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Observer guidelines

Participating in research as either a notetaker or observer can be invaluable for understanding user needs and product requirements. Before you take part, review the guidelines for how to participate in research as an observer or notetaker.

Joining introductions

  • You may change your video conference display name to just your first or preferred name.

    • We encourage you not to change your name to “observer.”

  • Sign in to the session with your microphone muted

  • If you aren’t admitted directly

    • Wait in the Zoom waiting room while the moderator begins the session

    • If the participant approves your presence, as in the majority of cases, the moderator will soon admit observers into the session

    • If there are issues, the moderator should be in contact via Slack

  • At the moderator’s prompt, unmute your camera and microphone and briefly introduce yourself with

    • Your first or preferred name

    • Your role with

  • When that’s done

    • Mute your microphone

    • Turn off your camera

    • Confine all messaging to the #feedback-backchannel thread for the session

      • Don’t message within the video conference app

      • Don’t expect the moderator to interact with you

How to be a good research observer

As an observer, you will play an important offstage role

  • Create a safe, neutral, and distraction-free atmosphere for the moderator and participant

  • Pay close attention to what happens during the session

  • Join a debrief session and discuss what you observed

  • Prepare your top 3 takeaways

    • These are the top three items we should not forget or surprise in each session.

    • Write these in the #feedback-backchannel thread for the session or in another location the moderator designates

At this time, do not jump to solutions or interpret user behavior too much. Keep focused on what the user said and did. Exact quotes and observations should be captured, we’ll brainstorm solutions later. Right now, stay focused on the present session and understanding the participant’s reality.

  • Example Observation (Good): “The participant typed ‘science fiction’ in the search box.”

  • Example Inference (Bad): “The participant doesn’t like to use the navigation.”

  • Example Opinion (Worse): “The navigation is not noticeable.”

Role: Stakeholders

  • Stakeholders (external to DSVA, not assigned as note takers) are not required to take verbatim notes but are encouraged to do so if they would like to.

  • Stakeholders should be reminded before sitting in on sessions that they will be asked to provide 3-5 takeaways for each session to the moderator. Remind them that this is one data point of many that will be captured throughout the process.

Sample email to stakeholders

Subject: Usability Testing for X Product


Thank you for your interest in attending a usability testing session for x product.

About usability testing: Usability testing is a method used to see how easy to use something is by testing it with real users. Users will be asked to complete tasks to see where they encounter problems and experience confusion. Usability testing will help us identify how usable or intuitive our product is. The important thing to remember about usability testing is that we aren't testing the user, we are testing our product!

You can find more information on usability testing and why we only need 5 test users here: .

As an attendee:

- You will be a silent viewer (please remember to mute yourself when you join the virtual meeting)

- Take observation notes (focus on what the participant says and does, don't jump to solutions or interpret user behavior)

- Note the top three things you found most interesting or insightful or confusing

- If you have questions/comments for the researcher during the sessions, you can send the researcher any notes you took

The researcher will review the notes and top takeaways from all of the sessions to look for certain patterns. If patterns are identified, design changes will be discussed.

You have been invited to attend the following Veteran feedback session on x date. The goal of the session is x. This session will start at x time and should last about 45 minutes. Each session involves one Veteran and should include no more than 6 team members.


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