Taking notes and recording research sessions
To capture what happens in our research sessions we take notes and photos, make audio, video and screen recordings, and take copies of paperwork and other material that participants use or refer to.
We use these notes, photos and recordings during analysis to make sure we produce valid findings. And we use extracted quotes, images and clips to illustrate the findings we share.
There is good guidance on Taking notes and recording user research sessions in the Service Manual, and on Capturing User Research in UX Matters.
Here we provide additional, specific guidance for researchers at dxw.
Good practices to follow #
Capture only what we need and have consent for #
We follow good user research practice, and good privacy practice, by capturing only the data we believe we need. For example, not making a video recording, ‘just in case’, if we’ll only ever need a transcript of what the participant says.
And we make sure that anything we capture during a session is covered by the consent we’ve collected. If a participant changes their mind about what they consent to, we are prepared to not make, or to delete recordings we no longer have consent for.
Keep our notes and recordings secure #
We take care of research data to protect our participants’ privacy.
As soon as possible after a session, we transfer any notes and recordings from paper and other devices to our dxw provided laptop. And from there to the dxw Google Drive, or to the client’s research store.
We make sure the files have good names, so we can find them and delete them when we need to.
We keep only anonymised notes, quotes and images in tools like Miro and Trello.
Do not use our personal devices #
We always use a dxw provided device, rather than our personal device, when taking notes and photos, or making recordings.
Using our own devices in research means that personal data about research participants can be mixed into our personal data stores, like cloud photo libraries. And also runs the risk of participants, client staff and colleagues seeing our personal messages and images.
Have a fall back #
The one certainty in user research is that things go wrong. So we make sure we have other options to capture what we need.
- the participant may decide they don’t want to be recorded in a particular way, so we are prepared to switch from video to an audio-only recording, or to just take notes
- our preferred device, app or service may not be working properly, so we have an alternative like a paper notebook
- our note taker, assistant or observer may not be able to join the session, so we are prepared to take notes and make recordings ourselves
We can decide to cancel a session if essential note taking, recording or other data collection is not possible. Whether because of technical problems, or because the participant does not consent.
Using our dxw provided laptop #
Whenever possible, we use our dxw provided laptop for taking notes and making recordings. Our laptops have encrypted drives and we follow good security policies.
With our laptop we can:
- capture notes to a local file or a Google Sheet
- record audio using a microphone and the Voice Memos or Quicktime apps
- record video using an external camera and Quicktime
- record our laptop screen using Quicktime or Screenshot
If research participants will use our laptop or see our screen during a research session, we might create a separate ‘research’ user account on our laptop with things like notifications and browser autofill turned off.
Using the notes template #
We have a template for a Google Sheet we can use to take notes during a research session.
We can make a copy of the sheet for each research session, or make a copy for each batch of research and create tabs within the sheet for each research session.
Using recordings from video calls #
Our preferred service for video calls is Google Meet. We often use it to run and record activities like usability tests, where we ask a participant to share their screen.
We make sure to transfer recordings from the Meet Recordings folder in our personal Google Drive, and give them a good name.
Depending on the client, we may need to use their preferred video call service. If the service keeps recordings in its own cloud storage, we make sure to transfer and rename the video, and delete it from the service.
Using online whiteboards #
We often use online whiteboards like Miro and Trello to capture information during individual and group research sessions.
And we often transfer research data to online whiteboards to support group analysis.
We avoid capturing personally identifiable information about participants in online whiteboards. If we do capture any sensitive information, we make sure to anonymise or delete it.
Using sticky notes and paper worksheets #
We often use sticky notes and paper worksheets to capture information during research sessions, for example when researching users’ experiences.
We give people advice on writing sticky notes, so we can easily use the information recorded.
We avoid capturing personally identifiable information about participants on sticky notes or paper. If we do capture any sensitive information, we tear it up, or use a shredder, to dispose of it.
And we use a dxw provided device, rather than our personal device, to capture the contents of sticky notes and paper worksheets.
Using a dxw provided handheld device #
We always use a dxw provided handheld device, rather than our own phone or tablet, to take photos and short videos during interviews, visits and workshops.
We remember to delete the photos and recordings from the device once we have transferred them to our laptop or to Google Drive.
Using third-party facilities #
When we are using a third party facility like a usability lab, we transfer any recordings made by the lab to our dxw provided laptop, and from there to Google Drive, as soon as possible after the sessions are complete.
Last updated: 30 January 2024 (history)