Fly On The Wall

Fly On The wall is a traditional observational technique that allows a design researcher to collect data by seeing and listening. This method helps the researcher in secretly gaining an insight of the participant’s behavior in a certain scenario. It is the primary responsibility of the researcher to stay completely unnoticed during the observation so as to not bias the participant in any way. This method has its limitations, as it does not allow a 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

01 Low cost

Fly On The Wall is a low cost/effort method to gather qualitative data

02 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

03 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.

04 Flexible logistics

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

05 User-centered

The main purpose of the research is to get user insights from observations


Disadvantages of Fly On The Wall

01 Limited and Subjective data

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

02 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.

03 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.

04 Multiple Observations

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

Think Design 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 the environment is unimportant and when you are researching an individual user.

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