The ultimate mobile tool for usability testing

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Three weeks ago I attended a usability test at a big Dutch museum, testing a new mobile application we developed. The company performing the test needed three people for guidance. One person was guiding and doing the interviews. Another carried a complex construction, with a Macbook Pro on top, to observe and collect data throughout the museum. And the last person was just needed for making video footage. It was complex and caused a lot of attention in the museum.

This is propably one of many examples which shows that mobile usability testing is still very unpractical. And since mobility is getting more important it’s good to look for solutions. And today one such solution happened to pass through my mailbox: the FieldCREW.

Since some time a design team at Bresslergroup has been working on ‘a concept user research technology platform,’ the FieldCREW. It is a tablet computer with several wireless data gathering components for the collection of data. This unit is primarily focused ‘at improving data collection efficiency [in] multi-dimensional work situations such as surgery in an operating room.’ But when you look at the specs it’s also really interesting for usability testing mobile applications with users.

It consists of the following hardware:

  • Tablet with touchscreen and integrated video camera
  • Remotely controlled wireless video cameras
  • Handheld wireless taggers to tag key events for later review
  • Subvocalization sensor to silently dictate notes

‘The tablet manages and receives data from these wireless components and provides features including:

  • Video notation (i.e. telestrator) for annotation of events as they happen
  • Speech-to-text translation of recorded audio (and subvocalizations)
  • Access to stored and online project and research reference materials
  • Built-in storage and recharging for wireless components
  • Synchronization of all input sources (video, tagging, notes) for streamlined analysis’

With this tablet and wireless components a researcher could easily control a user test. In case of the usability test in the museum (at the beginning of the article) we could have used one less researcher. But besides a lower budget there is another even bigger advantage… this unit looks a lot subtler then a Macbook Pro on a construction and an extra camera. Which is really positive, since it doesn’t claim attention and provides for a more realistic situation.

I have to say the graphical user interface looks a bit complex, but it appears to be based on a situation with a lot of external components. I personally would prefer a user interface where my actions are minimal, the content is focussed and my attention can remain on the real situation. But of course it’s still a prototype.

This project is really interesting. It’s good to see people are thinking of solutions to improve the collection of data in order to improve interactions in their natural environment.

Thanks to the IxDA mailinglist for the tip

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

2 comments on this article

  1. Very cool, lots of these creative tablet interfaces are going to be coming out with very targeted purposes in the next couple of years. Especially with Windows 7 which will have a lot better support for it.

    Was the camera that you used handheld and operated by one of the researchers? or was it built onto the mobile device you were testing?

  2. There was no camera mounted on the mobile device. The researchers installed a screen capture device, so they could watch what happened on the screen directly on the Macbook Pro. The third person was handling a handycam to tape the behaviour of the person in the rooms.