How Note Taking Builds Better Teams & Products

Written by Mike Costanzo

In this post, our Lead UX Designer Mike shares the one little addition to your design process that can really change the answer to the question “So, what do you do?”

If you design software applications, what do you say to people when they ask what you do for a living? I usually say something like “I design apps. Like phone apps and web apps”. They nod and I feel like they get it. They can see the final product in their mind's eye as almost everyone is literate on what an “app” is these days. But it is also such a small facet of the many things we do as designers, that arriving at “designing apps” seems inadequate every time I say it.

Now, what do you think a developer on your Lean/Agile/Scrum team would say you do? Maybe “Make things look pretty” or “Play with the colours”? As a designer, your team probably has no idea what you actually do. How can you blame them? You’re probably only showing them the end result of a long process.

We need to find more and better ways to let our less design-oriented teammates in on what we do all day (Hint: It’s probably not obsessing over colours or fonts). I want to talk about one simple way that I’ve discovered pays huge dividends.

Talking To Customers Is Hard Work

Conducting User Interviews and Usability Testing is crucial for any company trying to make products and services that people will actually want to use. It is also gruelling work. The level of concentration required is mentally and physically taxing. Ask anyone who has booked too many back-to-back interviews in one day and you’ll soon realize it’s a mistake you only make once in your UX design career.

Interviews require the facilitator to be on top of their game and engaged in active listening; balancing a delicate game of cat and mouse to get to the juiciest, most valuable insight. To be at your best you need to be entirely focused on facilitating the interview and always in the moment… not taking notes.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

But note taking is hugely important and the solution I have found most effective is including one more person in the interview process - the notetaker. This is key to seriously reducing the cognitive load placed on the interviewer and also starts to foster the idea of design collaboration and shared understanding. A developer will hear things differently than you and provide valuable insight.

Immediate Feedback

Discussing the interview immediately after the interviewee leaves, with a person who was focused on note taking, really ups the clarity of analysis and has proven to be the most valuable and lightweight tactic I’ve found for processing feedback. You get to see where you clearly agree and where you each may have missed important gold nuggets. Lastly, as your teammates start to gain comfort in the process, you can switch roles between interviews and get them in the driver’s seat.

Knowledge Is Power

Making UX research a team effort is essential when trying to make the transition to integrated, cross-functional and Agile teams. It helps the delivery team better understand “what designers do” and reduces the need for the designer’s input on every little UI decision. Your teammates will have the knowledge needed to make informed choices and feel empowered and energized by being part of the research process. It’s a win-win situation that I highly recommend trying.

This post was inspired by a post by Teresa Torres on her blog Product Talk.

Other Resources

How Lean UX Fixes Common Agile Challenges, a talk delivered by our CEO Nick Van Weerdenburg.

Lean Product Design & Innovation talks from the AgileXD Toronto Meetup.

Squishy Pixels - Rethinking Your Adaptive Web Design Strategy, a talk delivered by Varun Vacchar at FITC's Web Unleashed.

Stay tuned for more blog posts on our integrated design and development process!