Here at the Boomworks HQ we have a cute little lab for usability testing sessions. The space is customised to support high-fidelity prototyping of desktop sites, audio-visual recording and streaming so that off-site clients can experience the sessions in real-time if they are unable to join us on the other side of the two-way mirror. The space itself is comfortable and cosy – we’ve taken care to make it inviting for the people who have so kindly volunteered to help improve our work.
Lately we’ve been designing more cross-platform experiences for our clients, including sites for mobile and tablet devices. So we needed to create a light-weight, affordable way to run a mobile usability session that fits in well with our existing approach to usability testing.
For all our dreams to come true, we needed to fulfil the following requirements:
- Works on a wide range of mobile devices
- Allows for people to bring their own phones
- Records both the mobile screen and the participant’s reactions
- Travels well for offsite testing sessions
- The same solution could extend to tablets and other different sized devices in the future, for example, the Kindle Fire
- Should feel as natural as possible
With this list in mind, we did a bit of research into existing products on the market and found that nothing made us jump for joy. There are solutions that fix the camera and phone to a desk, but that wouldn’t feel anything at all like the usual experience of using a mobile phone or tablet. Other solutions provide a video camera attached to a massive clamp that fits onto the edge of a phone or tablet. Again, it feels very intrusive and heavy to hold in the hand. I would not want to tether my shiny new iPhone to something like that.
Introducing the BoomSled
That left us with the option of making our own sled. Other web folk have documented their solutions online here, here and here. Within a week we were able to produce designs, send them off to our local plastic fabrication merchant for production and find a suitable mini-web cam to make it all work.
Here’s what we ended up with:
We like this approach because it:
- Is mobile
- Feels light to hold
- Accepts all kinds of phones (we deliberately didn’t make a cradle for this reason, opting instead of blu tack or rubber bands to attach a phone)
- With a few modifications to the size of the sled cradle we could easily use it for tablets
- Easy to connect to the tools we already use (Morae for video & audio recording)
- Was quick to prototype and relatively cheap to set up
The sled has been trialled in a couple rounds of mobile testing now and it hasn’t been too intimidating for people using it. On the other side, it outputs video and audio files of decent enough quality too. In short, it gets the job done.
There have been just a few minor things to consider along the way.
Mini web cams can be unreliable. The first one we trialled was a plug ‘n’ play type, with manual focus and an extendible USB cord. It worked perfectly until 5 days later, when it didn’t work at all. Luckily, it only cost $15, and we had a backup camera – a Microsoft LifeCam, procured for a mere $10.
We’ve run testing sessions where we need to switch from tasks on a desktop to tasks on a mobile. The changeover isn’t seamless, as files need to be saved and settings changed in between. This does draw attention back to the recording process but a little bit of friendly small talk tends to ease this.
Finally, there’s no click-tracking or eye-tracking with this solution. Luckily, this is not a problem for us as we are fine with the level of documentation our videos and reports provide.
Want to make your own?
Feel free to use our BoomSled diagram as a starting point. Send it off to your local plastics merchant for a quote (you’ll notice that we originally had circle cut outs (we decided against these as it’s cheaper to produce a sled without them). If you can’t find someone to produce this in your local area, you could also consider Ponoko.com.
We’re keen to keep evolving our approach to mobile usability as new tools and techniques become available. Do you have a solution you would be happy to share with the UX community? Let us know in the comments below.