Learn more about user experience, web development and digital marketingView training courses

We complete a lot of user tests at Webcredible and as a new user experience consultant I often find myself frantically writing pages and pages of notes. One of the biggest learning curves for me was how to take notes effectively so I could then find useful information quickly.

I decided to tap into the knowledge and expertise of the UX team to share tips and tricks on how they take notes taking during user testing.

It’s important to note that we always work on user tests in pairs; one moderator and one observer. The observer’s notes are typically more useful and detailed than the moderator’s whose main task is guiding participant through the site and exposing relevant issues. That said, at Webcredible both the moderator and observer take notes when we run user testing.

First, I would like to add there is no ‘right answer’ on how to take notes during testing sessions. However, here are some ways we do it at Webcredible. I hope it helps!

Pen and paper

Alex uses an aluminium clipboard with loose paper, the advantage of which is that participant can’t see what you are writing down and you can easily write without the support of the desk. Participants seem very relaxed when he writes, maybe because this is a very familiar way of taking notes.

Pete and Rich both use post-it notes (Please forgive the excessive use of post-it notes in our office). The advantage is that you can categorise information as you go along, either by feature or type of problem. A benefit of this method is that you already have a top level analysis at the end of the test. This method is easier when you are observing the session from the viewing room.

Some of us also use different highlighters to colour code discoveries.

Hi-tech notes

Most of our office are fans of digital note taking and there are advantages of using tablets and mobile phones. You won’t have the difficulty of trying to decipher poor handwriting and the notes are searchable. However, I’ve noticed that some participants aren’t at ease when I typed on the iPad. It seems most people are not completely used to this way to taking notes yet.

Morae Remote is good for taking notes as an observer and you can type up notes and bookmark places in the recording as they occur.

I have no experience of using ‘Livescribe‘ but it certainly has potential. The Livescribe Pulse is part pen, part digital recorder and part scanner. As you write on the special dotted paper, an infrared camera at the tip of the smart pen tracks everything you write down and a built-in digital recorder records the audio in the room. When you review your notes, you can play back the session by pointing with the pen to the appropriate part of your notes. I imagine the technology will have to develop somewhat before this method of note taking becomes popular, but it’s an interesting product nonetheless!

What do we actually write down?

It’s important to note that we always work on user tests in pairs; one moderator and one observer. The observer’s notes are typically more useful and detailed than the moderator’s whose main task is guiding participant through the site and exposing relevant issues. That said, at Webcredible both the moderator and observer take notes when we run user testing.

Mostly quotes from participants which helps a lot with writing the report and producing a highlight video afterwards. We often write down the time stamp if it’s a really good quote to find it easily in the recording.

In addition to what the participants say and do, we also write down immediately apparent solutions and recommendations. These might not always be the right solutions but it’s the start of the problem solving process and important to do.

How do we make sure the notes are useful?

  • Organise the notes by participant and then again into themes
  • Use shorthand or even sketches for quick scribbling
  • Take a lot of notes in the first few sessions and use the following sessions to collect evidence for recurring issues
  • Note down timestamps for recurring issues and good quotes
  • Start with a list of tasks as section headings and write the notes under each task

How do we use the notes after the tests?

There are some common steps we all go through. First, we go through the notes to categorise the information by participants and task. Secondly, we analyse the findings, either by comparing notes from differing sessions and finding the common issues or extracting the key points. Lastly, we use the notes as a reference during writing reports or debriefing with the clients.

There are endless ways for taking notes in user testing sessions. It’s important to try out different methods and find what works for you and the project at hand. For the moment, I have settled with Evernote on my iPad and highlighting the most important points after each session.

If you want to learn more about user testing, we have a training course dedicated to the subject. User testing is also one of our core services as a consultancy, so if you don’t feel up to the task, get us involved!

Comments

  • Sarah Alder says

    Very interesting, especially the point about lots of notes in the first sessions and then looking for points that support recurring issues. I have also worried that I seem to take fewer notes in later sessions, was I losing interest? Failing to concentrate?

    Thanks.

    11 June 2013 at 1:44 pm

Leave a comment

Required indicates required fields

 

Case studies

Our success stories

  • UCAS

    UCAS's Track portal is award-winning, achieving a 95%+ satisfaction rating across its 750,000 users

  • Hotels.com

    Hotels.com gained a much stronger competitive advantage due to a great mobile & tablet strategy

  • Pearson Education

    Pearson Education has embedded user-centred design into all their digital design processes

More case studies

Training academy

View training courses

About us

We're a user experience agency (UX agency) that creates people-centered, efficient and delightful digital experiences.

Get in touch on 020 7423 6320

Back to top