Fly On The Wall

Fly on the wall research is an observational technique that allows a researcher to collect data by seeing and listening. Usually researchers employ this method to gain insight into people, environment, interactions and objects in a space. It is the primary responsibility of the researcher to stay completely unnoticed during the observation so as to not bias the participants in any way.

Quick details: Fly On The Wall

Structure: Structured, Semi-structured

Preparation: Topics, Structure, Recording tools

Deliverables: Recordings, Notes

More about Fly on the wall

This method has its limitations, as it does not allow the researcher to probe or follow up with participants. Frameworks for note taking and methods such as AEIOU can help analyze observational data. Unlike in the case of unfocus groups, note-taking frameworks/structures and tools are crucial to this method. Further, determining the right documentation tools is critical and should be dependent on the environment in which you are exploring. For example, hand notes may be less obvious than documenting with your cell phone. To validate your insights, repeat your Fly On The Wall observation again and/or use other research methods to confirm your data.


Advantages of Fly on the wall

1. Low cost

Fly on the wall is a low cost/effort method to gather qualitative data.

2. Minimal researcher bias

As the researcher is only observing, not verbally probing or intervening during this data collection method, the researchers own biases do not influence the participant’s responses or behavior.

3. Flexible Design

The method places a greater level of flexibility in the hands of the participants. So, the design is flexible as the participants choose fit.

4. Flexible logistics

The observation can be done anywhere, as it is not location specific but participant-specific.

5. People-centered

The main purpose of the research is to get insights about people from observations.


Disadvantages of Fly on the wall

1. Limited and Subjective data

With great emphasis placed at the participant’s end, the data gather would be subjective to the participant. Additionally, the data gathered would be difficult to generalize for a wider audience.

2. Non-adaptive

As the researcher cannot interfere, intervene or verbally probe the   participants, any questions that may arise in the mind of the observer would stay with the observer.

3. Limited sensitivity and empathy

By limiting the scope for the observer to connect with participants, fly on the wall method also limits the level of sensitivity and empathy the researcher can feel for the participants.

4. Multiple Observations

To ascertain results or findings, multiple observations may be necessary to arrive at a more accurate conclusion for the research.

Think Design's recommendation

Fly on the wall should be used when you want to observe people and environment together, without your presence being felt. This is not a method to observe an individual user. Say, you want to capture how people interact with each other in a market or say, in a restaurant. 

Do not use Fly on the wall as a technique when the context of environment is unimportant and when you are researching an individual user.

Services & Expertise

Sign Up for our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated with the latest insights in UX, CX, Data and Research.


Get in Touch

Embed page