The Fly on the Wall Technique: User Observation

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Following hot on the heels of empathy, my next class was designed to dig a bit into guerrilla user research techniques. Personally, I’m a big fan of hallway tests or interviews, but usually before I even go there, I like to do a bit of investigation in the form of a User Observation.  Now, this isn’t a terribly formal method that I learned how to do rigorously in school or anything.  No, this is more a common sensical, fly-on-the-wall technique that almost anyone can do if they can forget themselves and instead put themselves in the mind of the target user (and yes, that is why empathy was front-loaded).  My favorite thing about this technique is that it forces me to break out of my own head and patterns; more often than not this change of perspective will help me glean more insights than if I spent the time at my desk trying to come up with someone all on my own.

I did two versions of this assignment.  This post will focus on the first class.  I asked the students to observe a public space–such as a hospital waiting room, Service Canada (single point of access to all government services in Canada), pharmacy, community centers, etc.  While there, they were to take note of what users are trying to do and where it seems like they are encountering pain points.  Then they were to suggest two varieties of design improvements: a “low tech” and a “high tech” solution.

The exercise wasn’t so much about improving these spaces as to learning more about how to collect information in a quick and unobtrusive way, then using the “data” you’ve collected to generate and drive your design ideas.

To demonstrate what I was looking for them to do, I carried out my own User Observation exercise at Vancouver’s King Edward Village. I also matched many of the physical space issues to digital space issues to demonstrate that many of the concepts we encounter in UX Design are not exclusive to the digital domain.  Wayfinding, orientation, and error prevention are all issues that existed long before websites and software were mainstream!

It’s a lengthy batch of slides–who knew King Edward Village could be so beseiged by so many pain points?


Interested in the User Experience course I’m teaching? Here are more posts:

>The First Class

>The Second Class

>The Third Class

>The Fourth Class

>The Fifth Class

>The Sixth Class

>The Seventh Class

>The Eighth Class: Gamification prototypeMobile prototypeScrapbook prototype,  Kiosk prototype.

>The Ninth Class


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