Whenever we can use a simple, innovative tool to streamline product development, you can bet we’re as happy as a programmer with a case of Red Bull.

SocialNewsDesk, a social media management platform used in 85% of the nation’s newsrooms, is always looking for ways to meet the changing needs of the news industry. During the last two years, we’ve helped SND grow into an incredibly powerful, complex tool for newsrooms. What started as a simple dashboard to post Facebook and Twitter content has grown to encompass a variety of apps, features, and expanded social media offerings with tons of enhancements to its original dashboard.

As we’ve added complexity to the product, it’s always a challenge to ensure we balance new features with the ever-evolving needs of SND users – and that means a ton of user testing.

We run a lot of user testing, usually moderated tests, and we needed to seriously organize our user testing to make sure we could quickly grasp the most important takeaways from our users. As a veteran taker of user testing notes and longtime fan of efficiency, let me share a secret weapon with you: rainbow charts.

The Care Bear® stare of the UX world, rainbow charts are a quick, visual way of capturing user actions and insights while minimizing the amount of notes.

From xkcd.
From xkcd.

I first learned about this tool from Smashing Magazine, and I was excited to see how I could apply it in our work. Now that I’ve given it a whirl, it’s fair to say that I have tasted the rainbow. And it is delicious.

Let me give you a real example of how it’s improved our feedback reporting. One of the classic approaches to user testing reports relies on spreadsheets. Tons and tons of spreadsheets: each requested action is a column, and each user is a row.

Not fun.
Not fun.

For each user test, I doggedly typed out the user’s every action and statement, then highlighted items from the spreadsheet as patterns emerged, mostly after the user testing was complete (I was too busy taking notes to identify patterns during testing). The spreadsheet, while thorough, required hours of analysis before our team could confirm user trends. There was no quick way to refer to specific feedback or pick out important info.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.17.02 AMNow it’s time to feel the power of the rainbow chart.

In our next round of user testing, I integrated our user script into the rainbow chart you see below. Each user is represented by a colored column (U1 is User 1, U2 is User 2, etc.). If a user uncovered a new action that we hadn’t planned on, I quickly added a row with that action so that I could capture it across all users. I worded the items such that any non-colored cell indicated that the user struggled, and there was room to improve. At the end of our day of testing, even though our brains were full, we could easily spot our feedback trends and quickly assess what we were doing right, and what needed adjustment.

So, does this mean you don’t have to type notes or record sessions for review? Of course not. I still take notes, but they are minimal and easier to browse and organize. And the chart quickly lets us know where to focus deeper analysis efforts.

Believe me – you’ll definitely find gold at the end of this rainbow. Share your favorite user testing tools and any other rainbow cliches in the comments!


Image credit: Calvin Bradshaw


Christa Garcia oversees operations at 352 and has been a leader in media-related jobs throughout her career, even back to the ol' college newspaper days. She is a fan of good books, good beer and SEC football.