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It’s Spring Cleaning Time! How to Organize, Automate, and Tidy Up your User Research

Sweep away inefficiencies, Marie Kondo your research repository, and improve research visibility.

Your research process could use some love. This spring, we’re honoring the longstanding tradition of spring cleaning with some tips to help you tidy up your research. We’ll cover how to cut out inefficiencies in your work, Marie Kondo your research repository, and improve research visibility. 

Put your gloves on, grab a broom, and let’s get to it!

Organize the user research data you already have 

We’ll start our spring cleaning by organizing the research data you already have. Being able to easily access research insights long after the research has happened is an important part of building up long-term, organizational knowledge—or doing what Joe Munko of Microsoft calls timeless research. Knowing how many times customers have asked for a certain feature, being able to surface customer quotes on a particular subject, or using previous discovery work to guide your future efforts, for example, can make your UX research more efficient in the future. 

Create a UX research repository

If you didn't already set up a UX research repository while building your research practice, setting one up is the most productive spring cleaning activity you can do. Research repositories make it so much easier to access insights from past research and share it with everyone on your team.

So, what exactly is a research repository? Essentially, it’s a research database, somewhere for all of the information you collect during your research to live. There are two main types of content in a research repository—the input you need to conduct research and the output that comes from research. Input can include things like research plans, interview guides, and a mission statement for your research team. Output can include things like research findings, relevant tags, transcriptions of interviews, and research reports. 

Research Repository: Researchers, Sales and support groups, and Product teams all contribute to a research repository with findings, reports, status, requests, and more.

Everyone can benefit from a UX research repository, even if they’re not researchers themselves. For example, we use currently Productboard as our main repository and issue tracking software. It allows us to track the requests our Sales team hears in demo calls, issues from customers who write in to our Project Coordinators on Zendesk, and even passing comments we hear from customers. Everyone can add insights, tag them, and pass them along to our Product team. This way, nothing gets lost and our Product team can surface the most common issues easily for their next research project. 

Productboard works for us right now because it has lots of integrations to make sharing insights easy for anyone at User Interviews—but your team may need a different solution. We’re a small team of 50ish people, so what works for us may not work for others. 

Here’s a few examples of popular research repositories and case studies from UX researchers who have used them. There are tons of templates and tools to fit every budget, team, and working style.

Free research repository templates 

A free template can be a great tool if you don’t have a big budget or just want to play around with a few things to understand what you really need from a repository. Just keep in mind that you’ll likely need to upgrade to a paid plan wherever your template is hosted eventually. 

  • Konstantin Escher, head of User Research at OneFootball’s free Notion template. He walks you through the process of setting it up, the trial and error his team experienced, and why it works in this article

Research repository tools

There are a variety of purpose-built UX research repository tools out there. These tools were made with user researchers in mind, and some offer features and integrations that free templates can’t compete with. If you have a dedicated research team and budget, they may offer more robust solutions. 

These three tools are part of the UX Research Flex Stack and offer features that help you track and tag user insights and keep track of things like raw notes and transcriptions: 

EnjoyHQ dashboard with a top tags report

EnjoyHQ offers unlimited transcription with every plan, which can be great for getting a detailed account of the topics you covered in an interview. Here’s how Lindsay Boylan, a user research team of one at Mariana Trek, used EnjoyHQ as her research repository

Oh, and if you sign up for EnjoyHQ through the UX Research Flex Stack, you can get 50% off your first 3 months of EnjoyHQ

Dovetail dashboard with video and transcript being edited

Dovetail offers an automatic sentiment analysis tool that tags insights as positive or negative and full-text search with filters, which makes it easier to retrieve all kinds of data. This can be great for teams that want to spend less time tagging their notes and more time doing research. Here’s how Intrepid Group, an adventure travel provider, uses Dovetail to keep track of their research. 

If you sign up for Dovetail through the UX Research Flex Stack, you can get 2 months free, with no credit card or commitment required. 

Aurelius dashboard with tags, notes, and documents

Aurelius offers unlimited projects, users, and storage, so you won’t have to upgrade to get more people on your research team. This can be great for growing teams, or teams that need everyone to have equal access to their repository. 

If you sign up for Aurelius through the UX Research Flex Stack, you can save 10% on any plan.

Clean up your research repository 

Already have a research repository set up? Fantastic, that means your spring cleaning just got a little easier. If you’ve had a repository for a while, you can focus your efforts on Marie Kondo-ing what's included in that repository. 

Of course, cleaning out a user research repository isn’t as simple as “if it doesn’t bring you joy, toss it”.

There are probably some negative customer feedback notes or studies that didn’t go quite to plan that don’t bring much joy, but which you can learn something from in the future. But just because you can’t toss out the feedback you don’t like doesn’t mean you can’t tidy things up. Here are some frameworks you can follow to help ensure that everything in your repository is spick and span. 

Organize your bookshelves: Give some thought to your UX research taxonomy

A UX research taxonomy is a system of naming and classifying things within your research repository. If you don’t have one, you may find that people don’t know how to search for insights, what category or tags to assign to new inputs, or even what certain tags and keywords mean. If these problems are coming up often for your team, it may be time to revisit your taxonomy. 

Lucky for us, our friends at EnjoyHQ have made a wonderful Mural template to walk you through different parts of a research taxonomy as part of their Ultimate User Research Repository Checklist. It includes establishing who has access to research and why, different levels of classification and what they mean, and properties you can use within the research repository. 

Clean out the fridge: Evaluate the usefulness of old research 

Is old research still relevant to the work you are doing today? Kate Towsey, Research Operations Lead at Atlassian, posed this question to the ReOps community and received a lot of different answers. As with many things in research, her conclusion is that “it depends”. Any research that is done really well is worth saving in some way, but the first-ever research project you ran may not be so helpful three years later. 

The challenge with saving old research projects is that you may end up using outdated data to make decisions. For example, if you’re looking for your next research project and see lots of data pointing to a problem with your pricing page, that may seem like a good project to tackle next. But if your pricing page has been updated since that data was collected, that data should be looked at through a different lens. 

So, every now and then you may need to take a look at your old research projects and findings. This EnjoyHQ template is helpful here. It asks some important questions that can help you determine whether an old project is still relevant to the work you’re doing today. If a project doesn’t fit in, archive it and make space for something new. 

Label everything! Ensure entries are tagged properly 

Research is a long process. Sometimes by the time you reach the end of a project, you may have forgotten to add all the correct tags to your repository entries. Over time, these omissions can add up and create a cache of findings that aren’t associated with the right tag—or any tag at all. As a final tidying up step, go through your research repository and look for entries without tags. Giving them the proper tags typically takes a few minutes—less, if you make a habit of it.

If you’ve changed your taxonomy, this process may be more laborious, since you’ll be retagging most entries. Know that even though it’s time-consuming, this process is incredibly important to creating a good, usable research repository.

Map your existing feedback channels

The last thing you’ll need to do to organize the research data you already have is to map your feedback channels. Map where feedback comes from and where it is stored. Are there gaps in the data you’re collecting? Are support tickets falling through the cracks when it comes to storing research data? You likely have some customer feedback that isn’t quite making it to your research repository, and getting this under control can help you make better research decisions in the future. 

EnjoyHQ has yet another template that can be really useful when mapping your feedback. The best parts? You can get other teams to help! Using the template, you can ask each department to fill out their sections and get a clearer picture of where feedback lives without chasing down every answer yourself. 

Once you know where feedback is coming in, you can think about how to get it into your research repository. Zapier can be helpful for creating integrations if none exist in your repository. For example, we push Slack messages to our repository in Productboard without leaving Slack. This makes it easy for everyone to actually keep up with putting feedback where it’s supposed to go. Making storing feedback easy and accessible to everyone means you’ll have a more complete research repository in the future. 

Make your current research process more efficient 

The whole idea behind spring cleaning is to clear some clutter, bring some fresh air and energy in, and make your life a little bit easier in the coming year. So we’re doing exactly that with your user research process. We’ve already covered how important a good research repository is, but there are other things you can do to tidy up the actual research process itself.  

Conduct a UX research tools audit 

There are a huge variety of research tools out there, both general and tailored to specific use cases. We mapped out the tools landscape and how different software can come together in a custom stack in r our UX Research Tools Map. Chances are, there are some you haven’t heard of that may be a better use of your budget and make your research process faster. 

2020 UX Research Tools Map: Subway style map with UX research tools from different categories

To conduct a tools audit, all you have to do is look at your current stack. What tools do you use all the time? What are you paying for that you haven’t used in months? What’s your biggest pain point with your current stack? Once you’ve answered those, you’ll know which tools you absolutely need to keep as a part of your stack, and where you can look for some improvements. 

Additionally, take the time to think through ways to make your tools work together better. You can Google each tool, ex. “User Interviews and Zoom”, to see if there are any existing integrations you aren’t taking advantage of. These can help speed up your research process and make your life a little easier. You can also check out our Tools Map to see if any of your tools have more than one use. 

Improve your note-taking process

It can be a bit of a juggling act to moderate a user research session and take notes at the same time. Even if you have a dedicated note-taker to help you out, analyzing all those notes once the session is over can be tedious and messy. If this is a pain point for your team, you may want to look into the following solutions:

Make research analysis easier with a note taking tool

New research tools are popping up all the time, designed to make research easier.One of our favorites is an app called Grain. Grain integrates with Zoom to help you record and transcribe your calls. Plus, you can highlight important moments during the call and share them with teammates or add them to your research repository for future reference. 

Transcripts are a great way to get a verbatim account of what happened during a session, which can help combat bias by providing an objective record of the conversation. In the past, transcription has been expensive to have done by hand. But natural language processing has come a long way, and tools like Grain are actually producing quite decent transcripts. 

If you can’t use Grain for your Zoom calls, you could consider a tool like Descript for transcription and video highlights. You have to upload your recording after your session, so there’s a bit more manual effort involved—but the tool creates decent transcripts automatically and makes creating video highlights easy as pie. 

Standardize your user research notes with a template

The trouble with sourcing note-takers from your team is that everyone takes notes differently. Some people write everything down verbatim, while others create concise bullet points. Creating a template can help note-takers understand what’s most important in a session and how they should document it. A template makes assembling your research easier, increases the accuracy of your notes across sessions, and ensures your research analysis is consistent. 

We included some templates in our UX Research Launch Kits to help you get started. 

What’s nice about our templates (if we do say so ourselves) is that they automatically send your notes to an analysis document so you can quickly scan through everything at the end of your project. 

Recruit user research participants automagically

Recruitment can be one of the most time consuming parts of the research process. Set yourself up for success by recruiting participants automagically before you need them. By linking actions like leaving an NPS score with an automated invitation to participate in research, you can build up a panel of research participants in the background while you focus on other work. 

We do this here at User Interviews, sending an email to anyone who has completed one research project with us but hasn’t launched a second

User Interviews test participant email

You can add people who complete specific actions to a list, using Zapier or your email CRM, and send them an invite to a research session with you. Once they’ve agreed to be on your research panel, you can use Research Hub to keep track of all those participants. Later, when you’re ready to conduct a session, you can easily find participants.

Spend less time putting together your final research presentation

Analyzing all that research data takes time. There are things you can do at the beginning of your project to make the analysis stage more efficient and effective.

If you use our Launch Kits to take notes, you’ll automatically get an auto-filled overview of all of your notes in a section of the template. This makes it easy to see any answers that stand out from the rest, or get a sense of any trends. This automation is easy to replicate in Google Sheets with an array formula function, which copies over the cells from your note taking sheet. 

Kyle Brady, Senior UX Researcher at Keap uses a similar approach to get stakeholders on board with his project before he’s even finished. 

“This is a real balancing act; you want to get stakeholders results quickly, but you also know there is a tendency for stakeholders to take preliminary data and run with it. This excitement is fantastic, but it means potentially acting on incomplete findings. What I find remedies this is a combination of preparation — with respect to the collection, coding, and analyzing of data – and transparency in communication – with respect to communicating results.”

Kyle manages to communicate findings to stakeholders and manage expectations by—

  • Setting up specific data collection fields that map to from his Excel sheet to his final PowerPoint presentation. 
  • Adding quotes from sessions to the PowerPoint as he finishes sessions.
  • Sharing preliminary results once 25-30% of data is collected. 
  • Making it extremely clear to stakeholders that all data is preliminary and no action should be taken until the study is complete.

This kind of automation is easy to create, can save you time on analysis, and help you get data to stakeholders at the speed of light (or you know, just a lot faster). Plus, creating templates can help you standardize your research process, so you’re not starting from scratch each time.

Cultivate UX research buy-in

User research doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So bring your team along for the ride!

We’ve already talked about including people from different parts of your team as note takers. This is an easy and low-effort way to make people feel included in the research process and give them an opportunity to empathize with customers. 

At User Interviews, we set up a notification system to ping a specific channel in Slack each time a new “session scheduled” email hit the researcher’s inbox. Then, anyone can offer to take notes on that session by replying with an 🙋‍♀️ emoji. This makes it easy for everyone to fit research into their schedule. Setting this system up took a few minutes in Zapier and helped us make it easier to participate in research. Win win!

Cyril Rouhana, Senior UI/UX Designer and Team Lead at Label Engine, also uses Slack channels to keep stakeholders involved with research

“I frequently post design and UX related articles from my regular readings [in a dedicated Slack channel]. The channel is open to anyone in the company to join and give feedback. In addition, a bi-weekly workshop around UX basics and how to incorporate it into everyday tasks.”

Creating a shared space can make it easy for stakeholders to stay informed about ongoing projects, the importance of user research, and what you’re learning along the way. It could be a Slack channel, a Google Drive folder, a Notion board, or anything else you can dream up. 

Wrapping up

No matter what time of year it is, it’s always a good idea to tidy things up a bit. Remember to keep your research repository organized and up to date, revisit your taxonomy if it’s not serving your team, automate where you can, and bring your stakeholders along for the ride.

Carrie Boyd
Former Content Writer at UI

Carrie Boyd is a UXR content wiz, formerly at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

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