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Analysing user research

How to understand your user research and use insights to build the right service.

User research activities produce a lot of raw data, for example:

  • written and digital notes
  • sketches and photos
  • audio and video recordings

Filtering and organising this data will help you to produce meaningful insights.

Follow your user research plan and keep asking yourself 'What is the problem that the user is experiencing?'

Read how user research changes through the Discovery to Live stages.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard


Who to involve in analysing research


Invite anyone who observed the user research to take part in analysis sessions.

Involving lots of people helps your team make better decisions. It reduces the risk of researcher bias and limits the influence of individual team members or stakeholders. It also means everyone has a chance to be part of the decision on what you should work on next.

When to analyse research


Do analysis as soon as you can after each round of research, while it is still fresh in people’s minds.

Aim to spend up to 1 hour analysing every 2 hours of research.

How to extract observations


Follow these steps to gather observations:

  1. Hand out sticky notes.
  2. Ask team members to review the notes they took during the research. They can then write interesting or relevant observations on the sticky notes. You can use the colour of sticky notes strategically (for example, red to note pain points, green for notes about what works well).
  3. If you have recordings, you can make them available. Team members can use them to confirm their observations and get verbatim quotes.
  4. Tell the group to use a single sticky note for each observation and write exactly what they saw or heard (for example, quotes or observed behaviour), not what they think it means. This way, the notes will be unbiased and represent the voice of the user.

Capturing observations during research sessions

If your team is experienced and you’re doing research in a lab, they may be able to capture their observations on sticky notes during the session itself.

If you go into a session wanting to capture 1 main thing, you might be able to capture that straight onto sticky notes during the research session. For example, if you only want verbatim statements, you can capture these straight onto sticky notes during the sessions.

Sort observations


Once team members have written down their observations, ask them to place their sticky notes on a wall. Start sorting them into similar themes. You can group them by:

  • common topics (for example, identity, delivery, payment)
  • stages in a user journey (for example, ‘supply photo’, ‘attend interview’, ‘pay’)
  • individual pages or steps in a transaction
  • types of user (for example, first time user, business user)

Allow people to move notes placed by other people. The idea is to look for patterns or clusters, and to keep moving the notes until clear groups emerge. This is often called ‘affinity mapping’.

Name your groups

Once you have your groups, agree on a title for each. At this stage, you can discard irrelevant or isolated notes.

Check if you can break large groups into smaller themes based on matching observations. For example, if users have to supply a photo to use your service, you might have a ‘photos’ group that could broken down into:

  • photo rules and requirements
  • using a photo booth or department store photographer
  • taking a photo at home
  • reasons a photo might be rejected

Affinity mapping

‘We did affinity mapping in Alpha; other teams do it earlier in Discovery. It’s what we did after we spoke to the users. We used it to gather the user insights to find high-level topics and headings. Those fed into design hypotheses. Going analogue like this gave us good visibility. It’s hands on. If we did it digitally straightaway the team might not have had the level of comfort to all get involved.’ Delivery manager

A wall with a lot of post-it notes in different colours.

Determine findings


The final part of analysis is determining what the observations are telling you.

When you agree on what you’ve learned, write it as a finding or ‘insight’ on a different coloured sticky note. Add it to the relevant group on your affinity map.

Write findings as short statements that summarise what you’ve learned, for example:

  • ‘The legal declaration is threatening and difficult to understand.’
  • ‘People think they can click the progress bar to navigate.’
  • ‘Users are confused about what they need to do because so many questions are optional.’

User research insights

‘We print out insights from user research so the team can constantly be referring back to what we’ve learned from our users as we design the service.’ User researcher

Original photo of research insights by adrian yee under CC BY 2.0.

Two people sitting in front of two cardboard walls with a lot of print-outs and sketches, stuck on them

Decide actions


You can use your findings to make decisions about what to work on, change or research next. This supports the agile method of continuous planning with new facts or requirements.

As a group, discuss if there are any actions you want to take. Write these on sticky notes in another colour. Add them to the relevant group on your affinity map. Actions might include:

  • new design ideas to work on
  • new questions to include in user research
  • things you want to change in a prototype and test in another research session
  • new user stories to add to the product backlog
  • new details you need to add to an existing story
  • strategic insights you can use to develop your user needs, proposition or product roadmap

Share your findings


Collate your findings so you can share them with the wider team and stakeholders. This is sometimes called a 'shareback'.

You can share insights in different ways. If you've been testing prototypes you might show printouts with comments on sticky notes. If you've only just started you might read out quotes and observations. You can also use an electronic presentation or whatever medium suits your team.

Shareback wall

‘A shareback wall is a way to bring back what we have learnt from user research to the team. We can use it to quickly see what’s working (green) and where there are problems we still need to solve (in red and orange).’ User researcher

A wall with a lot of post-it notes in different colours.
Caption: an example of a user research shareback wall.