Helping Remote Teams Visualize User Data

EarthHow do you communicate user data with teams that are not co-located?  This can be a common problem with larger companies. If you’re able to, you can travel to their location and run usability interviews with them as guests. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a team that will actually read your notes from individual interviews (yes, I have actually had teams read notes from EVERY participant – amazing! While this can mean a lot of time typing, it works well with some people. Just make sure they read more than one participant, so they do focus too much on one person’s needs/issues.).

I attended a UPA conference a few years ago. One of the more memorable presentations  (Usability Analysis Visualization to Improve Communication and Build Trust by Rally Pagulayan, Oracle) included a method of sharing data with teams: affinity diagrams. The method was labor intensive, but effective. Each piece of data was put on an individual post it note. Then, the notes were organized hierarchically on a wall in their lab. Any duplicate data grew into larger stacks. When other team members would come into the lab to see how the sessions were going, they could immediately see all of the important points. Also, for those team members that normally ignored feedback from the usability team (yes, you know they’re out there!), they were able to see all the data and had less inclination to argue.

I thought this method was interesting, but I tended to work with remote teams at the time. So, I came up with a similar method. Instead of using post it notes, I created PowerPoint and Visio presentations. Each page contained a grouping of data. The first page would contain information about the user group (age, computer experience, occupation, location, etc.). Other pages would cover a theme of user data (e.g. a specific portion of the website or task completed). Then, I would organize the data hierarchically. I wanted to convey the large amount of user data for certain points and make sure interesting, if not regularly brought up, data was easily found. I also wanted to put down some thoughts I had while looking at the data and watching sessions. A piece of sample data can be seen here:


I used a few visual differentiators:

  • Thick borders are used to point out repetitive data.
  • Dotted lines are used for comments from the UX tester.
  • Red borders are used for issues on the site, again using the thickness to illustrate highly repetitive issues. Other methods of differentiation may be needed if you work with someone who is color blind.
  • Participant numbers for each comment is listed to follow specific user needs. If one of the users was a manager and all other users are worker-bees, their approach to the website can be very different. Being able to track comments from both user types can be useful.

While I know this method requires a lot of work, it can be really useful for a couple situations. First of all, if you are new to a team and the team is unsure where you get your suggestions/designs from, creating these documents will help them see the huge quantity of data obtained via user sessions. They can also easily see where the repetitive data is. The data can be used for talking points to explain the design. After a while, hopefully you can earn the trust of the team and will no longer need to use these diagrams. Another time the diagrams can be handy is when you have an issue that is a “hot topic” for various members of the team. You can create a mini diagram for the area of interest. Seeing user data that is specific to the issue can help with discussions, although there are always people who will not change their minds, even with the data!

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