“What Should I Do with My Notes?”: Making Sense of Interviews as a Remote Design Team

You just interviewed a user. You feel excited about all the insights you got from them. You upload your notes into your online storage with a click. Now what?

In other words, how do you turn thousands of words (and snippets of your memory) into an accurate picture of what the user needs without needing years of formal training? Moreover, how do you strike a balance between doing this collaboratively and getting it done quickly?

As the designer leading research efforts on the team, I came up with a solution after running into this challenge. My solution takes inspiration from IBM Design Thinking and takes advantage of Mural, an online remote collaboration tool. So far, this research technique for transcribing interview notes has helped my team:

  • quickly visualize interview data as a team
  • find out who said what six weeks down the road
  • pave the way for deeper and more targeted analysis as the team completes more interviews

Here are the steps we follow:

Step 1: Ask ourselves “What are we expecting to find?” You’re probably thinking “How would I know what the user is going to tell me?” Look at your interview questions carefully and think about the types of information that you might get from the user. Sum up all the types of information into 3–4 big categories. For instance, Motivation & Background could be one big category, especially since a user’s motivations usually stem from their education and work background.

Step 2: Get ready to find what you anticipated. This is the most important step in the process. Write the 3–4 categories on a white board and create a column for each category — this simple step gives your team a neat, structured space to unload their findings immediately after the interview.

Step 3: Unload your findings together as a team after the interview. You and your team will most likely experience a strong urge to share your findings immediately after hearing what the user has to say. Instead of dumping everyone’s notes into a folder (and expecting your notes to merge on their own), grab your notes and go to the whiteboard.

As you go through your notes, write down one finding on one post-it, then decide on a category to place this post-it. If there’s a quote or a complete story that supports your finding, write it down on another post-it and place it behind that particular finding.

Also, give special attention to those findings that are user pain points. Create a row beneath all categories for pain points, and every time you identify a pain point in your notes, write it down on a post-it and place it in the pain point section in the corresponding category.

Step 4: Use this map to take action! Hang all the maps on the wall. (Print them out if you’re using a digital whiteboard like Mural). Move the categories around and play with them like building blocks. Or simply use it as a reference to jog your memory. All of these things will help your team make informed decisions six weeks down the road.

Let me know if you have questions ! I’d love to hear about your experiences using this technique. You can reach me at zhangshichi@gmail.com for the more detailed instructions and/or samples in a PDF.