Human-centered design requires us to observe human behavior with beginner's eyes, so that we can spot the innate ways people interact with the world around them. We call these intuitive and unconscious reactions Thoughtless Acts, and IDEO designers collect photos of them to inspire their work.
"Arrivo!," I shout to the taxi driver as I close the gate of the building with my foot. I speed walk towards his car, parked 50 meters down the road, drag the suitcase on the back seat and ask the driver to take me to the airport. My holiday in Napoli—my hometown—is over. I'm already shivering at the idea of setting foot back in London.
Halfway through the trip, my eyes catch on an unusual detail. A tennis ball cut in half to fit the top of the taxi's gearstick. I can't help but investigate.
"Ascolta (Listen)," he says in the gruff voice of a longtime smoker, "with this heat, my job gets very challenging." Despite air conditioning, he explains, the sun makes the gearstick slippery and hot, which makes for a rather unpleasant driving experience.
To tackle this problem, he decided to carefully slice a tennis ball in half and place over the gearstick's handle. "It's a precise job," he explains. "You need to make sure it won't move once it's placed." The texture of the tennis ball allows for a better grip, and doesn't get hot in the sun—ta-da!
He brakes lightly to come to a stop at the departures terminal. As he rummages for my change, he surprises me with a Steve Jobs-style "And one more thing ..."
"You know, it's not just about the function of the tennis ball, it's also the excitement of getting a new one every year. That bright yellow marks the start of a new season—it's something I look forward to!"
I gently close the cab door, roll my suitcase to the entrance and, out of the corner of my eye, catch him smiling in the dense, departing traffic.