What the User Researchers have been up to…


In an episode of Debbie Millman’s podcast “Design Matters”, Swiss designer Tina Roth Eisenberg discussed the everyday design masterpieces that we take for granted. During her interview, Ms Eisenberg explained: “Next time you use a Post-it note, just say thank you.”

This has definitely been the sentiment around the Optimal Workshop office for the past few weeks, as we’ve been working on consolidating all our learnings from the newest addition to the Optimal Workshop family — Reframer.

What is Reframer all about?

Reframer is a UX focused tool for collating and mining qualitative data. Our aim is to simplify qualitative research, and provide a collaborative tool that will help researchers organize and present their findings.

Bringing Reframer along to user tests or research sessions allows you to make real-time observations as they happen. With an option to add relevant tags and significance ratings, Reframer helps you uncover trends and identify common themes among your observations with ease.

You can use Reframer outside of user research too. From customer interviews to note-taking at meetings or conferences, it’s an easy way to collate all your notes and avoid losing track of important findings.

Reframer launched as a beta in May 2015, and from that moment, many of our customers have provided feedback, requested features, identified bugs or simply updated us with the progress they’ve been making with the tool. It’s great to see existing Reframer users embracing the spirit of beta testing, and helping us shape the tool and feed into its development. To everyone who has dropped us a line — thank you!

Do we really need a new qualitative research tool?

As you might expect, releasing a tool in beta brings in praise and encouragement, as well as a truckload of criticism and frustration. One thing that can easily be observed from looking at many of the comments we’ve received, is that there is definitely an appetite for a tool that will help researchers manage and organise their qualitative findings more effectively.

“Any tools to save us time in note taking would be exciting!”

“First off — I love this! Anything that makes my research synthesis easier is OK in my book.”

“It could revolutionize how UX researchers process interview materials around the world.”

It’s easy for such comments to start sounding a bit like a cheesy testimonial, but it’s hard not to get excited about Reframer when feedback from users is so encouraging.

Notebooks, spreadsheets and sticky notes are all powerful tools, and there are plenty of good reasons why they are used so frequently in UX research. For us it’s about learning from the tools researchers enjoy using most, while maintaining the integrity of each stage of the research process (think planning, collecting, analyzing and reporting).

Reframer is all about simplifying qualitative research, without being prescriptive. We want to create a simple tool that is flexible enough to accommodate the different ways in which researchers like to organize their work, while providing them with some useful and creative new ways of collecting and analyzing information.

A look inside our process

As the new user researchers at Optimal Workshop, we’re lucky to have a lot of existing information to work with. Since its launch, a great deal of feedback on Reframer has come through the doors of our Wellington office — from emails, support queries to in-depth user interviews on how teams organize their qualitative research, and everything in between.

Armed with a stack of (you guessed it!) Post-it notes and sheets of A2 paper, we’ve been working on consolidating our learnings from Reframer, and more generally on the current state of qualitative research in UX. From users who have embraced Reframer, as well as those who have been hesitant to give it a go, we’re working on identifying key themes, pain points, and common ways individuals and teams prefer to organize their information.

Why have we decided to use this tried and tested process, instead of using Reframer? We have a lot of information from different sources, and Reframer does not quite have the flexibility we would like in visually organizing and tracing our findings. Since we are UX researchers ourselves, it also gives us the opportunity to identify what features we would like Reframer to have, which may be useful for us in the future.


The User Researchers hijacking the Optimal Workshop picnic room The User Researchers hijacking the Optimal Workshop picnic room


Aside from sifting through emails, queries, notes, and reports, we’ve also talked directly to users who, in the spirit of beta testing, have offered to give us their honest feedback in recent weeks. It’s been inspiring to listen to our users describe the many different ways in which they’ve been trying out Reframer. It’s great to see it being utilised to record observations in user testing sessions, and beyond that in helping to keep their wider research organized.

Currently our work involves following a simple, but powerful process for figuring out the “where to next?” for Reframer:

  1. Bringing together everything we know. Emails, support queries, user interviews, reports — pulling out insights and transforming them into Trello cards and Post-its.
  2. Grouping findings into key areas. Our findings have boiled down to six main areas of focus: research planning, note-taking, analyzing, reporting, as well as broader idea areas related to collaboration and integration.
  3. Identifying patterns. This is where we’ve been able to group common findings, identify patterns, and observe areas where different users have come across similar issues.
  4. Pulling out priorities. It’s impossible to solve every problem straight away. Some issues can be fed straight to developers, making immediate improvements to the tool, while others require some further thinking and consideration. Creating a curated list of priorities helps us to organize our thinking and feed findings back to the rest of the team more efficiently.
  5. Making a plan. Presenting our findings to the team is one thing, but it's just as important to develop a set of actions to follow. What else do we need to know? What specific areas do we want to focus on when talking to our users? What do we need to consider in developing particular features?

Watch this space!

We have a lot of improvements lined up already, from small tweaks to make Reframer more user-friendly, through to ideas on new features and different ways to track, organize and analyze your information. We still have a long way to go, but we want to ensure that the voice of our users is feeding into every decision we make, in order to create a tool that becomes a truly valuable addition to a UX toolkit.

We’d love to hear from you.

Seeing patterns emerge is an exciting time. When a tool is in beta it means that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to its development, and we’d love to hear about your experiences of using Reframer. Feel free to drop us a line at support@optimalworkshop.com and let us know how things are going. We’ll make sure your feedback is heard throughout our research process.

Published on Mar 10, 2016
Ania Mastalerz
  • Ania Mastalerz
  • Ania is a user researcher at Optimal Workshop. When she's not researching the researchers, she's shredding on Mt. Ruapehu and eating healthy snacks.

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