Strategy and Consulting

Tools for the Traveling UX Researcher

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I conducted my first software usability research sessions in a lab back in 1999 as a graduate student. We had desktops and video cameras set up at different angles to capture participants’ facial expressions as well as their interaction with the system. I took notes by hand. I had a stopwatch to record start and end times for tasks.
When I started working for real clients, I set their labs up the same way. A video camera and a tripod, my notebook and a stopwatch. This setup served me well in the lab and on the road for years. I later welcomed the development of recording software, and lighter laptops.
The emergence of mobile brought my first real setup challenges. I wanted to capture feedback from authentic interactions with the device, not have users click a simulated mobile screen on a laptop or desktop. Many of my mobile studies have been conducted outside of a lab, sometimes pulling participants off the street and taking them to a room where we watch them use their devices.
I had to have a truly mobile lab to get the best results. It’s one thing to load up a car for a local study, but another to board a plane with needed equipment. Regardless of the mode of travel and distance, my preference is to travel light. Flexibility and creativity are required because I don’t know what my environment will be until I’m onsite. My mobile lab consists of these simple tools that have served me well no matter what I encounter:
External Camera
I’ve used the Hue HD external camera for years. Its flexible neck allows it to be positioned in tight spaces, a must when you are onsite with a participant and setup is limited. It’s also great for usability testing of mobile apps. Software that shows the participant mobile screenshots and allows them to click through a scenario are okay, but mouse clicks on a screen aren’t the same as swiping on an actual device. Add a clip to the base of the camera, connect to your computer running screen recording software, and you have what you need.
Screen Recording Software
There are many tools for recording, including built-in recording tools on Mac and PC, but I’ve found Morae most useful because of its picture-in-picture feature. It works with almost every camera, has the Observer feature that allows others to watch the participant, performs auto-analysis and much more.
Second computer or iPad for notes
With the first computer running Morae and connected to the Hue HD, I use my second device to take notes. Gone are my notepads, mostly because I type faster than I can write, and I can back up notes on the cloud that autosaves.
This simple setup is flexible and light enough not to weigh down a traveler racking up miles for the sake of research. What tools have you found useful for your mobile lab?

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