🀝UX Research Ethics

This page outlines our policies for general project work.


Tech Fleet recognizes that some projects require a higher degree of sensitivity and confidentiality due to the nature of the topic stakeholders may be focused on. The following ethical principles should guide all aspects of the work, particularly where research ethics are concerned.

Overall, Tech Fleet project members are expected to:

  • Be respectful and compassionate to study participants at all times

  • Respect stakeholders, their clients, and the trust they place in us

  • Respect social science and research norms associated with research involving human subjects, particularly concerning informed consent.

Ethics for UX

While these ethics should cover all UX research, we must be particularly cognizant of sensitivity when working with vulnerable populations, who may require additional protections. As defined by the Department of Health and Human Subjects, vulnerable populations include β€œchildren, prisoners, pregnant women, fetuses, mentally disabled persons, and economically and educationally disadvantaged persons.” Vulnerable populations may also include those who could be re-traumatized by research or who are in danger of harm as a result of their participation in research.

Therefore, in conducting any UX research involving human subjects, including interviews, surveys, field studies, diary studies, etc, the following best practices should be followed:

  • Researchers should ask whether participation in this research is likely to cause participants stress, mental or physical harm.

  • Research questions must reviewed by all members of the research team, project leads, as well as people with subject matter expertise, to make sure questions are appropriate.

  • Researchers should prepare a script explaining the purpose of the research to participants using plain language and minimal jargon. Researchers must inform participants in advance if any sort of record will be made that could personally identify them, such as through the inclusion of names, voices, or faces. Examples of records includes written notes, transcripts, and audio- or video-recordings.

  • Researchers will explain to participants how the data will be analyzed and how findings and recommendations will be used. Researchers should give space for participants to ask questions about the research and its uses.

  • Researchers will ensure that data is anonymized and identifying information is not associated with the data

  • Participants must be informed that they have the right to withdraw their data from analysis at any point during the study

  • Researchers must explicitly inform the participants that if at any time they would like to stop the interview/test, they are encouraged to inform the researcher with no negative repercussions

  • Research should be conducted with the minimum number of researchers necessary to accomplish the work (i.e. one interviewer and one note taker). Participants should give consent to the presence of a note taker and anyone else present.

  • The purpose of a note taker is to:

    • Observe the research process

    • Ensure information is gathered accurately

    • Follow up with the interviewer to share feedback on any ethical concerns or concerns about how they responded to the participant. Interviewers are expected to openly receive respectful feedback.

  • If interviews will be captured as an audio- or video-recording, researchers must have a plan for how these recordings will stay confidential, and they should explain to the participants who will have access to these recordings and what will happen to these recordings when the project is complete.

  • Participants should give informed verbal consent at the beginning of recorded interviews. (Should written consent be required, a template for written consent can be found here.) Informed consent allows participants to understand:

    • why the research is being conducted

    • that they have the right to stop the interview for any reason

    • that researchers will make every attempt to guarantee the safety of their data

    • that participants have the right to ask that their interviews not be recorded should they so desire

  • A sample script before recording should cover information such as the following:

    • β€œSince our interview is for research purposes, it would be helpful if I video-record our interview. Do I have your permission to start recording now? It’s okay to say no, and you can decide to stop recording at any time for any reason.”

  • Researchers will have a plan in place for recognizing whether participants are finding the research triggering of traumatic experiences. Tech Fleet team members who are working on projects where traumatic experiences may resurface should also take note of resources available for trauma-informed/trauma-responsive research and design practice: this is a work in progress but a few are listed below. More experienced researchers should model for newer researchers how to respond to emotional reactions or unexpected situations that may arise.

Additional steps and guidelines

Tech Fleet uses Vowel for project video calls and communication, including User Research interviews and testing. Although we believe Vowel automatically deletes recordings after 60 days and these are no longer on their servers, this merits further investigation. Nonetheless, teams should make sure to:

  • delete recordings that are no longer needed

  • Restrict access of video recordings to just the project team

  • Never share recordings= outside of the project team


This document is based on ideas found in the following resources, which should be consulted for further information:

***Tech Fleet project leads should also share with all leads and apprentices these best practices for confidentiality and protecting vulnerable populations. Please review the attached model from the Sean’s Legacy project, created by Daxle Collier.

Resources for trauma-informed research practice:

Building a trauma-informed research practice, Ad Hoc

Cultivating Resiliencies for All: The Necessity of Trauma Responsive Research Practices, Matthew Bernius and Rachael Dietkus

Informed consent template, Nielsen Norman Group

Obtaining Consent for User Research, Nielsen Norman Group:

Ethical Considerations in UX Research: The Need for Training and Review, by Victor Yocco

Vulnerability in Research: Basic Ethical Concepts and General Approach to Review, by Bruce G. Gordon

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