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 #

  1. Capture only what you need and have consent for

    Good user research practice, and good privacy practice, is to capture only the data you believe you need. For example, don’t make a screen or video recording, ‘just in case’, if you’ll only ever need a transcript of what the participant says.

    Make sure that anything you capture during a session is covered by the consent you’ve collected. If a participant changes their mind about what they consent to, be prepared to not make, or to delete recordings you no longer have consent for.

  2. Do not use your personal devices

    Always use a dxw provided device, rather than your 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.

  3. Keep your notes and recordings secure

    As soon as possible after the session, transfer any notes and recordings from paper and other devices to your dxw provided laptop. And from your laptop to the dxw Google Drive or to the client’s research store.

    Keep only anonymised notes, quotes and images in tools like Miro and Trello.

  4. Have a fall back

    The one certainty in user research is that things go wrong. So make sure you have other options to capture what you need.

    For example:

    • The participant may decide they don’t want to be recorded in a particular way, so be prepared to switch from video to an audio-only recording, or to just take notes
    • Your preferred device, app or service may not be working properly, so have an alternative like a paper notebook
    • Your note taker, assistant or observer may not be able to join the session, so be prepared to take notes and recordings yourself

    Note that if the participant refuses all recording, including note taking, you may want to abandon the session.

Using your dxw provided laptop #

Whenever possible, use your dxw provided laptop for taking notes and making recordings. Our laptops have encrypted drives and we follow good security policies.

With your laptop you 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 your laptop screen using Quicktime or Screenshot

If research participants might use your laptop or see your screen during a research session, it’s a good idea to create a separate ‘research’ user account on your laptop with things like notifications and browser autofill turned off.

Using a dxw provided handheld device #

Use a dxw provided handheld device, rather than own phone or tablet, to take photos and short videos during interviews, visits and workshops.

Remember to delete the photos and recordings from the device once you have transferred them to your laptop or to Google Drive.

Using the notes template #

We have a template for a Google Sheet you can use to take notes during a research session.

You 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 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.

Design paper worksheets, and give people advice on writing sticky notes, so you can easily use the information recorded.

Avoid capturing personally identifiable information about participants on sticky notes or paper. If you capture any sensitive information on sticky notes or paper, make sure to use a shredder to dispose of it.

Use a dxw provided phone or tablet, rather than your personal device, to capture the contents of sticky notes and paper worksheets.

Using a video conferencing service #

Our preferred service for recording remote screen sharing sessions is GoToMeeting. Setup GoToMeeting so that the recorded video is saved onto your dxw provided laptop. And then transfer the video to Google Drive as soon as possible.

Depending on the client, we may need to use their preferred video conferencing service. If the service stores recordings ‘in the cloud’, make sure to download the video as soon as possible and delete it from the service.

Using third-party facilities #

If you are using a third party facility like a usability lab, transfer any recordings made by the lab to your dxw provided laptop as soon as possible after the sessions are complete.

Last updated: 9 May 2023 (history)