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30 August 2022

Make user research accessible for your colleagues, not just your participants.

Rachel Abbott

As part of being a user research consultant, I am constantly challenged and learning how to improve my skills and approaches. I frequently run usability research sessions, but one recently made me question how I have been doing things. 

In this recent session, I called on various colleagues to be involved through observation and note-taking. As usual, I had created [what I thought was] a helpful Miro template for note-taking, with pre-populated stickies, columns, colour coding, question prompts etc. After one particularly juicy research session with some great insights, I returned to the board to see what my note-taker had written. It looked a bit……empty. I’ll admit, I was a tad worried.

When I checked in with her to see what had happened, she informed me that she was Dyslexic and had taken her notes separately on a word document. She explained how this was a much better method for her, as she felt she couldn’t keep up with taking notes using stickies. She also added that by doing it this way, she was able to go back through and edit her notes for spelling mistakes and comprehension. 

Don’t underestimate the power of self-reflection

This made me reflect on my own practice as a researcher and how, whilst I always consider how to make my sessions accessible to participants, I had neglected to consider whether any of my colleagues had access needs. With around 10% of the UK adult population having Dyslexia, I could expect that this would be an issue for a number of other people on my projects. I spoke to some of my Hippo colleagues who have Dyslexia to see if this was something that they had also experienced. 

“I’ve struggled at times to take notes in UR as I can’t capture what is being said quick enough. It’s a bit like hearing two people talking at once and trying to write what they are saying. I can capture bits, but very often, I can’t capture word for word as I miss words out, and then I try to fill it in. This has been really difficult and means I try to avoid being a note taker for UR and only engage with UR when I can just sit in and listen.” — Developer.

In note-taking, I also struggle a lot. Therefore I prefer being an observer if possible. But if I have to do it, I turn on Live Speech and take a screenshot if I need to. Then I transfer over after the call. I struggle to spell….and I will miss some notes while trying to spell [words]” — Service designer.

“I have dyslexia, and part of that I have short-term memory loss. I have loads of ways to cope with it myself but summarising after a conversation is difficult for me with dyslexia” — UX designer.

A man wearing glasses and a denim shirt sits at a laptop, taking user research notes in a notebook next to him.
People have different ways of consuming and processing information – and note-taking is no exception.

Providing flexibility in user research 

There was clearly a theme around people with Dyslexia needing additional processing time and flexibility in format when it came to taking notes in a user research session. I asked my colleagues what sorts of things would help to support them with this.

“knowing that the session is being recorded and that maybe there are two people note taking rather than one. That way, it takes some of the pressure away of getting it 100% accurate, but also just allowing me to note take without having to fill in a form always helps.” — Developer.

“ I always find taking notes in post-its is much easier because I can organise it in a way I can go back to. Recorded sessions are always helpful as I don’t mind taking extra time to listen again and write the notes.”Service designer.

“It’s weird as I didn’t even think of mentioning any adjustments for myself in that type of situation, only the user” —  UX designer.

The solution

These conversations have helped me to reflect on how we, as researchers, should ensure we are making research accessible and inclusive to our colleagues and team members, not just thinking about the participants or users themselves. 

Some things to consider when involving others in your user research:

  • When asking for note-takers, ask if anyone has any access needs or requires any adjustments to participate in the research.
  • Provide people with the discussion guide in advance so they can see the session’s structure.
  • Giving people with Dyslexia more time to complete their notes — this might mean it is better for them to note-take for sessions earlier in the round than later.
  • Allowing people to take notes in a way that works for them — and offering different methods as examples.
  • Recording sessions, so they are available for people to revisit to check their notes afterwards.

You can learn more about what research and analysis consultants do at Hippo here. 

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