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Webgrrls Wisdom » Best New Tool for User Testing: The Flip

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Best New Tool for User Testing: The Flip

written by Kristin Vincent
Kristin Vincent
Topics: Tech Tools, Technology, Usability
Veiw all posts written by

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.

user test set up with flip

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:

screen cap of user testing with flip

This small and relatively inexpensive device has removed most barriers that have inhibited us from doing more user testing in the past.

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Did you enjoy this post? Comments (6)


Comment by Michele Marut
2009-05-21 15:09:14

Thanks for sharing new ideas about usability testing in the field. Can you tell me if there is a way to “mark” or tag the video during the capture? Also, what do you use to edit and/or create highlight videos?

Comment by Kristin Vincent
2009-05-26 15:12:38

We used Windows Movie Maker for editing. It was easy to jump to different segments, edit parts out, split or combine clips, and rearrange parts. I don’t believe there’s a way to mark video while it’s recording (other than quickly pushing the button to start and stop it). But I don’t think you’d want to do that anyway. Because of the device’s small size, pushing any button while filming would cause the recording to bump all around. We created a 9-minute summary from our hours of testing to share with the larger team and easily inserted still slides in between series of clips that acted as title pages for the various sections. For example, we’d have a slide that said “Navigation” and then would show a series of clips that addressed that point. All of that was done post-recording though.

Comment by Cindy Shull
2009-05-27 16:08:06

I recently had an opportunity to record on a similar camera. Problem was that on the two Vista machines all I had to do was to double click on the file and it viewed fine with audio. But when I took the same file to a older XP machine and double clicked the file all we got was the audio. Where did the video go? I upgraded the Window’s media player on one of the older XP machines to version 11 and still no visiual.

Any ideas?

Comment by Julia Druk
2009-05-28 09:46:04

I worked with Kristin on this project, and was able to view the video/audio on my XP machine after downloading the Flip software from their site.

You can find the download here (link to Flip site):

Try installing it on your PC, and see what happens. If that doesn’t work, it may be worthwhile to investigate whether your drivers are compatible with the Flip file format.

Good luck!

Comment by Jill Reed
2009-06-11 11:49:53

I was wondering what model of Flip you used. I did a test video with the Mino HD, and I had trouble viewing smaller parts of the UI like normal sized text and menu bars. Where you able to see enough detail?


Comment by Kristin Vincent
2009-06-11 12:39:18

We used model #F260N, which is the Flip Video Ultra Series (60 Minutes), White & Orange. As you can see from the screen cap in the post, the quality is not spot on, but it was fine for our purposes because we could go back and match up any details with the live site. I know the Flip now makes an HD version, though I haven’t used that one yet.

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