Fly on the wall

Purpose

The purpose of this method is to gain insights about people or systems through observations. The method can provide you with insights to people, workflow, environment, interactions etc. within a given situation or system as you follow a user. You will obtain valuable information based on observations by writing down everything the user does rather than having told the process from the user. When following the user it is important to only be as noticeable as a fly on the wall hence the name of the method. 

Accomodate participants who are not able to:

If you have a hard time focusing for long you could plan to follow the user multiple times, but for shorter periods of time or make sure that the situation you are following does not take too long.

Another way to accommodate this would be to have a helper with you even though it is recommended to only be 1 researcher following the user. It would be favored over only observing bits of the situation as the

If you can not hear you can not both observe and listen to what is being said although you could still perform the method. If possible, bring a helper that can observe as well and take notes in regards to what is being said. Another solution could be that the helpers role is only to translate what is being said to you through e.g. sign language.

If it is challenging for you to reflect upon potential problems you could, once you are done following the user, talk to the user about what went well and what went less well.

 

If you have difficulties holding on to a pen and therefore have difficulties writing down everything you observe you could bring a recorder and then do short recordings of what is happening so that you have it on tape. Afterwards the tape could be transcripted by a helper. This could be used if you do not want to bring a second person following the user. 

Else, you could bring a helper that could take notes for you. The helper should not replace you and go instead of you as it is also very valuable to observe the situation. Afterwards you and your helper could discuss your observations compared to the helper’s notes. 

If you have difficulties moving around a helper could maybe help you get around e.g. in a wheelchair when following the user. Depending on your abilities the helper could have different roles. If it is just a matter of moving around the helper would only be in charge of helping you with that. If you also have difficulties controlling movements when taking notes, the helper could also do this. If so, it is still relevant for you to observe since you can learn a lot from just observing. Afterwards, you and your helper could compare observations/notes.

 

P

Input

A user to follow
O

Output

Identification of problems + overview of how the system works/how people interact
s

Complexity

Moderate

Time

N/A

No. of participants

1

Activity required

Core abilities: - Be observant - Note down every step - Be a ‘fly on the wall’ - Identify problems along the way

Step by Step

 

1 1 max 2 researchers should follow a user in the situation/system you are analysing. 4 Do not help the user if anything occurs, write down the breakdowns you see throughout your observations.
2 Observe and note down every move/interaction the user does. 5 Act as a fly on the wall or think of yourself as a ghost – that is how little you should interact with the user while observing.
3 Do not ask any questions while observing.

When doing this method you should consider

It can be quite awkward to be followed/follow a user why it could be a good idea to speak or even meet with the user you are following beforehand. Else it can seem a little stalker-like for the user. The user might feel awkward having someone following them, which in some cases can lead to them making more mistakes than usually basically because they feel under pressure. If you have met/spoken with the user beforehand and have created a good relation to the user, the user will relax more and not feel judged when being followed.

As it can be difficult to be ‘the fly on the wall’ it could be a good idea that only 1 person follows the user. The more researchers that follow the user the more difficult it will be to be ‘the fly on the wall’.

When following a user around it can be easier to take notes on a piece of paper rather than walking around with your computer.

Take photos of given situations if possible, but make sure that the users have agreed that is okay beforehand.

Write down both what the user is doing but also what is being said.

Materials needed

Pens, paper, camera

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