Fly on the Wall

The aim of the Fly on the Wall technique is to observe, the subject as unobtrusively as possible. This method aims to reduce the mixed results that can be brought on when people are aware of being monitored. The design researcher intentionally avoids any interaction that may bias or influence the participants’ actions. Observations should cover the broader context, using the AEIOU rule (Activities, environments, interactions, objects, users). It is most suitable for public spaces, and situations where people might alter their habits, and therefore cloud the observations made, when they are being watched. Fly on the Wall has limitations and should be triangulated with other methods to ensure thorough research findings.

Contributor: Alexander Brown, 2013
Havaianas

The iconic Brazilian flip-flop manufacturer Havaianas sought to design a bag as an extension to their brand. The European design team headed by Miguel Cabra, immersing themselves in Brazil by using various design research methods to better understand the culture. Their fly on the wall observations of overloaded trolleys and the way people in Brazil carry things prompted the team to create a bag that could carry items much bigger than itself.

Contributor: Alexander Brown, 2013
Hawthorne Electrics

From 1924 to 1932 the Hawthorne Electrics Works in Chicago undertook a study to determine how varying light levels, among other spatial factors, would influence workers’ productivity. What they found was that no matter how they changed the light, productivity increased. The researchers attributed this newfound motivation to the apparent interest being shown in the workers; however a 1950’s reassessment of the observations concluded that productivity increased because the workers knew they were being monitored, not because of the environmental changes. This highlights the benefits of fly-on-the-wall observation, and has given rise to the term ‘The Hawthorne Effect’.

Contributor: Alexander Brown, 2013