You probably know someone with a Flip, the pocket-size camera that lets people shoot a video with the push of a button. It’s small enough to carry with you at all times, and it has a USB plug built in that lets you quickly upload content to the web. I’ve heard people refer to it as the “YouTube Camera” because this small device enables any average joe to easily get content published for the world to see.
I recently discovered a wonderful new use for the Flip: user testing. The small device allows user experience professionals to effortlessly capture user tests while allowing them to go to the participant. Until now, I’ve found it cumbersome and expensive to record any sort of usability session. But now, for around $200, you can have a portable video recorder to bring with you—in your pocket. This lets you go to the user and observe them in their natural environment—something that has previously been challenging.
When I was at IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab about four years ago, we had a usability lab with a not-so-inconspicuous “tree cam” that supposedly made people less conscious of the fact that we were filming them. Like participants didn’t notice a big fake potted plant with a 10-inch camcorder and wires hanging down! (I’m sure they’ve upgraded since then.)
I’ve also been on teams where we’ve rented out usability labs with sophisticated equipment that recorded both the participant and the screen itself. That nifty set up is great for us researches, but I’ve heard users say that it makes them uncomfortable because so many large device are pointing at them and recording their faces.
Last week while we were observing shoppers on Barnes & Noble.com, all we had to do was sit the phone-sized camera on the desk and aim it at the computer screen. The most AV set up we ever needed to do was to prop the camera up on a book if we needed to raise it an inch to better capture the screen.
You just push that big red button to start recording, and then you push it again to stop. Only the participant’s voice, not face, was captured.
I was skeptical about the quality of the video. One warning is that you’ve got to remember to speak up and keep reminding your participant to speak up. The mic isn’t the best. But the screen was clear to see. And we also were able to capture when people pointed at areas of the screen, (something I’ve lost in the past when the screen is recorded by software). Here’s a screen cap from what we recorded during testing:
This small and relatively inexpensive device has removed most barriers that have inhibited us from doing more user testing in the past.