According to Google Trends, the search term “what is an NDA” saw a massive spike in July of 2021, going from an interest value of 8 to its peak at 100—any idea why?
Nope, it’s not because non-disclosure agreements suddenly became of wild interest to the general public. That was the month Billie Eilish released her song “NDA.”
Notice, afterwards, that the search volume quickly dropped. Even the seven-time Grammy winner and fashion icon couldn’t make NDAs cool for very long—and I’m not sure that I, a zero-time Grammy winner and decidedly more of a practical dresser, will be able to do any better.
It’s a dry topic and, to be honest, not one that most UX researchers will need to think about. But when you’re doing user research that deals with sensitive company information, NDAs are an important protective measure. When you do need a non-disclosure agreement, you need a good one.
(And because I’m not a legal professional, it’s worth mentioning that you should always consult with your legal team if you think you need an NDA!)
In this article, we’ll go over:
- What an NDA is (and is not)
- When and why you might need an NDA in user research
- How long an NDA typically lasts
- 5 tips for writing, sending, and storing NDAs
- Tools for collecting signatures
- Free, printable NDA templates for user research
(And I’ll do my best to make this as exciting as possible.)
What is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)?
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are legal documents that establish a confidential relationship between a company and the person signing the NDA.
They can be used in many different situations, like:
- Prohibiting an employee from revealing company secrets after they’ve moved on
- Ensuring that investors don’t share sensitive information after a pitch
- Preventing vendors or freelancers from sharing passwords or trade secrets
In the context of UX research, NDAs are typically used to make sure research participants don’t share sensitive or confidential information they learn during a research session. If your participant is sharing their own company’s sensitive information, they may require you to sign an NDA as well.
Are NDAs, confidentiality agreements, and consent forms the same thing?
In order to understand what an NDA is, you also need to understand what an NDA is not.
Although you might hear them used interchangeably, here’s a quick distinction between NDAs, confidentiality agreements, and consent forms.
NDAs vs. confidentiality agreements
Ok, I lied—there isn’t actually much of a distinction here.
NDAs and confidentiality agreements are virtually the same thing (they both deal with information security) and the terms are often used interchangeably.
NDAs vs. consent forms
It’s less common for folks to confuse NDAs with consent forms, but it still happens from time to time.
Here’s the difference:
- NDAs are a document that legally binds two or more parties from disclosing confidential information. They keep the information revealed during a study secret.
- Informed consent forms indicate that both parties understand their rights, privacy, and expectations. They help people make educated decisions about whether to—and document their willingness to—participate.
In the context of UX research, NDAs protect you and your company, while consent forms are primarily designed to protect the participants.
Although NDAs aren’t always necessary, consent forms are often required by law. Even when they aren’t required by law, many researchers consider them a non-negotiable component of ethical research.
💡 For more information about consent forms, check out “Consent Forms for UX Research: A Starter Template.”
What is the purpose of a non-disclosure agreement for user research?
To keep sensitive information secret.
That’s basically it… But you don’t always need them.
Examples of scenarios in which you might need an NDA:
- When you’re developing a new product and you don’t want competitors to find out before the product is publicly released.
- When you’re considering moving into a new market or targeting a new audience and you, again, don’t want competitors to find out.
- When you’re interviewing professional (B2B) participants who need to reveal details about their own companies.
- When you’re discussing proprietary information such as customer lists, pricing, profit, or the overall financial landscape of your company.
- When you’re working with vendors or freelancers who need access to proprietary information or business accounts.
How long should an NDA last?
It depends, since every NDA is unique. Each party will need to agree on the term, and it will vary depending on the circumstances.
How to write, send, and store an NDA for UX research: 5 tips
1. Decide what type of NDA fits your situation.
There are two main types of NDAs:
- In a one-way NDA, only one party is receiving confidential information and is subject to confidentiality obligations.
- In a mutual NDA, both parties are receiving confidential information and are subject to confidentiality obligations.
You’ll need to decide what kind of NDA will best suit your needs—and whether or not you even need an NDA in the first place. Be sure to consult your legal team on this to avoid any costly mistakes or oversights.
2. Include all the essential information.
An NDA should cover all of the essential information, including:
- Identification of parties: Who’s involved?
- Definitions: What is and isn’t considered “confidential” information?
- Obligations: What can and can’t the parties do after signing the NDA?
- Scope: What kind of information is covered by the NDA?
- Duration: How long will the NDA last?
- Return or disposal of information: How will confidential information be returned or disposed of after the study?
- Exclusions: In which situations does the NDA not apply?
- Remedies: What happens if a party violates the NDA?
You can start with an NDA template (scroll down to the templates section for a few examples) as a quickstart outline, but make sure your legal team gets the chance to review it.
3. Don’t move forward with the study before collecting a signature.
Just as you wait ’til you open your umbrella before running into the rain, you’ll ideally collect participant signatures before the research session. This way, you don’t have extra tasks to complete during the session or worry about a participant not signing the documents and pulling out of your research at the last minute.
See #4 for signature collection tools to help you make this process as painless as possible—but if you prefer to collect signatures on your own, you can also send your forms to participants beforehand and ask them to bring a signed copy to the session.
4. Use tools like User Interviews to collect signatures.
If your company requires NDAs for more than just research sessions, it’s possible you already have access to a document signing service, so be sure to ask around!
If you don't, here are some tools you can use to get your NDAs and other documents signed.
User Interviews is integrated with HelloSign to enable simple document signing for NDAs and other agreements, all built into your recruitment workflow. We’ll send you a copy of the signed document before their session, so you can spend less time working about the logistics, and more time focusing on the research itself.
DocuSign is a popular online document signing service with robust enterprise features. It has a variety of pricing plans for different use cases and team sizes, and offers support for over 43 languages.
SignEasy is another popular online document signing service. It offers signing links that you can send to participants or even embed in your webpage to gather signatures quickly, but you’ll need to upgrade to their highest plan for enterprise features.
DocHub allows users to not only sign documents, but also to edit and fill PDF documents. DocHub offers a free plan and is integrated with Google, so for some users it may be easy to use directly from their Google Drive.
5. Store your signed NDAs in a secure place.
Once you’ve gathered your signed NDAs, you’ll need to store them in a secure and organized way that makes it possible to access them later. Your legal team might already have an archive in place for legal documents like NDAs, so check with them to make sure you’re following the correct procedure.
(If you needed a kick in the pants to get your research more organized, consider this your sign. Creating a standardized insights repository to organize all your research data, not just documents, is key to maintaining your both sanity and compliance.)
💡 Learn more: How to organize, automate, and tidy up your UX research.
Free, printable NDA templates for user research
You’ll want to consult with your legal team on the details, but here are a couple of NDA templates to get you started:
- LegalTemplates’s free NDA template was reviewed by legal counsel and allows you to tailor the document based on the relationship between parties before downloading.
- PlaybookUX NDA Template for Usability Tests’s NDA template is a great jumping off point if you need an NDA for your research, but aren’t sure where to start.
- eForms’s free NDA templates allow you to search and download templates by state.
Looking for a better way to collect NDA signatures?
Look no further—User Interviews simplifies the NDA process with our powerful panel management and recruitment automation tools. We not only manage document signing for you, but also automate many other tedious aspects of research recruitment such as scheduling, distributing incentives, and messaging participants with important reminders and follow-up.
Research Hub is the best panel management solution for research teams that value customer conversations. Customizable enough to support the enterprise, yet simple enough for small teams to use out of the box, Research Hub powers recruitment for many of the world’s most customer-centric organizations like Wayfair, Spotify, and Figma.
Visit our pricing page to learn more about our Document Signing Add-On for NDAs and other features to streamline participant recruitment and management.