will keep an eye out for project opportunities and inspirations.

Data Gathering: Gather and record environmental data of your choosing on-site. Work in groups of two or three to select information you think will reveal an interesting story. You can build a prototype sensor to feed that information onto the Internet, or simply do a rigorous tally that includes both when something happens and when it doesn’t. Each implementation will be different, but consider looking at hundreds of data samples over periods of at least 24 hours. You’ll present your findings along with a discussion of what you think the data is trying to say.

Final Project Proposal: work in groups to create a proposal for a system or device of your choosing based upon your research. Your proposal should aim to enhance the space, tasks or community of the class’s focus location. You have performed a number of different observations so your project may well find its inspiration in what you’ve seen. It should certainly take into consideration what you’ve learned, and may even benefit from new observations using one or more of the techniques learned in class. Proposed projects may be realized during the second half of the semester, for your thesis or your other classes.


  • links to documentation for each completed assignment must be posted in the student work area
  • documentation is due within one week after completing each assignment

Site Access:

Students should be able to access the class focus site during regular operating hours. Remember that we are guests there and that our hosts will expect your professionalism and consideration. Please take advantage of this access as much as possible! Your job will be to deeply understand the site and the tasks that take place here.


ITP grades on a pass/fail basis. This class is weighted as follows:

Class participation & attendance 25%

Presentations and projects 35%

Documentation 40%

Office Hours

To Be Announced, or request meetings as needed


ITP has a laptops-closed policy that benefits your learning in this class. You may take notes during lectures but your devices must be closed when your fellow students are speaking or presenting.

Making the Most of It:

For best results, come to class early, participate in discussions, ask lots of questions, offer copious and constructive feedback, stretch yourself and have lots of fun.

Required Reading

* purchase these books

Optional Reading

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