Usability testing with Silverback

SteveBack in April I attended Future of Web Design 2008; a two day event with a conference on Thursday and Workshops on Friday. On the Friday afternoon I attended a session on Guerrilla Usability Testing run by Andy Budd from Clear Left.

Usability testing is something I’ve been itching to do properly for years; I’ve been trying to sell the idea to various bosses ever since I read Steve Krug’s excellent Don’t Make Me Think.

Andy’s session demonstrated that effective usability testing really is within reach. He started off with a real world example – getting people who don’t drink much wine to evaluate three different bottle openers. This had the rather pleasing upshot of there being several open bottles of wine that needed consuming during the course of the afternoon. From there Andy moved on to the main presentation which was informative and entertaining, you can see a version of the slides he used here.

At the end of the session Andy announced that Silverback, the application that clear left had been making a noise about for a couple of months was in fact a tool for doing usability testing on the mac, and we would all be getting a beta copy to play with. As a recent mac convert I was keen to give it a spin.

At work we had already scheduled in some usability testing on the product we are developing so I was able to try Silverback out almost straight away.

Silverback is incredibly straightforward to use, you create a project and then set up a new test session with in that. In your web browser of choice you navigate to the site you’ll be testing then, when you are ready to start your test click “Start Session” in silverback, the screen fades to black with the words “press SPACEBAR to start” displayed in large friendly letters.You can pause and restart recording during the session, using your apple remote if you have one. Youcan also use your remote to mark places where your tester runs in to difficulty apparently.

Once you have finished your test you can make notes and export the session. I love the way Steve the gorilla taps his foot and drums his fingers on his clipboard while the export takes place.  What you end up is a quicktime movie like the one below with the isight & screen capture videos combined, Sweet!

My Silverback Demo

The movies are incredibly useful for understanding how users will interact with your site, they’re a very persuasive tool for getting colleagues to rethink functionality.

I think Clear Left have done a great job with Silverback, we’ll definately be buying a license when they launch the product.