Archives for January 2014

January 17, 2014

Building A User Testing Lab, Part 2

In this follow-up to my first post about building a discount usability testing and user research lab at Fullscreen, I’ll talk about setting up a space for testing and getting the right equipment on a budget.

The Space

Though it’d be nice, a permanent room for our user lab just isn’t in the cards so I needed to find a space to set up shop in and conduct interviews and sessions for a few hours at a time. It was easy to narrow down the candidate pool since there are really only two private and distraction-free rooms in our building that aren’t also occupied by people who, you know, need to work in them.

We’ve used our conference room for user testing sessions in the past. It’s worked out fine, but it also feels a bit overwhelmingly large when you’ve only got two or three people in it. And we also have a little loungey game room with a couch and two comfy chairs—which is what we’re going to use. Since the room itself is more like a place where people would actually use the products we’ll be testing, on some level it’ll be easier for them to engage in authentic behaviors under admittedly artificial circumstances.


Even if you don’t have an Arduino-controlled keggerator at your house, it’s a pretty easy guess which room you’d feel more at home in

The Equipment

OK, that was easy. I’ve basically got a living room to work with the users in, and the Silverback and Reflector apps installed on my laptop. Now it’s time to go shopping, keeping in mind a budget of $1000 max including devices.

Webcam: Silverback uses the built-in iSight by default, but to test mobile prototypes I’ll need a webcam to capture the user’s reactions. We had a 1080p Logitech C615 ($49) sitting around, but if I had to buy one I’d just go for this Microsoft LifeCam ($19) which is still 720p and still more than adequate.

Mouse: Good to have one handy for users who aren’t used to trackpads. Since non-Mac users won’t be familiar with the $70 Magic Mouse anyway, a standard-issue Logitech USB mouse ($17) should do it.

Microphone: I’ve had a Blue Snowball ($59) for a couple of years. Could probably get away with using the laptop’s built-in microphone, but I don’t want to miss a thing.

Mobile devices: Here’s where things get a little expensive. I went for an entry-level iPod Touch ($229) to test iOS apps and demo mobile prototypes (using Invision, an app that makes it simple to string together screens into passably-real prototypes and get them onto devices). Way cheaper than a $600 unlocked iPhone, and no need to pay another $10 for a blank SIM card just so you can open mobile Safari.

The total cost for all this equipment, as well as the software to record sessions and stream from devices, would be just $410. Way under budget, I also took a protip to heart from Pocket’s experience setting up a mobile testing lab. They note that the iPad mini is a perfect size for demoing iPhone prototypes built in Keynote, which is another amazingly quick and effective way to get early validation of rough concepts. So I got hold of one of those as well. All in, the total cost for this multi-device testing setup including software, camera, microphone, mouse, iPod Touch and iPad Mini is $659.

I’m excited to put it all to use (tomorrow!) and report back on what went wrong and hopefully a lot of what went right.

January 10, 2014

Building A User Testing Lab, Part 1

This is the first of three posts about my experience building a discount usability testing and user research lab with the team at Fullscreen. I’ll talk about why we’re doing this and touch on the software that we’ll use to capture sessions.

Google Ventures-style product design sprints seem to be popping up all over the place these days. Design sprints have become an important piece of our process toolkit at Fullscreen, not just because I love me a good trendy methodology but really because they’ve helped us us immensely with quick parallel concept development and rapid validation.

In a product design sprint, you bring ideas from concept to low-fi prototype in less than a week and then get them in front of people—preferably, real users of your product—to see how they hold up. So you need a place to work with the users during these sessions as well as a way to capture the sessions so the whole team can review and “score” them.

Now our relatively new office, despite its many lovely features including a human-size terrarium, doesn’t have one of those fancy interview chambers with a one-way mirror and HD simulcast capabilities to the adjacent observation room’s three flatscreen displays. What we do have, though, is our first design sprint of 2014 starting next week. And we need a way to conduct and capture those user sessions by Friday.

So we’re building a user testing lab that makes use of our flexible space and can be set up and taken down with extremely minimal effort, that can handle both desktop and mobile prototypes, and that costs less than $1000 including devices. I’m going to document this exercise for posterity starting with the software we’ve chosen to capture the sessions, then the hardware and the space itself and finally what will hopefully be a triumphant recounting of the first user sessions we run in it.

The Software

Our discount usability lab needs to record two things: the interaction with the prototypes onscreen and the user’s face while they’re interacting with it. We want this captured in a single video file so it’s easy to review and discuss later.

A few years back I used an app called Silverback to record some user testing done while building a group messaging app called Volly. Silverback doesn’t seem to have changed altogether too much, but that’s a good thing. It’s designed for doing exactly what we need, which is recording two streams of video—a screencast and the user’s face so we can get the full brunt of their reactions and thought process. It’ll use your laptop’s built-in iSight by default but getting it to recognize a USB webcam is as easy as plugging it in. It even records hotspots whenever the user clicks so you can tell exactly what’s going on.


Note the awesome little hotspot where I clicked. Also the depth of that v-neck

I’ve also heard that ScreenFlow gets the job done despite having an old-timey website, and it also has built-in editing features which could be handy if you also wanted to use it for something else, like recording product demos or tutorials. ScreenFlow’s extra features have a $99 price tag, though; since Silverback is only $70, that’s what I went with.

We’re sorted for capturing desktop user sessions. But what about testing mobile apps and prototypes? My first thought was to try awkwardly clamping a USB document camera to the mobile device. But this post by one of the creators of Silverback points out how ridiculously simple it is to mirror any iOS device using the $13 Reflector app.


Silverback x Reflector. Since you’re wondering, the app is called Tuxedo Kittie

With Reflector, you can mirror whatever’s happening on any iOS device that supports AirPlay mirroring (devices with just plain old AirPlay need not apply; my old iPhone 4 was a no-go). Open Reflector, and your computer will appear as an AirPlay receiver to your phone. From there, it literally just works.

That is, for iOS. Looming large is the day when we find ourselves wanting to capture user testing using Android devices. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will in no way be as painless as Reflector makes it for iOS devices. But as someone wiser than myself once said, any testing is better than no testing at all.

January 05, 2014

Every Day Writing Publishing

It only took three days of my self-imposed “Every Day Writing” challenge and I already cheated and tweeted for yesterday’s “writing”. Which got a great response that made me reconsider the format of the challenge.

From here forth, its “Every Day Publishing.” Because the point of the challenge isn’t to build a better blog. I’m doing it so:

  1. I’ll become a better and faster creative thinker through repetition and practice
  2. I’ll engage with people around and because of the things I share and build relationships
  3. And most importantly, through constant sharing I’ll learn to be less defensively precious about my creative output and learn to take feedback in stride

I can do all of these without limiting myself to little blog entries. I can write here or on Twitter or as comments on a blog post.

In fact, I don’t need to limit it to just writing. Changing “write” to “publish” every day means I can share some work on Dribbble. Or a presentation on Speakerdeck. Or a mix tape on Soundcloud. All three of which are conspicuously lacking in content at the moment.

And finally, I’m pretty confident that my audience here approaches zero. So any of those other things is gonna be just as if not more effective in getting eyes on what I’m publishing.

January 03, 2014

Product Management Is Just Like Chicken Ranching

I genuinely love a good metaphor more than anyone, and the first day back to work in 2014 brought me this. I very loosely quote:

“It’s like you’re a farmer with 100 chickens but only one bucket of corn to last the entire winter. You can do what initially seems like the only humane thing to do and feed them each a tiny little bit, but they’ll all eventually starve and your farm’s out of business. Or you can do the hard work of picking the five toughest chickens and just feed them, and you’ll have the beginnings of a kickass flock next spring.”

It’s like choosing which features to work on, or which opportunity to invest in when you’ve got limited resources, just with more hay. And more poop.

January 02, 2014

Every Day Writing

One of my goals for 2014: write something and share it publicly. Every day.

This counts. Let’s go.