Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Follow the Flow: Using Mind-Mapping to Capture User Feedback

Usability test planning mind map. Diagram showing inputs and outputs.
Figure 1. An example of a mind-map illustrating the planning of a usability test.

Imagine you are taking notes in a usability session. Sarah, the participant, is providing great feedback, while Tom, the moderator, listens intently. As the session progresses, Sarah’s feedback addresses questions that apply to the task at hand and to questions that relate to tasks located in other parts of the script. As she follows her train of thought, Tom takes the opportunity to get more information and probes accordingly. In the observation room, you frantically struggle to follow the conversation and accurately capture Sarah’s feedback. If Sarah says something out of sequence with the script and her feedback is captured in a linear fashion, there is a chance that during analysis these data may be overlooked.

I am an interaction designer on the mobile apps team at Recent changes to our development process have resulted in an increase in the number of usability studies we are tasked to conduct, in shorter periods of time. This new streamlined process has necessitated investigation to find more efficient ways for the team to capture data, and analyze and report results. Following review and experimentation with several different note-taking and data analysis techniques, we have selected mind-mapping as our method of choice.

What is Mind-Mapping?

Mind-mapping is an alternative, non-linear note-taking technique that can be used to capture data in usability studies. It’s a method that is particularly useful in sessions that have a tendency to jump around within the test script. Mind-mapping has been used for decades to aid in memorization and internalization of new information, and to visually organize information in a way that reflects the natural way we think: thoughts radiate from, and are connected with, one central point.

Why Use Mind-Mapping?

Linear note-taking is an effective way to record data in usability sessions that adhere to a protocol and collect measures such as time-on-task and task success rate. In more exploratory studies, however, it can be much more difficult to accurately capture and categorize out-of-context comments and conversations in real time. My team records usability sessions so that we have the option to review recordings to be sure we have not missed anything important. In reality, though, we rarely have time for this additional exercise.

The use of mind-mapping has enabled us to capture and group larger amounts of relevant data in real time. If colors and relative locations of like branches are maintained across all participants in a given study, patterns and outliers can be easily recognized, which can aid in data analysis.

Mind-maps are also useful for flagging items on the fly. For example, if a participant fails a particular task, the task can be marked with a red flag icon (most mind-mapping software include icons or the ability to import custom images); if a participant encounters difficulty with a task, the task can be marked with a yellow flag icon. Eventually, following multiple sessions, visual patterns begin to emerge.

How to Create Mind-Maps

A mind-map begins with one central concept (see Figure 1), and allows the user to associate and add ideas freely, as opposed to traditional note-taking, which is ordered and linear. Using an image as the central concept helps to keep mind-map users engaged and focused. Related ideas and connected thoughts are represented using smaller branches that extend and build on topic association. Use of color and images helps to differentiate branches and group topics visually.

Traditionally, mind-maps are created using a blank sheet of paper, colored pens, and an open mind. There are also a variety of software options available for computers and mobile devices:

  • FreeMind: A free and easy-to-use tool that includes keyboard shortcuts to add branches on the fly, and options to insert icons and export the finished mind-map in multiple formats.
  • XMind: A program with a free version for individual use or paid alternatives for added features, such as the ability to share mind-maps with others, customizable themes, and Gantt chart views for project schedules.
  • iMindMap: A free tool with online access, which also has a paid version with many bells and whistles, such as audio notes and the ability to include links and filters.
  • iThoughtsHD: An inexpensive iPad app with beautiful shapes and intuitive interaction that resembles the traditional pen-and-paper method; typing on the iPad may be time-consuming, however, and may not be ideal for rapid note-taking.

Creating a mind-map on the computer during usability testing can be fast and intuitive. When I began using mind-maps, I drew them by hand. But it did not take me long to realize that drawing each map was inefficient. Today, I use FreeMind, which enables me to keep up with the interview conversation and take notes in real time. Keyboard shortcuts allow me to insert branches as I go, a great time-saving feature available in most computer-based mind-map programs.

How to Use Mind-Mapping for Note-Taking and Data Analysis

In preparation for usability testing, I typically create one mind-map template for each participant (see Figure 2). I begin by reviewing the usability test script to determine what tasks users will be asked to complete. I also attempt to anticipate potential topics for discussion—topics relevant to the study that may deviate in sequence from ordered tasks in the script.

Next, I create a label to represent the central concept (participant’s name) in the middle of the page, and add branches representing related tasks and topics. It is helpful to use different colors for each branch, to maintain consistent layouts for all participants across each mind-map, and to keep branch labels concise. The success of a mind-map depends on the simplicity of the phrases used to label its branches. Lengthy labels detract from a mind-map’s ability to provide the user with a “picture at a glance.” Long sentences can certainly be revised post-study, but from a time perspective, it is more efficient to get into the habit of recording concise and direct labels from the start.

At the conclusion of the study, I place all of the participant mind-maps side by side and look for visual patterns. I search for red and yellow flags, and pay particular attention to areas in which the flags are concentrated (see Figure 3). Flags can be quickly counted to obtain quantitative results.

Diagram showing major steps in the template development.
Figure 2. Mind-map template for a sample participant.
Diagram with details for each step. Icons show success or failures.
Figure 3. Completed mind-map for one participant, with yellow flags indicating difficulties and red flags representing failures.

Another way to analyze mind-map data is to create one master mind-map to represent all of the participants. A single note-taker can use software tools to merge branches from individual mind-maps into one view, or this can be done by hand.

A master mind-map can also be completed as a group exercise and consensus builder. To create a group mind-map, start with a large pad of paper and draw the basic template of the map that was used to capture notes during the usability sessions. Next, go around the room and ask each observer to share his or her notes and observations, while the session moderator adds branches to reflect feedback. These sessions are a great way to debrief and get everyone on the same page. Notes do not need to be in mind-map format to facilitate a mind-map creation session.

After experimenting with various note-taking techniques, we have found mind-mapping to be the best way to capture user feedback during exploratory usability studies. Today, this technique is enabling my team to collect and analyze data more efficiently, while accommodating our new, streamlined development process. Based on our positive experience using this method, we invite you to consider giving it a try, too. Like us, once you try it, you may never go back to linear note-taking again!如果使用传统的线性笔记方法,在可用性研究过程中捕获参与者反馈可能会有些困难。思维导图能使做笔记的人形象表达用户反馈,即包含一个中心概念(在图表的中央),及其由此延展出的相关主题和想法。这篇文章介绍作者使用思维导图的一些经验,讨论此方法的优点和缺点及其使用方式和时机。阅读这篇文章后,您可能会愿意尝试一下这种方法,并且再也不会用线性笔记方法了。

文章全文为英文版전통적인 직선적 노트 필기 기술을 이용하여 사용성 연구 동안 참가자의 피드백을 얻는 것은 성가신 일일 수도 있습니다. 하나의 중앙 개념(도형 중앙)과 여기서 파생되는 관련 주제와 생각을 의미하는 가지로 구성된 마인드 매핑은 노트 필기자가 사용자 피드백의 시각적 표상을 구현할 수 있게 합니다. 본 논문은 마인드맵을 이용한 작가의 경험을 소개하고 사용의 장단점을 논의하며, 어떻게 그리고 언제 사용하는지를 설명합니다. 이 논문을 읽은 후 당신은 이 기술을 시도해볼 것이며 직선적 노트 필기는 다시 사용하지 않을 것임을 확신하게 될 것입니다.

전체 기사는 영어로만 제공됩니다.Capturar o feedback do participante durante um estudo de usabilidade pode ser difícil utilizando técnicas de anotação linear tradicionais. O uso de mapas mentais permite que os anotadores criem uma representação visual do feedback do usuário, que consiste em um conceito central (no centro do diagrama) com ramificações de tópicos e pensamentos associados oriundos de um núcleo. Este artigo apresenta algumas das experiências do autor no uso de mapas mentais, discute os prós e os contras de seu uso, bem como quando e como usá-los. Após a leitura do artigo, você provavelmente se convencerá a experimentar essa técnica e poderá nunca mais usar a anotação linear de novo.

O artigo completo está disponível somente em inglês.従来の一次元的な記録のやり方を使ってユーザビリティ調査の参加者のフィードバックを捕えようとするのは、煩雑になりかねない。マインドマップでは、記録者はユーザフィードバックの視覚的表示を作ることができ、ひとつの中心となるコンセプト(ダイアグラムの中央に位置する)とそこから広がる関連したトピックや中心部から派生した考えから視覚的表現を作成することができる。この記事では、著者のマインドマップの使用経験を紹介し、使い方に対する賛否の意見、どのような場合にどういう方法で使用すべきかについて説明する。この記事を読めば、マインドマップ技法をぜひ試してみたいと考えるようになり、一次元的な記録技法を使おうとはしないだろう。

原文は英語だけになりますCapturar la retroalimentación del participante durante un estudio de usabilidad puede ser engorroso si se utilizan las técnicas tradicionales de anotaciones lineales. Los mapas mentales les permiten a quienes toman notas crear una representación visual de la retroalimentación del usuario, lo cual consiste en un concepto principal (al centro del diagrama) del cual asoman ramificaciones de los temas y pensamientos asociados. En este artículo se expone parte de la experiencia de la autora con el uso de mapas mentales, se analizan sus pros y contras, así como también el cómo y cuándo utilizarlos. Luego de leer el artículo, probablemente se convenza de probar esta técnica y tal vez nunca más vuelva a utilizar las anotaciones lineales.

La versión completa de este artículo está sólo disponible en inglés.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.