8 great ways to communicate UX research insights

The vast majority of the time I’m a very good sleeper. Head down, lights out, sleep time. I’m lucky in that respect. I’ve never had to resort to the sort of sleep tactics that insomniacs might have to employ. A warm glass of milk before bedtime, counting sheep (very impractical unless you’re a shepherd), or reading a UX research report. You see it turns out that long, dull and unengaging UX research reports, the sort that research teams and agencies all too often churn out, are at least useful for one thing — sending you to sleep. I guarantee that within minutes of starting to read one you’ll be sleeping like a baby. Very useful if you’re trying to get to sleep at night, not so useful if you’re now dribbling and snoring like a steam train at your work desk.

Long, dull, detailed reports are a terrible way to communicate those all important insights that come out of UX research. Research such as interviews, observations, diary studies, surveys and so on. No one ever reads them, if they do they will have forgotten most of it within 5 minutes and usually they just gather dust on a shelf somewhere. I’m here to tell you that there are much better ways of communicating UX research insights than writing a long and boring report that documents everything in excruciating detail. Here are 8 of them to try out (just not all on the same project).

1. Presentations

A well thought out and executed presentation is a great way to communicate UX research insights, but don’t think that you can rely on a presentation alone — you need multiple modes of communication. This is why a presentation coupled with some engaging documents like the ones listed below are a great approach. The presentation can serve to communicate key insights to stakeholders and the team, and the documents can help to retain and radiate this information.

Remember that people generally have terrible memories. Don’t expect your audience to remember much from a presentation so focus on the key insights and use stories, quotes, videos, images and anything else that can help to bring the research insights to life. Try to keep presentations relatively short and sweet, around the 20 minute mark is good. Also consider recording presentations so that new team members and those that were unable to attend can catch up.

Find out more about UX research presentations

For some help and advice delivering UX focused presentations take a look at my 10 ways to improve your UX presentations article. I can also recommend the excellent book Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo.

2. Personas

In a previous article (Getting the most out of personas) I described personas as the best thing since sliced bread — a bold claim indeed, but one that I still stand by. Personas (see example below) are basically individual profiles for users. They are fictional profiles of your users, but should very much be based on fact and can help teams and stakeholders to build a shared and concrete understanding of who the users are.

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An example persona outlining some key UX research insights

Personas are great for communicating UX research insights because they help to relate insights back to the users. They can also provide context and can be great characters for telling stories that came out of the UX research (more about this later). For example, you can use personas to outline identified user needs and pain points, you can outline user behaviours and characteristics and even include quotes that users said during the research.

Find out more about personas

I’ve written a number of articles about personas — I really do love them that much! If you want to find out more about personas take a look at Getting the most out of personas; Why there’s still life left in personas and Minimum viable personas (MVPs). You can also take a look at these example personas.

3. User journey maps

Stories are a fantastic way to communicate research insights, and user journey maps (sometimes called experience maps) are a great way to tell these stories from the user’s perspective. I’ve used user journey maps before on lots of projects and I simply love them, love them, love them. They show the end-to-end journey that a user takes in the pursuit of a particular goal. For example, you might show the journey that a customer undertakes when buying a new car, going on holiday or eating out at a restaurant. For each stage of the journey a map will typically call out what the user is doing, thinking, feeling and experiencing, along with any current pain points.

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An example user journey map by Adaptive Path | View full size PDF

User journey maps not only help to show the bigger picture, but can also help to outline the quality of the current experience, and the kind of approach that users take. They can be a great spring board for thinking about how the current user journey can be improved and for identifying problems to tackle, along with opportunities to innovate.

Find out more about user journey maps

If you want to find out more about user journey maps I recommend that the first thing you do is take a look at Adaptive Path’s excellent guide to experience mapping. You can also check out these example user journey maps.

4. Rich pictures

You might be familiar with sketchnotes, a style of visual note-taking that can be very effective for capturing information. Well sketchnotes are a more recent cousin of rich pictures. Rich pictures are typically cartoon like sketches visually showing a complex problem or domain. They have been used for well over 25 years, the term first being used by Peter Checkland as part of his Soft Systems methodology (a kind of precursor to service design).

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An example rich pictures by Dan Zen

Rich pictures are a great way to help communicate the complexity of a problem in an engaging and non-complex way. A rich picture might show the actors, the different artefacts, the relationships and the issues that currently exist within a domain. They are a great way to build a shared understanding of the problem being tackled and can be a fantastic spring board for considering solutions to a problem.

Find out more rich pictures

There really are no real rules when it comes to rich pictures so a great way to start using them is simply to have a go at creating some of your own. If you’d like a few pointers, then take a look at Nick Bowmast’s excellent article about Visualising UX research. You should also checkout out Boon Yew Chew’s Visual thinking workshop and these rich picture guidelines from Peter Checkland — the rich picture granddaddy of them all.

5. Task models

Task models are a great way to show how a user goes about tackling a particular task. For example, deciding where to go on holiday, or which film to watch on Netflix. They help to show the kind of mental model that someone applies, and the decision making process that he or she goes through.

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An example task model from CXPartners | View full size PDF

One of the really nice things about task models is that you can not only outline the current task process, but take a model and identify how you could better support that process. For example, by providing information to help answer user questions, or a feature to better support a crucial step of the process.

Find out more about task models

CXPartners have put together a very useful Task model cheat sheet. You should also take a look at their Task modelling workshop material.

6. Storyboards

Like a break-through actor that has suddenly themself the darling of Hollywood, storyboards have flown in from the world of comic books and movies and made a real splash in the UX scene (believe it or not storyboards for movies were first used in the 1890s). Storyboards are basically comic strips for grown-ups. They graphically show a user’s story, using sketches, illustrations or photos to help to bring that story to life.

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An example storyboard from Robot-Hugs.com communicating insights

Storyboards are a fantastic way to communicate not only what a user might experience in the future, but also what he or she experiences right now. They are therefore great for bringing UX research insights to life by helping to tell some of the stories that came out of that research. For example, some of the challenges that users face, and the emotions they experience.

Find out more about storyboards

If you want to find out more about using storyboards in your work then I can certainly recommend reading the excellent Storyboarding and UX articles (part 1, part 2, part 3) on Johnny Holland. You might also find these example storyboards useful.

7. Scenarios & scenario maps

Scenarios and scenario maps (see examples of both below) show the steps that a user will go through for a given scenario. For example, finding out some information, or carrying out a particular task. They not only show these steps, but can also show other important information along the way, such as questions, pain-points and resources utilised. Scenarios tend to read almost like a narrative story, whereas scenario maps are much more paired back, showing simply the high level steps.

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An example scenario | View full size PDF

Scenarios and scenario maps are a great way to communicate how users currently do something. John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin call these sorts of maps, ‘reality maps’ in their excellent book, The Persona Lifecycle. I really like this term because it reminds everyone that what they’re seeing is the reality of what actually happens today, rather than what could happen (future ‘to be’ maps are referred to as ‘design maps’ in the book).

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An example scenario map | View full size PDF

It has to be said that whilst both scenarios and scenario maps are not as engaging as storyboards (after all, it’s always easier to watch the movie than read the book) they do take less work to create. They can therefore be a very useful means of communicating UX research, especially where something a bit quick and dirty will suffice.

Find out more about scenarios and scenario maps

To find out more about scenarios take a look at my 2-part complete guide to scenarios. I have also put together a step by step guide to scenario mapping. Example scenarios and example scenario maps are also available.

8. Design principles

The last tool to help communicate UX research insights is both the simplest, and the hardest to get right — design principles. Taking research insights and boiling them down to a set of design principles can be incredibly powerful. For example, when I worked within the UX team at TUI, Europe’s largest package holiday company I carried out some UX research to investigate how retail staff assist customers to find and book their holidays. I spent lots of days sitting in retail shops and call centres, listening in on conversations and speaking with retail staff about their work (a fascinating experience). I used quite a few of the tools listed in this article to help communicate the insights from this research, including personas, storyboards and user journey maps. However, the most impactful of all were the design principles that I created. These included principles such as:

Remember customers and allow them to pick up where they left off

This helped to highlight the fact that choosing and booking a holiday is invariably a multi-step process, so allowing retail staff to easily pick up an enquiry part way through that journey is very important. The design principles helped to not only communicate the UX research insights, but more importantly guide the design of a new holiday booking system for retail staff.

Find out more about design principles

For examples of design principles, you can’t beat the awesome Design Principles FTW site (FTW is apparently short for ‘For the win’ — a new one to me). I also love the Gov.UK — Government Digital Service Design Principles. You should also take a look at Luke Wroblewski’s guide to Developing Design Principles, the CXPartners guide to Design Principles and the Stanford d.school design principles method guide.

If you like this article then please recommend and share it. You can find lots more articles like this on my blog: UX for the Masses

Image credits

Mega-megaphone by John W. Schulze
Rail Europe Experience map by Adaptive Path
Digital Learning Environment rich picture by Dan Zen
CXPartners task model cheat sheet
Helpful advice storyboard by Robot hugs

Written by

Former techy turned UX Jedi. Checkout out my blog (UX for the Masses) for more about me.

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