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Six Data Points for User Research Documentation

As a user experience consultant, I spend a fair amount of time at the beginning of a project reading existing user research reports. These reports help me understand the user research done in the past, the outcome and what, if anything was iden

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tified for further exploration. For small and relatively simple projects these reports are fairly easy to thread together. But for large and more complex projects that involve multiple user experience professionals conducting user experience activities in parallel, tracing the user research history just six months after the project is complicated and can sometimes be challenging.

Here are the six data points that I think every user research report must include.

1) Revision History:
All reports should start with a revision history that captures the date changes were made, what changes were made and who made the changes. This information helps in understanding, if and how, the project progressed over time and who was responsible for managing those changes.

2) Background:
This section should briefly describe the objectives of the project and highlight any user research that occurred prior to the current research to inform the reader of the user research timeline and provide a context to the information provided in the report. The background should also list the activities (if any) that might be planned after the research. For example, concept evaluation user interviews could be followed by a usability test of a conceptual prototype. Mentioning that upfront reinforces the context of the report.

3) Procedure:
It is critical to provide a detailed description of how the research was conducted (interview, contextual inquiry, usability test, etc), who the research was conducted with (patients, students, lawyers, age group, etc) and what materials were used to conduct the research (prototype, wireframes, 3D models, etc). This information helps validate the report findings in situations where there might be a change in the project requirements (i.e. changing the primary target audience or resolving a contradictory finding from a parallel user research activity).

4) Summary of Findings:
In general, this is the most well read and most well written part of any user research report. To ensure continuity with other reports, it is useful to provide references (if any) to past findings. Besides that, the user research summary should provide a high level overview of what worked, what did not work and key recommendations.

5) Next Steps:
Identifying the next steps is probably one of the most important data points for threading the user research history together; hence this section should

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be as detailed as possible. For example, if certain design features need to be evaluated for technical feasibility, then list all those design features instead of

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making a general statement on validating features with the technical team. Similarly, if some icons need to be redesigned, list the icons and specify if they only need to be redesigned or if they need to be redesigned and retested.

6) Reference documents:
All the documents that were used to conduct the research should be listed in an appendix with links to the actual documents. As a best practice, the documents should be stored in a common repository using a pre-defined naming convention. Examples

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of such documents include: recruiting screeners, interview guides, usability test plans, interactive prototypes, concept sketches, etc. Often times these documents are tweaked and used to conduct additional user research. This not only saves time but also ensures consistency in the user research process.

At Evantage Consulting, we have starting adding these in the reports we create. We have found that they come extremely handy when a the project becomes inactive for a long period of time or when the resources change due to project schedule conflicts.

Are there other data points you think that we should consider ? Please share your thoughts.

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