A Wall You’re Allowed To Write On
June 30, 2017

A Wall You're Allowed To Write On


Entering a design research project can be intimidating – heck, sometimes it’s even tough to talk to a new coworker, not to mention interviewing and gathering data from hundreds, even thousands, of new faces. Graffiti walls can be a simple, open way of gathering input from diverse audiences – and are efficient. Once you’ve set up your graffiti wall, it’s not time-intensive to monitor or collect responses.

What Are Graffiti Walls?

A design research method, graffiti walls have three parts:

  • a prompt (usually a single question),
  • a large-scale canvas (banner paper, chalkboard, bulletin board with notecards or sticky notes, etc.)
  • and writing materials (feel free to use color to encourage creativity!) for responses.

These materials are then placed in a common area where your audiences can interact with them. Graffiti walls gather qualitative data – i.e. words, shared language, creative responses that are descriptive in nature, and not numerical.

When Graffiti Walls Are Useful

Consider the audience you are trying to gather information from when deciding to use graffiti walls. Would your audience(s) be comfortable talking to a researcher? If not, a graffiti wall can provide an open forum for them to still be a valuable contributor.

Do time, space, or other constraints prevent easy access to your audience(s)? If so, graffiti walls can provide an accessible space to contribute over a sustained period of time.

Is language a key focus of your design research project (such as branding, organizational mission, vision, and values, etc.)? If so, graffiti walls can cast a wide net for gathering lots of language from a large group of contributors.

When…They Aren’t

Graffiti walls shouldn’t be considered the end-all, be-all method for collecting qualitative research from your audiences. If you’re trying to accomplish one of the below objectives, you should utilize a different design research method:

  • You need to hear from specific individuals. Graffiti walls are (typically) anonymous in nature, and don’t force participation. If you absolutely need to attribute input from a specific individual, a more focused, individual method should be used.
  • Your audience’s responses require context or expansion. Graffiti wall submissions are best as short, descriptive words and phrases. If your audience will want to explain their answer at length, consider interviews, surveys, or other methods that encourage expansive input.
  • You need quantitative data. If your research question needs to provide you with numbers, it’s best to stay away from graffiti walls – which, because of their open nature, should not be relied upon to score audience perception, satisfaction, or other metrics.