As more of our clients develop sites and apps for mobile devices, we have seen an increased need to conduct usability testing on tablets and smartphones. Finding the right recording solution has been challenging, especially when compared to recording desktop usability sessions.
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For desktop usability, there are many different applications that allow us to capture screen interactions along with a picture-in-picture view of a participant’s face. When trying to apply this to mobile device testing, it’s particularly difficult to capture an accurate and clear video recording of the session. Although clients typically want to see the participant’s face, often it’s more important to see what the user’s hands and fingers are tapping and swiping on the mobile device.

An added complication is that the mobile devices are… mobile; in other words, participants move them during the session, making video capture an even bigger challenge. Here at Mediabarn, we made the decision at the onset to develop a mobile testing solution that wouldn’t require any attachments (e.g., cameras, sleds, or wires) to the device. We felt that wrapping a device with mounts and wires would create an unusual user experience.

In order to mimic as lifelike an environment in the usability lab as possible, we offer a variety of flexible solutions and equipment, including wireless HD connections, wiring and power in our ceilings, and a large selection of cameras, mounts and arms. Our recording system allows us to try various approaches and enables us to cater to diverse groups of participants, dependent on the objectives of each unique study. For example, we discovered that testing mobile devices with kids requires a different setup than one we might use with adults. Specifically, kids have a tendency to pull devices into their laps, while adults seem content to use devices on the tabletop. During longer studies, however, we have found that adults tend to pull the device closer to their chest and lap as their arms become fatigued. The bottom line is that our technical approach considers the participants, the type of device, the type of site or app being tested, and the length of study.

We essentially have two main setups:

(1) Camera. We have a number of different camera setups. Generally, we use an “over the shoulder” view or our telescoping arm document camera (our most recent equipment addition). This setup allows for a clear view of the screen as well as what the respondent is doing on the screen. We find that most of our clients are more interested in seeing how participants manipulate what they see on the screen, so this is what we record. Additionally, there are two cameras (one on each side of the participant) showing body language or facial expressions. When we’re testing kids, or for longer studies, we use ceiling cameras, placed to the right or left of the respondent so that their head will not block our view if they lean over the device.

(2) Apple mirroring and Airplay. When it’s more important for our clients to have a crystal clear view of what is on the device screen than to see participants’ hand or finger movements, we use this type of screen capture recording. As with the other technique, the dual cameras capture facial expressions and body movements.

While we would love to have a single solution for recording mobile device usability tests, we have found that maintaining a flexible approach is the best way to fulfill the needs of our clients and their individual projects.

Heather Gay

About Heather Gay

Heather brings over 15 years of research management experience to Mediabarn. She has a special ability to look at a situation through the eyes of a target audience, especially consumers. Her enthusiasm, coupled with the confidence of a seasoned researcher, make projects run smoothly. Prior to joining Mediabarn, Heather previously…
Posted in eyetracking, Research, user research, uxdesign, uxlab.

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