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Tips To Make Synthesizing Your Qualitative User Research “Less Hard”

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The summer before my senior year of high school, my friends and I ventured two hours north for the “thrill” of the amusement park at Cedar Point. As adventurous as I am, truth be told I despise roller coasters, but the combination of peer pressure and FOMO has a funny affect on a teenager. Absent of any digital technology during our trip (GPS or smart phones), we relied on printed directions from a site called MapQuest.

The steps before, during and after a road trip are similar to how I think about my user research process. With a bit of planning, flexibility, communication, and a consistent end goal, the outcome of your data can lend itself well to a “less hard” research synthesis process.

User research, like road trips, works better with a well thought out action plan beforehand.

Before the interview

Align on the goals of the research

A foundational research goal and plan helps support a successful synthesis process, otherwise it is difficult to know what you should be synthesizing. Here’s how to make an effective research plan.

Understand the general framework you will use to synthesize

Working from your research plan, what should be the high-level components of the interview? These pieces will build out the framework for your synthesis (ie: workflow, challenges, goals, ideal, etc.).

Identify the tools you will use

You should never set out on a road trip unprepared. Pinpoint which tools will help you consolidate and understand your data. Our team has embraced Dropbox Paper for note-taking and Airtable for synthesis.

Invite team members

Welcoming different perspectives to sit in during the interview can help extract the valuable patterns and trends as they emerge, since each team member will listen for different takeaways depending on their background. Evangelizing the research is an added bonus.

Gauge your trip and user interviews: how is everything going?

During the interview

If possible, aim to always have a copilot

Taking notes while conducting the interview can be done, but it’s a lot to manage for one person. It’s like reading off paper directions and driving a car; it’s possible but risky, induces mistakes, and ultimately makes the drive unnecessarily more stressful.

Stay on track (ish)

Although the team is guided by the research plan and discussion guide, qualitative research should always be met with exceptions. Allow yourself to make a few pit stops on your trip if interesting data welcomes itself.

Practice reflection: what stood out to the group?

After Interview

Leave 10 minutes at the end of the interview for an internal discussion with your team

  • What stood out during the interview?
  • Did you notice any non-verbal cues?
  • What patterns or themes are starting to emerge?
  • Any oddball information that came up?
  • Should any slight iterations take place to our research plan or discussion guide?* (be conservative and intentional)

Recap the interview as a group

Aim to round out 10-15 high-level data points that came out during the interview, and pull those to the top of your notes. Your future self will thank you (seriously), and creating ease of access to your data points in context during the synthesis phase is a game-changer.

Keep your stakeholders in the loop

I share small, informal recaps with my clients in order to make the research process more transparent, and to make them feel more involved throughout the process, as opposed to saving it for a “grand reveal.”

  • Who we’ve interviewed thus far
  • Who’s scheduled for an upcoming interview
  • What high-level themes are we hearing (tease it out a bit) and maybe a quote or two

Without a map, a tank full of gas, and an end destination, road trips can get out of hand pretty quickly. The same goes for user research. If you want to derive the most value and gain legitimate insights into the question you’re trying to answer, you need to come prepared.

With a clear research framework, the right tools, and a research goal to guide you, your qualitative research process should be smoother, faster, and more successful, which will make synthesizing that information “less hard,” so you can create a better, and more educated, user experience.

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