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Last updated on 12/17/19

Document usability tests

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In an ideal world, you'd be running usability tests regularly, and team members – designers, developers, product managers, clients – would be able to join regularly to observe (or watch live in a separate screening room). The more people who see what users are experiencing with their own eyes, the easier it will be for developers will understand how to revise features or build new tools. If a client sees something with their own eyes, they may be willing to spend more budget in order to make it come to life.

The biggest issue comes down to time, and excuses that people don't have enough time. Most usability tests run 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you're running tests on 3-5 users that adds up. Other team members are not going to have hours of their day to spend watching videos of your tests. So your job is also to document your discoveries and key "takeaways" in a way that you can share with others.

Capture the highlights

Two of the most effective ways to present usability findings are through annotated screenshots, or a video "highlight's reel." Annotated screenshots involve using screenshots from the test that showcase usability issues, then adding arrows and comment boxes to point out areas that were confusing or not clear for the user. These can be created quickly and don't need to be pretty. Clarity of the information you're presenting is more important .

Video can be a very useful tool for communicating usability issues with the development team. "Seeing is believing" applies here. Rather than spending 30-minutes trying to type up a description of what happened during the test, you can show your team members what actually happened.

The point of usability testing is not to find and fix every possible usability issue on the site, but to help prioritize which ones to focus on and to fix first. Therefore, creating a 3-minute (or less) highlight video featuring 3-5 insights along with a one sentence description of each issue you observed can be very beneficial. Video of usability testing does not need to be professional quality. As long as you can see what is happening (and hopefully hear the user talk through it) that's all that matters. Most of the time you're less interested in seeing the user and their expressions (a lot of that will be captured through their voice), and more interested in seeing what's happening on the screen.

Low budget is fine. Your goal is to keep the project moving forward quickly so it's more important to get the feedback to appropriate team members quickly. It is no use if it takes you two weeks to share your findings with the tech team, because chances are that they'll already have moved on to a new version. Try to get everything turned around in a couple days.

A nice alternative to video can be to use audio recordings along with screenshots. Acting as the narrator means you can help walk through the experience from the user's point of view. Most people working on the project are going to be very familiar with the product so they can use their imagination for the rest.

In both cases you can recreate the situation after the fact for documentation purposes as long as it's based on an actual discoveries during your observation.

Tips for documenting your usability tests

There are several ways you can capture video documentation:

  • Record during a screen cast using a program like Quicktime (this is how my the usability test was captured for this course!)

  • Use GoogleHangouts for remote testing (note: you likely will want to change the settings to private once the session is complete)

  • Camtasia (paid screencast software)

  • Video the session on your mobile device (make sure you back up your phone before doing this and have enough battery as well as storage space before doing this)

  • Record screencast from smartphone (new iOS updates allow you to do this )

  • Use a video camera (borrow one from a friend or library)

  • YouTube is a great resource to find other ideas for recording and using digital tools.

Anytime you're conducting a remote session you may want to remind users in advance that you will be able to see anything on their desktop. You should let them know in advance that you'll be recording.

You'll want to make sure you can find all of your usability tests easily, so you may want to create a "wiki" in order to find them. You can create this in a program like GoogleDocs or Notion. Dropbox or GoogleDrive can be useful for storing the files. Video files can get heavy, so you'll need to be aware of file size in order to have access to free storage. Include the name of the test, date, location, as well as a link to the test files. (We'll explore this in more detail in the Managing Creative Projects course.)

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement