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Customer Experience and Design

User Experience Research Should Be Anonymous

Unless your name is James Bond, you might not want your name applied to everything you do.

Ethical guidelines for UX research

The importance of ethics in user experience (UX) research cannot be understated. UX research ethics are in place to protect your participants, but they also serve another very important purpose. You want to conduct research in such a way that participants answer as accurately and honestly as possible. Anonymity can be a critical component for honest answers. When participants are in UX testing or an interview, they are always encouraged to think of their responses as “constructively critical.” For some people, this can be a challenge. Especially for those who have grown up with the mantra, “If you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all.”
One way to challenge this social norm, while also maintaining ethical standards, is to ensure confidentiality and anonymity in UX research. The most common procedure is to assign a unique number to each participant’s responses. Think of it like Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which is a corner-stone of HIPAA, the law that outlines privacy standards in healthcare. For UX purposes, no PII data should ever be kept in the same file as the responses. Each name is given a numerical equivalent, and that number is stored with the data.

Individual attributes can be important to your analysis

Psychographic data such as age, workplace title, education, and consumer preferences could all be important filters for researchers to analyze data by. This type of data contains no information on its own that can compromise an individual’s identity. Part of the paperwork to be filled out prior to any UX testing or interviews should stress that all responses will be confidential. It should be reinforced a second time at the beginning of the UX interview or research session to promote a constructively critical environment.
The greatest value the participant can provide is uncensored responses. This can be encouraged with phrases like, “We expect to have some things wrong in what you are about to see, can you help us to find what we missed?” Or, “The reason why we asked you to participate is that we want to hear your own personal thoughts, so please don’t hold anything back; it’s why we thought you would be perfect for this interview.” The extent to which you encourage their perspective to be vocalized might just be the extent to which you get honest responses that you can act on in the future.

Present UX research findings with the right context

When presenting UX research findings to stakeholders, product owners, or the development team, it can be very useful to contextualize some data. An example of that might be, “One of our participants, a service manager of 14 years, found our product to be lacking the filters they would want access to.” Another example might be, “The 20- to 34-year-old segment of our audience found our product very easy to use on a mobile device”.
It’s important that you identify what attributes are important. With this approach, you can take full advantage of what is different and common among your participants in your final analysis. Frequently this information is part of a screening panel sent to participants to qualify them for participation.
So, to abide by ethical standards and to help encourage the most uncensored responses possible by your participants, remind them that unless their last name is Bond, what happens in research, stays in research.

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