Tom Kelley: Field Observations with Fresh Eyes | Summary and Q&A

July 8, 2011
Stanford eCorner
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Tom Kelley: Field Observations with Fresh Eyes

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This video tells the story of how a design company was approached by Oral-B, a leading oral healthcare company, to create a new kid's toothbrush. The designers decided to conduct field research and made a small but crucial discovery - that kids have different needs when it comes to toothbrushes. They observed that kids have smaller hands and less dexterity, leading to the creation of a big, fat, and squishy toothbrush. This innovative design became a bestseller in the market for 18 months.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the design company's collaboration with Oral-B come about?

About 10 years ago, Oral-B, one of America's largest oral healthcare companies, approached the design company for creating a new kid's toothbrush.

Q: Why did Oral-B feel the need for a new kid's toothbrush?

Oral-B recognized that their existing kid's toothbrush was becoming commoditized and wanted a unique product to stand out in the market.

Q: Why did the design company insist on conducting field research?

The designers believed that through field research, they could uncover new insights and identify opportunities that would set their product apart.

Q: What was the small discovery made during the observations?

The designers discovered that every kid's toothbrush in history had an implicit assumption that parents have big hands and kids have small hands.

Q: What did the designers observe while watching kids brush their teeth?

The designers noticed that young children lacked the dexterity of their parents and held the toothbrushes differently, often clenching it in their fists.

Q: How did kids using traditional toothbrushes face difficulties?

Children holding the toothbrushes in their fists had a tendency to hold it too far up, inadvertently hurting themselves while trying to brush their teeth.

Q: How did the design company address the problem they observed?

The designers realized that kids needed big, fat, and squishy toothbrushes to overcome their dexterity limitations. This new design innovation solved the problem.

Q: What impact did the design solution have on the market?

After the implementation of the big, fat, and squishy toothbrush design, the client reported having the best-selling kid's toothbrush in the world for a remarkable 18 months.

Q: What does the speaker emphasize about observation and innovation?

The speaker highlights the importance of thinking like a traveler, being an anthropologist, and using the power of observation to drive innovation.

Q: How does the speaker persuade the audience to value observation?

The speaker suggests that if observation can lead to such a groundbreaking finding and make a company the best in its field for 18 months, the effort invested in observation is undoubtedly worthwhile.


The video underscores the importance of observation and field research in driving innovation. By immersing oneself in the users' context and paying attention to the smallest details, designers can uncover valuable insights that can lead to groundbreaking solutions. Thinking like a traveler and being an anthropologist allows individuals to tap into their powers of observation and leverage them for creating impactful solutions.

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