Make your Findings Effective: Choosing the Right Method to Present Research

March 6th, 2012
Published on
March 6th, 2012
Bull's eye photo (dartboard) by Aaron Sarauer

Image by Aaron Sarauer

As user researchers we have a common goal: to provide a crystal clear picture of our research. To that end, our presentation must be both believable and digestible for our audience; stakeholders need to quickly scan whereas developers require specific details in order to take action. Likewise, the medium we use to present our findings is important.

Conventional mediums such as Powerpoint or Word might work great in some situations, whereas other situations require unconventional ones such as spreadsheets, video, storyboards and/or sticky notes. To present our findings effectively it’s imperative that we correctly match all three: the audience, the medium, and message itself.

Understand your audience

Lego people photo by CJ Isherwood

Image by CJ Isherwood

Just as designers should understand for whom they design, so should researchers understand for whom they research. Be sure to ask the following questions before choosing a presentation method:

  • Who is your audience? What is their primary role? e.g. Designers/ Executives/ Marketing/ other User Researchers/ Programmers/Community, etc.
  • What is your relationship with this audience? Is it new or ongoing?
  • What is the industry of this project? e.g. Government, Health Care, Medicine, etc.
  • What is the development cycle into which this research will be adopted? e.g. Agile/ Hybrid/Waterfall

In my experience (which consists of new and repeat stakeholders, both designers and executives) providing an executive summary in an email that also includes a link to the entire report is well received.

Executive summary

An executive summary email is pretty easy to create. Just make sure to focus on the important details and avoid any research jargon–save that kind of stuff for your actual report! More generally, structure your email:

  1. Brief description about the goal, methodology and participant demographics
  2. Notable findings
  3. High and medium-level issues (in a bulleted list) together with participant quotes (recommended) or even video snippets.
  4. Task Success Ratings and Metrics Studied (if applicable)
  5. Recommendations and next steps (if applicable)

While working with larger audiences – such as the open source community – the approach is different, however. Larger audiences include a variety of roles with varying degrees of involvement. For them we provided a comprehensive report posted on the community website with the option for them to react in the comments.

Establish credibility

Before your results are taken seriously your credibility must be established. This is easier said than done, of course. One quick way to gain the favor of your audience is to present your research in a way that makes sense to them.

While working with new stakeholders or stakeholders who are not familiar with user experience, a traditional report (PowerPoint, Text report) works well. Executives might not have the time to read an entire report but it’s reassuring to them (thereby, adding to your credibility) that the information is available to them. Over time, stakeholders may have more confidence in your data. Ask them about the effectiveness of your presentation and then pivot your method accordingly.

Credibility is directly correlated with the trust stakeholders have in your research methods, you as a person and user-centered design more generally. It is important that we act prudently in this regard, not just for ourselves but for our profession as a whole.

Manage expectations

Time is also an important factor affecting our presentation, as user research projects can range anywhere from just a few hours to a few months. Regardless, we must ensure that the information we’re after is delivered in a timely fashion to help the project succeed!

Manage the expectations of your stakeholders by informing them that the presentation of your findings affects your overall turnaround time. In agile environments, for example, writing a report is often considered wasteful as the time spent can delay the team from pivoting. As such, many researchers consider rather unconventional approaches: a compact, bulleted list, a high level summary via email (see above), or a quick conference call. Any of these can provide enough information to jump start productive solutions. In all cases, though, be sure to inform your stakeholders about your choice of medium beforehand in order to establish/retain trust.

These sort of lightweight approaches usually work well when a researcher is accessible to the team on a day-to-day basis (especially when dealing with prototypes). However, when the user researcher is an external resource, it’s recommended that they invest the time to generate a report, providing as must information as possible. That way the client can revisit their findings, in totality, at a later date.

Track progress transparently

Train tracks photo by Eirik Refsdal

Image by Eirik Refsdal

Finally, issue tracking is an invaluable asset as it not only provides visibility into the state of a product’s usability but also aides in decision making. A spreadsheet log of issues can be effective enough for smaller projects. For bigger projects, there are other available such as Sifterapp, JIRA, Lighthouseapp or even a home-grown application. Choose your issue tracking solution based on a project’s complexity and shelf life.

Over time, analyze the impact of issue tracking data to seek patterns. Tracking number of urgent/ high issues per feature will make it easier to prioritize and to focus. It is also a great way to validate design changes. For live features, higher tracking is recommended whereas for iterative prototypes less tracking could work.

In all cases, it’s important that issue tracking be done transparently. Sharing your ongoing findings with the wider organization is useful in evangelizing usability and raising awareness about the concerns within a product. Consider creating a central platform to share your findings (especially with the option to comment). Sharable documents (like google docs) or an intranet are good places to start.

Take it the next level

With the significant overlap of pointers and variables, it’s difficult to have a one-size-fits all solution to the problem. However, by considering our audience, our medium and our message together we can make better choices with regards to how we present our research.

Certainly, I’ve only scratched the surface here. How do you present your findings?

The author wishes to thank Lisa Rex and Jeff Noyes for their feedback on this article.