What are your preferred tools to take notes during a usability session or UX fieldwork?

looking for creative ways to put together a list for HCI students.

there might be some cool software out there but students are on a budget.

Any good suggestions?

  • You might want to distinguish between real time note taking: ie recording points to pick up there and then; and session recording for later analysis.
    – PhillipW
    Sep 12, 2013 at 19:33
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    – Izhaki
    Sep 12, 2013 at 21:47

5 Answers 5


For me, the single most useful software (which happens to be free) in the UX process (and often outside it) is XMind.

It is particularly good for brainstorming, quick collection of data that then needs sorting. Making it ideal in many stages of the process, like during many requirements gathering activities, or IA.

The notes feature is extremely powerful; the Markers also help (to signify priorities, for instance); and the resultant diagram can be made highly aesthetic.

It is also dead easy to learn (key features will take about 2 minutes to master).

A screenshot of XMind


I tend to use

  • pencil
  • paper

Sometimes a pen. If it's a nice one.

  • I find just writing keywords is still the best way to note stuff down that I want to investigate there and then.
    – PhillipW
    Sep 13, 2013 at 21:59

I am a fan of using Evernote's recording feature. It still requires translation down the line, but used in conjunction with a peer note taker, it can help fill in the gaps so I can pay attention to user behavior.


Power Point

I usually just use Power Point. Here is how the study usually goes: Power Point contains a script (overall intro) and a separate page for each user task. When user is performing a task, I put notes right where the corresponding task is in the Power Point. That allows keeping all of the notes organized per task.

Pros compared to pen and paper:

  1. I can still watch the user while typing and can type faster than write. Personally, it's hard for me to write and look at what the user is doing.
  2. Less time organizing notes after each session since they are already in electronic form.
  3. If you are not the one taking notes, it's easier to read typed notes that someone's handwriting.

Camera (e.g. GoPro)

Recording videos helps if you really need to pay attention to how the user is moving. If you are taking notes it's hard to catch all little details. For example, we recently tested some driving scenarios and camera was a must to capture driving impact. Watching videos after the session helped to add additional notes that I didn't catch while observing initially. But for a lot of studies, recording a video is an overkill. It takes a lot of time to watch the sessions.


As well as recording video I run a backup audio recording.

Because having a backup version is a good idea...particularly on people who are expensive to recruit.

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