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Poor man's usability testing

Roy Tomeij

Roy Tomeij on

Usability testing can be a costly affair if you want to do it often, from your own office and with a team watching and commenting behind the scenes. Here's how to do it on the cheap.

AppSignal is under active development and we like to test features and various flows on fresh faces, before making them available to the general public. For this we regularly organize an evening of usability testing, with one of us instructing a test subject on what to do and the rest watching from behind the screens. For the rest of the team to be involved we briefly considered tools like Silverback, but we don't feel watching a recording afterwards is for us. We want to actively monitor the process of someone working with the app and be able to talk to the instructor privately.

We came up with a solution that only requires the following (not hard to come by at your average tech startup), which has worked really well for us:

  • Two MacBooks for monitoring
  • MacBook for the test subject (usually their own)
  • Headphones and microphone (an iPhone headset works fine)
  • Meeting room for the team

First, make sure all laptops are on the same network. Have your test subject enable screen sharing on his/her laptop and position the team in a meeting room with a laptop. With the team laptop viewing your subject's screen remotely, make sure to disable input commands; you don't want to move the cursor and accidentally annoy and distract anyone. Now position your instructor's laptop next to the one used by the tester and start a Google Hangout session with the team laptop (make sure to mute the microphone on that one). Aim the camera of the instructor's laptop at your subject's face, so your team can now see what's going on at the screen and see the face of the person interacting with it. Have the instructor plug the headphones and microphone into the second laptop and put in a single ear piece (the ear facing away from the subject). The team can now hear what's being said by both the instructor and the tester, and unmute the microphone to discreetly talk to the instructor.

Set-up time for the entire rig: about 10 minutes. If you have any low cost suggestions to improve this set-up, let me know!

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Roy Tomeij

Roy Tomeij

Co-founder who single-handedly turned stroopwafels into the Netherlands' main export product. Dutch southerner who loves (and cooks) BBQ. Improv trainer.

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