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Stop Lights and Rainbow Charts: Two Engaging Templates for Qual Research Reports

Use these two straightforward report frameworks to present findings in an engaging (and colorful!) way

Words by Nikki Anderson, Visuals by Emma McKhann

I sometimes struggle to find ways to present user research that is both digestible and actionable.

Qualitative research tends to include words, quotes, and audio clips. These reports can become text-heavy and difficult or time-consuming for team members to read.

Lengthy reports can be counterproductive if you are working with a new team, coming in for a short time as a contract worker, or trying to convince people to actually read your research.

However, qualitative research, especially usability testing, is fundamental to share across a company.

After several attempts to share usability test results, I found that stakeholders weren't gaining the most value from my reports. I set out to find a different way.

I started by talking to the stakeholders involved. I asked them what information was most important to them to see in a report. With this, I could understand the hierarchy of information they needed and better prioritize my reports.

From there, I did my research on how to present usability test findings. Finally, I came to two different and useful reports:

  1. Stop light (or traffic light) Usability Testing Reports
  2. Rainbow Charts

Jump to:

Another relevant read: How to Present Your Research So Stakeholders Take Notice and Take Action

Report #1: Stop light reports

There are a lot of different ways to do stop light reports. The way I do mine highlight the following:

  1. Convey whether or not a user has passed a usability testing task
  2. Include how severe the problem is in a task
  3. Show amount of time spent on a task, by task and participant
  4. On average, how many participants passed/failed a given task
  5. Summarize how the usability test went through visuals

The most valuable part of the stop light approach is how visual it is. It can quickly provide a stakeholder a holistic overview of how the usability test went.

Additionally, I include more information in my reports:

  • After the usability tests, you can put UX recommendations based on the results of the sessions, and link them to the different tasks. You can also color-code similar recommendations
  • Notes on the participant, such as how they responded to a task or the particular struggles they had. That way, you can link specific notes up to the given task.
  • I have each stakeholder who participates rate the usability test. They can work directly on the same document (I use Google Sheets). By doing this, you can see if every stakeholder thought the participant was unclear about a task. Having them participate helps to integrate stakeholders into the research and to make the research more valuable.

How do I create a stop light report?

In the spirit of visuals, instead of just explaining stop light tests, I want to share a visual example of one of my reports (it is all dummy data).

Download the template here

In the above example, there are different components:

  1. Each participant has a column, with a participant summary at the bottom
  2. Each task has a row, with an average task summary over to the right
  3. The three colors indicate whether a participant succeeded in a task, was unclear in the task, or failed the task These can also be severity ratings. The red is the most critical to fix, orange is the medium priority, and any green tasks are the lowest priority
  4. The time for each task is recorded within the task participant bubble and averaged per task

There are a few things to do before using this sharing approach:

  1. Make sure to define what passing, unclear, and failing mean for each given task — this is something you discuss with other stakeholders (designers, developers, product managers)
  2. It is also beneficial to benchmark and average how long tasks generally take users. That way, this data is useful. For example, if task 4 on the homepage usually takes users 10 seconds to complete on the current product, and it is taking users over 30 seconds on the prototype, that is a huge red flag. If you don't have any benchmarking data, it might be worth doing some benchmarking before you go out to usability test
  3. Get some buy-in! Before I started sending these out to my stakeholders, I presented the idea to them, and they gave me some great feedback that made the transition more comfortable and valuable for everyone involved.

A lot of the work comes during the study:

  1. Have an observer help you with filling out whether a participant passed, struggled with, or failed each task
  2. Write down the time taken for each task
  3. Write down any notes associated with the participants while they are completing the task
  4. After, cross-reference your notes and observations with others who observed the research session

If you don't have someone to help you during the research session, I recommend filling out the chart after watching a recording. The only vital portion to complete during the study is recording the time on task.

Ta-da! As you can see, most of the work happens before and during the study by defining the different levels and recording the data. I don't want to seem as though I am oversimplifying the process, but it is relatively simple. And, after all, we do want to keep this as simple as possible.

Overall this approach has helped me clearly and effectively share usability testing results with colleagues and is more valuable than a written report. It makes it easy for people who want to glance at the results, to understand what the priorities are (summary), but also gives the option of digging deeper into the results (notes) and includes actionable insights based on the test (recommendations). Download the template I use here.

Report #2: Rainbow charts

The Rainbow Chart is a spreadsheet with all of the data collected during a UX study. It serves as the centerpiece for lessons learned from research and later turns into the final report.

Using a rainbow chart has some significant advantages:

  • It involves the entire team, which helps with buy-in and engagement
  • Results are shared almost immediately
  • The team can efficiently act on research results.
  • The visual representation of observations exposes prioritization needs
  • There is no lengthy, formal report to read through

Again, the most valuable part of the rainbow chart is how visual it is and the ability to give a holistic overview of usability test results.

How do I create a rainbow chart?

Rainbow charts are pretty easy to create and don't take too much time. I have shared an example of a rainbow chart I have used below. After this, I go into the different components I include in these charts. There are a few different variations, but I tend to go with the most basic rainbow chart, and couple it with a stop light report.

Download a template here

In the above example, there are different components:

  1. Each participant has a column, with a participant summary at the bottom, and each participant has a color assigned to them
  2. Each observation has a row
  3. The colors indicate whether the observation happened during that participant's session
  4. Each observation has a potential solution in the last column

There are a few things to do before using this sharing approach:

  1. Define the different opacities of the colors. Rainbow charts can signify more than if an observation happened or not. There can be different levels of observation, and I use color opacity to make this clear:
    1. Full color: the observation happened as stated
    2. 50% opacity: the observation occurred partially
    3. No color: the observation did not take place for this participant
  2. Make sure you can take notes about the different observations. Each participant should have a spreadsheet in which notes about that participant get recorded.

Much of the work of rainbow charts comes after the study when you watch the recording of the session. While watching the video recording, you can fill out the table with the information:

  1. Write down all the significant observations you noticed across the study; each has a row
  2. Assign a color to each participant when the observation occurred for that particular participant. Determine the opacity of each observation as well
  3. Write down any notes associated with the participants
  4. After, cross-reference your notes and comments with others who observed the research session

Another way to use rainbow charts is to substitute assumptions for observations.

The stop light report and rainbow spreadsheet are tools to support collaboration. If these templates don't work for you, feel free to customize them to your team's needs. Find creative ways, like these deliverables, to share information and learn about users together!

There are many ways to share usability testing results, and I'd love to hear about your approaches or feedback!

Nikki Anderson-Stanier is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 9 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. 

To get even more UXR nuggets, check out her user research membershipfollow her on LinkedIn, or subscribe to her Substack.

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