NOTE-TAKING SYSTEM

The original goal of this project was to work with a pharmaceutical business and improve their methods of communication and collaboration. This focus quickly shifted to building a solution for those conducting research as this was the core of medical development - collaboration relied heavily on how participants generated data and presented it to their colleagues.

What resulted from a whirlwind of contextual inquiries and user interviews is a note-taking system that 1. helps users utilizing traditional note-taking methods transition into a digital environment and 2. enable users to quickly and efficiently document research findings. 

To read about this report in more detail, you can download the full report here. I also sent a pitch deck to LabArchives that you can view.

INSTITUTION

University of North Texas

CLASS

Capstone

YEAR

Fall 2019

INITIAL STEPS

IDENTIFYING THE CHALLENGES AND GOALS

The first step taken was to understand how users take notes, store their notes, their perceptions of electronic lab notebooks (ELNs), and any painpoints in both the traditional and digital scene.

3 labs were interviewed: 2 used traditional note-taking methods and 1 used an ELN.

Methods included:

  • Observing users conduct experiments

  • Observing and questioning their environment

  • Interviewing users on their perceptions of traditional versus digital note-taking and how they organize and store data

The goals

1

Number of Components

The first goal is to reduce the number of components users utilize in the digital note-taking environment. For smart notebook users, they wouldn’t have to use a third-party cloud platform to upload and retrieve their notes from. The ELN users don’t have to lose track of loose pieces of paper with notes on them. And traditional note-takers can easily transition into an ELN.

2

Transitioning

Notes

Existing ELN users have to retype their notes into the digital system. Smart notebook users have to go through a third-party (like Google Drive) to upload their handwritten notes, and even then, they can’t search their handwritten notes. Traditional users have this perception that digital notes take too much time and are much more difficult to use than a traditional, physical notebook.

3

Lack of Feature Knowledge

Currently, ELN users don’t know that the software has certain features like sketch, and use workarounds like labeling their pictures in powerpoint before uploading then into the ELN. Same for smart notebook users - they were unaware of the handwriting to text feature and did not use it.

The Research labs

The Traditional Labs

These labs used physical notebooks to record data but also stored raw data, such as pictures and gels, in their personal laptops. 

I noticed every person would take pictures on their phones and print that data out before pasting it into their notebooks. They would then label these pictures in their physical notebooks. The same would happen for digital files like protocols - they would write their changes before going onto the computer and making changes to a digital file.

Their main reasons for not utilizing ELNs is due to their perception of it being difficult to navigate and not fitting in with their current note-taking methods.

The Digital Lab

This lab was particularly interesting as they were forced to transition to ELNs due to issues of research credibility. Everyone in the lab is required to upload their raw data and notes into an ELN.

The ELN has an admin feature so their lab manager is able to access and review notes whenever he wants. Researchers tend to write on loose pieces of paper or notebooks and transfer those notes into the ELN usually at the end of the week. 

Within this lab, I discovered that a couple people had created their own system of note-taking and it involved a smart notebook. This became the basis of my solution - the group utilizing this system seemed to really like it and it helped their transition from traditional note-taking to digital.

THE EXISTING SYSTEM

Understanding the user flow and painpoints

Smart Notebook Users: They use a smart notebook, the coinciding app, loose pieces of paper and the ELN desktop software

ELN Users: They use random pieces of paper/a notebook and the ELN desktop software

Traditional Users: They use a physical notebook, take pictures on their phone, and store raw data and presentations on their desktop

The user's journey and workflow

Analyzing existing platforms

Rocketbook -

The Smart Notebook

Analyzing existing platforms

Lab Archives-

The Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)

THE SOLUTION

a business opportunity

Compatible ELN
The Note-Taking System
Smart Notebook
Mobile App

The solution is an opportunity for existing ELNs and smart notebooks to expand their business; since it's presented as an extension, the solution isn't branded.

The goal of this system is provide a solution for ELN adoption, an issue that seems prominent in the field of medical research and pharmaceutical production. Both the ELN and individual perceptions of digital note-taking implement barriers that prevent some users from adopting ELNs.

Building upon an existing system that was discovered in the ELN research lab, the solution is an amalgamation of features and ideas from other existing platforms along with improvements that tackle issues researchers encounter during the note-taking and digital transition process.

The Focus

There are several components to this system but I decided to focus only on the capabilities of the smart notebook, a general redesign of the ELN layout, and an onboarding system.

  • The smart notebook: this is one of the main components of enabling users to transition their notes into the ELN

  • General redesign: the layout of the existing ELN that was studied had barriers, such as increased cognitive load, that prevented users from utilizing it to it's fullest extent

  • Onboarding system: the ELN company relied on the lab managers to train their employees or search for information on YouTube or their website. This prevented users from fully understanding the capabilities and they would use work-arounds to obtain results that the ELN had features for

ITERATION 1

The Smart Notebook Reinvented

The Electronic Notebook Reinvented

The Onboarding

The full-experience with functional gifs can be viewed here.

User testing and system usability scale

You can view the form and responses here.

On a scale of 1-5, 1 meaning Strongly Disagree, participants were asked a series of questions about the note-taking system.

  • Based off of the SUS analysis and comments they made while filling out the questionnaire, findings show that participants are interested in the product, recognize the usefulness of it and are doubtful of their ability to use the system. 

  • During the test, participants struggled with understanding what I was trying to test and how all three components (the Smart Notebook, ELN, and Phone app) connected to each other. After going through the test completely and asking some clarifying questions, which also supported some understanding of the system’s concept, they rated the system moderately difficult to use.  

  • One user explicitly stated that she doesn’t want to read all the text and would prefer a video tutorial over the current onboarding walk-through. Possible contributing factors to their confusion include the test script I used and the minimal explanation they received from the onboarding walk-through.

  • Views on inconsistency varied but the overall consensus is that their were a few issues with connecting all three components of the note-taking system. Participants also had a difficult time connecting the Smart Notebook notations with how it would appear once it was uploaded to the ELN.

Iteration 1

56.25%

Average between 2 participants.

Iteration 2

74.17%

Average between 3 participants.

ITERATION 2

The Smart Notebook Reinvented

The Electronic Notebook Reinvented

The Onboarding

The full-experience with functional gifs can be viewed here.

User testing and system usability scale

You can view the form and responses here.

On a scale of 1-5, 1 meaning Strongly Disagree, participants were asked a series of questions about the note-taking system.

  • Participants expressed interest in the concept of the idea and asked if this project was going to become a real thing. A few mentioned how research documentation is undoubtedly moving towards becoming digital and related that to the necessity of this note-taking system. 

  • The onboarding was significantly lengthened. None of the participants seemed to understand the last slide that explained how their physical notes translated to the ELN. Many participants expressed how they would have understood better if the product was live, in which they could explore it more thoroughly. Again, the test script and the limitations of the prototype seemed to hinder their understanding of the note-taking system.

  • One participant expressed a lot of frustration during the test but mentioned how she’s not fluent in English and her knowledge of technology was limited. All participants were visibily confused during portions of the tutorial but by the end of the test, they seemed to mostly understand the concept. Again, the main issue was the script I had and participants struggled with understanding what I was asking them to do.

  • Although an improvement from the last iteration, there was still a significant misunderstanding on how the 3 components of the system worked together. The information that was gathered pointed at the tutorial not being clear enough, especially the parts where buttons were highlighted during the tooltip. Another factor was that 2 screens were out of order, a mistake that could have been avoided. 

THE OVERALL INSIGHTS

Understanding the short comings

Understanding the short comings

Although I was testing cognitive load, I obtained results related to the overall efficacy of my onboarding system. In no way was I able to support or obtain evidence against cognitive load - instead, my findings highlighted factors that deemed this type of user testing as ineffective. Due to my prototypes’ limited functionality, the user testing script, and the environment that the test was conducted in, participants were unable to engage with the product in a way that was more suitable to their learning ability/capacity . Many participants told me that if they had more time, were left with the system alone and if the system was completely built out, they would be able to explore it in a way that my user script limited them. Also, if they were able to utilize the product using their own workflow, such as conducting experiments, they would have understood the product much better. Every participant has their own method of taking traditional notes and every experiment progresses differently. Therefore, by considering those factors and letting the participants use the system on their own, the feedback would have been more accurate.

 

This is not to say the results were insignificant by any means. The findings still support the concept of the system and contribute to the future developments of the onboarding, the features of both the ELN and smart notebook, and the user interface of all the components.

 

It’s not just about the onboarding system but also the willingness to learn, their interest in the product and their perception on the necessity of the solution.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

Opportunities for improvement

The Onboarding/Tutorial:

  • Instead of a walkthrough, there should be a video that explains the concept of the note-taking system and how each component works. 

  • In addition to a video, there should be in-person training where either a lab manager or someone else who is well-versed in using the system can explain how to use it and answer any questions users may have. This also forces users to learn at least some of the system as they can’t skip an in-person tutorial like they would a video.

  • By providing both, users will obtain some type of training no matter what and the video can help enforce what users learned during the in-person training.

The reMarkable:

  • The reMarkable is a tablet that has a screen that resembles paper. The current solution would actually translate well using the reMarkable as it would replace both the Smart Notebook and the Phone App. Users could write directly onto the tablet and also access their notes. It would actually increase productivity because users would not have to deal with the Smart Notebook notations as they can easily upload pictures and documents and make edits to those upload all in one session during experiments rather than after.

  • The only reason this idea was not considered first is because it is quite costly and I wanted to focus on a solution that traditional note-takers would perceive as a low switch cost. A smart notebook for 30 or 40 dollars seemed much more accessible for skepticle users.

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