Recording of Testing Sessions
There is some value to recording the data gathering and testing sessions. Professional facilities have video capability, and the new portable labs allow video as part of their software.
There are two types of tape usage. One common practice is to provide a full videotape of the session for the record. A continuous tape is made of the test, and you end up with many hours of tape. However, if someone says, "I don't believe the user actually did that," you can offer to let him or her see the appropriate portion of the tape. In other cases, a much shorter highlights tape is culled from the full videotaping sessions. This edited video, 510 minutes long, shows key findings of the usability testing through the voices and actions of the participants themselves. Carefully selected examples on well-edited highlights tapes often can depoliticize the usability test findings: It is no longer the "opinion" of the tester; it is the voice of the participant. Highlights tapes effectively grip the audience's attention when used as part of the final presentation. This is a very effective practice. There is nothing like showing video of the users in action.
In the past, recording sessions were prohibitively expensive, but with the new "shoebox" usability equipment available today (see Figure 8-3), the cost is much more reasonable. This shoebox equipment includes a TV camera, microphone, monitor, and a remote marker to make it easy to find interesting tape segments. There is in fact no tape, just a high-capacity hard drive to save the data, so it is also far easier to edit and present the results. This ease of use, combined with its reasonable cost, makes the shoebox lab a practical alternative to traditional equipment.
Figure 8-3. Shoebox Usability Equipment
Most labs are moving to digital means of recording to make video editing easier as well. Using this new technology, you can put parts of the video record in the report (see the sample of a test presentation video in Figure 8-4). The lab software lets you record the user's facial expressions and the activity on the screen.
Figure 8-4. Example of a Video Record from a Usability Test (see Plate 3)
A few labs use a special type of equipment called an eye-tracking device. It lets you track where the user's eye is fixating. You can gain a lot of information from this device. You can see users scanning around the page because they are lost or scanning an image because they cannot tell if it is selectable.
Eye-tracking devices are very useful for research purposes. For example, studies have shown that people start scanning in the main area of a Web page and initially ignore the logo, tabs, and left-hand navigation [Schroeder 1998] and that people's eyes are drawn first to areas that have saturated colors (pure bright colors), darker areas, and areas of visual complexity [Najjar 1990].
You do not need an eye-tracking device in order to run an excellent usability test. A good facilitator can see where the user is looking anyway and can supply you with very similar data. An eye-tracking device is expensive and requires setup time, so you probably won't use it for routine usability tests. It may come in handy, however, in a remote usability test since the facilitator will not be physically present with the participant.