The Art Of People Watching

The world has 7.4 billion people and growing.

It’s inevitable that there’s always someone watching, noticing, and observing you. Lately, this person could have been me.

Having recently studied an urban design course, I’ve taken interest in mapping people’s path of movement, seating, and assembly. People watching, by definition, is the act of idly observing others in a public space.

Watching people in a library can be quite slow… but you can see what others are reading!


But it’s not just people in the design field, I’ve noticed it’s everyone. People love watching other people. (Just watch William Whyte‘s documentary about public space, he proves it!)

Take TTC (Toronto Transit Comission) for instance, they’ve started an initiative that encourages artists to sketch while commuting using people as their subjects called “Art in Transit“.

What can you learn from the art of people watching?

Watching people in a museum.. I like seeing the patterns of where people are more drawn to. It tends to lead to the more popular works of the museum.

Here’s what I’ve learnt/experienced:

  • You can easily spot the current hot fashion items & trends within minutes of people watching at a busy street intersection or a mall
  • You can see what others do to direct yourself in the right space. Don’t know where the end of the line starts? Watch where people converge to find the tail.
  • There’s comfort in knowing there are others that make the same silly mistake as you do. Seeing someone push a pull door that only moments ago you did as well.
  • My favourite is accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation spoken in a language you’re learning realizing you can catch some words or understand it!

I believe there are many moments where we find ourselves unintentionally watching others, but there’s a reason for this- it’s in our nature to be interested, to be curious, and to study. For other times it may just be for amusement or boredom.

Interior “outdoor” patio seating – seats made for people watching!

Next time you catch your gaze lingering on people longer than usual, don’t worry, you’re definitely not the only one doing it. I’d love to hear your insight on what you’ve learnt from people watching too!

7 thoughts

  1. great post! While I was reading it, I realize I do many of the things without even being conscious of them like the time I heard (aka “eavesdropped) on people’s conversations, especially when it is spoken in Korean language!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Onah! Thanks for the comment- Glad to hear I’m not the only one who unconsciously overhears conversations in different languages. 🙂


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