User research reports are often seen as boring and unactionable. The worst feeling is to write a research report that no one reads or references in the future. As researchers, we want to avoid this pitfall as much as possible. Part of our job is making insights and information actionable and digestible...but how?
When I started my career in user research, I constantly considered different reporting methods. However, it is easy and comfortable to continue going back to what you know. I would open Google Slides and use the same format repeatedly. I’d cram too much text on each slide, writing about the findings and observations. I wrote about the user's feelings and reactions in an academic and removed way.
Although the information I reported changed over the years, the feeling was still the same. I put words on slides and hoped for the best. It was no wonder people didn't slog through my long reports. So many insights went unrecognized.
I longed for an easy and fun way to visualize research reports so stakeholders would actually want to read and engage with them.
I was also sick of writing the same reports over and over again. I wanted user research to stand out from the crowd, and I wanted to do something special. So I went out on a limb and started experimenting. With patience and a lot of stakeholder feedback, I found out how to spice up research reports.
How I made my reports more fun (infographics!)
I have always been equally terrified and impressed by design. I can barely draw a straight line and have an incredibly difficult time visualizing concepts for others.
But, we all have to confront and face our fears at some point. As I finished a fairly straightforward research project (a simple usability test), I started playing around with different visualization tools before I rediscovered one I used in the past called Canva.
On Canva, I found plenty of templates to help me start the visualization process, and I changed the way I report on user research. In addition to the longer reports (papers or slide decks), I experimented with the concept of research snapshots via visualizations.
Check out my Canva template to get started!
These reports are meant to be short and sweet. They give a snapshot of the research project. They are not meant to replace a more formal research report completely. You can use these infographics in your research reports (which I now do) and as a fun and engaging supplement.
What I typically include in my snapshots
My research reports (such as slide decks and papers) often include much more information than my snapshots. In each report, I like to include:
- The context and background of the project
- Research goals we set out to achieve
- An executive summary that gives a high-level understanding of the insights
- Recruitment and participant information
- 3-5 major findings, depending on the size of the study
- Recommendations based on findings
- Some slides for smaller findings, or insights that may impact other teams
- If relevant, annotations for a usability test
This information will allow you to create a fairly standard and normal user research report. But, who wants to be normal? Not me! In addition to my normal report, I lean down the information and create a snapshot. In each snapshot, I generally include:
- A summary of the project
- The research goals
- Visual statistics that show findings (Try to use percentages instead of fractions. For example, "71% of participants..." instead of "5/7 participants..."
- Recommendations based on findings
- Links to additional contexts, such as a larger research report or (even better) a video of the finding. I always try to link out to relevant video/audio for each finding.
Many of my snapshots are one page, but you might need more space, so feel free to create a two-page snapshot. I have done this before with just as much success!
One hesitation I tend to get from researchers is, "I'm not sure if my team will like this..."
Yes, user research should be a relatively scientific practice, and we should follow similar rigor to academic research. However, this doesn't mean that we can't make user research fun. If you are hesitant about this type of deliverable, try it out and get feedback. If this falls flat, you can opt for other reporting methods, but give it a try! Since you are already creating a more lengthy report, you will already have the information needed for a snapshot, so why not try experimenting with this new format?
How to create a Canva Report
There are a few steps I go through every time I want to create a snapshot.
Step 1: Think about your goals for the report
What kind of information do you want people to gather from the report? What action should people be able to take?
By thinking about what you want out of this report, you can decide if a research snapshot is a right approach for you. I use them as a supplement for longer reports or smaller scale usability tests relevant to only one team. Very rarely will I use one research snapshot to summarize a large generative research project.
If you are interested in using research snapshots for generative research, you can string together several snapshots to tell a longer story. Before choosing any deliverable, think about your goals.
Step 2: Think about your audience
Consider who will be reading this research report, and what type of information they need. If a research snapshot doesn't give the necessary context (for example, in generative research), consider other reporting methods.
The best way to get into the mind of your audience is to ask them! Stakeholders are our users too, and we can research their needs. Ask them what type of information they need to make decisions and take the next steps.
Step 3: Brainstorm the necessary information to include
Once you have an idea of your goals and your audience, you can start thinking about the information you must include in the snapshot.
As mentioned, I think it is always important to have a summary and the goals and then jump right into the findings and recommendations. Look at the top 3-5 most impactful findings from your study. Ask yourself, "What information could I share that would spur this team into action?" For usability tests, this could be including the areas where people failed or struggled. For more generative research tests, this could include pain points or goals that people cannot achieve.
When considering recommendations, I tend to state them as problems rather than pointed solutions. Read more about how I phrase recommendations.
Step 4: Start with a template
Look through all of the different templates on Canva and find one that fits best with what information you need to get across.
If you want to put more statistical information from a usability test, make sure you choose a visualizations template. If you want to include text as well, try to find a template with a balance.
My Canva template has a mix of several different snapshots I have used in the past.
Step 5: Get feedback from stakeholders
Once you have created and sent out your snapshots (or, ideally, presented them to the team), always ask your stakeholders for feedback. Some of the questions I use are, "What was missing?" or "How could I improve this?" or "What was confusing?" This constant back-and-forth allows me to
Step 6: Create a museum wall
The next step I took was to create a research snapshot wall. This is a space with all the research snapshots for the relevant team. There’s also a "mixed" area with insights that were overarching across many different teams.
I hosted museum nights with wine and cheese, where people could browse the snapshots and ask questions. There were also plenty of pens and sticky notes so people could also leave comments anonymously. Although I did this all in person, I also created an online version on Miro and hosted remote museum nights.
This event inspired collaboration and shared understanding.
How research snapshots changed my practice
As soon as I started producing research snapshots, my teams started acting on the research more efficiently. I received great feedback on how the research became more digestible and understandable.
Since I highlighted the main findings, my teams could hone in on what needed to be done next. If they needed more context, they could easily find it through links to videos or longer reports. Overall, my interactions with teams became much more positive and productive.
Nikki Anderson is a qualitative user experience researcher with about 5 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs. Read more of her work on Medium.