Masonry component products are increasingly made industrially with reduced variation in mechanical properties. The joint is the only part of the masonry that is affected by manual action and so the load bearing capacity is not only determined by the quality of the bricks and mortar used but moreover by the way the masonry has been built and cured. As a result, it may be expected that the largest material variations are at the brick–mortar interfaces. This has been observed as irregular interface bonding with a bonded central area surrounded by fissures. As a consequence of the final shape of the joint, forces concentrate in the central part of the joint and strain variations occur near fissure tips which result in spalling of bricks in experiments. This paper demonstrates the need for detailed deformational measurements in the brick–mortar interface region. To overcome the limitations with traditional measuring instruments, a refined methodology based on the laser speckle technique is introduced in a companion paper [Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, 34(11), 1467 (2007)] by the authors of this paper.