We finally released Steve the Gorilla in to the wild. This was Clearleft’s first foray in to the desktop application world and brought its own unique challenges. It actually feels good to escape the confines of a browser. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced that we’re trying to bend the browser too far these days. But that’s another blog post entirely.
Silverback was built to scratch an itch: Guerilla usability testing should be quick and easy-to-run, so it always felt frustrating having to set-up a video camera when macs have a far more subtle equivalent built in to them.
That’s half the battle. But for me, the real strength of Silverback is putting usability testing in to the hands of lots more people. Formal usability testing certainly has its place — sometimes you need a level of fidelity that you’re only going to get from quantative analysis. But, more often than not, usability testing is sacrificed because it’s considered too expensive or arduous. Silverback tries to solve that problem by being available where and when you need it.
You really don’t need permission anymore. Grab the Silverback demo, borrow a friend and run a quick lo-fi test over lunch. Trust me, the results are far more effective than the theory.
Enough guff, this is already reading like a Silverback pitch when I actually wanted to talk about a particular form of low-cost usability testing called RITE. RITE stands for Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation method. From the title you can probably guess RITE fits with the Silverback philosophy. It’s certainly something we’re experimenting with at Clearleft.
Apart from a funky sounding acronym, RITE is also a form of discount usability testing which sets out to avoid one of the more typical frustrations with the standard approach: Seeing that blindingly obvious problem come up repeatedly during several sessions. Some issues really don’t need twelve more participants to hammer home the fact that there is a problem. “Moderator: Ahem, so let’s just pretend there is a Buy button…”
That’s where the iterative part comes in. Only rather than doing this after twelve participants have mentioned there is no Buy button, you iterate between sessions. You add the Buy button and get back to testing your product (as well as testing your fix).
Obviously there are some problems that can’t be remedied in this way. RITE deals with this by classifying problems into four discrete categories. Excuse the tawdry labels — they’re my own addition:
Problems with an obvious cause and solution that can be remedied immediately. Labelling issues being the canonical example here. Obviously, there’s a skill in picking these, but these things are normally indisputable (and so they should be).
Similar to Fix-now only the solution cannot be implemented within the timeframe of the current test.
Problems without obvious causes or solutions that need to be
argued discussed post-test.
- Furballs (Sorry…’Curve balls’ doesn’t start with an F).
Issues resulting from exterior forces…maybe the test script is screwy…or the participant is an ex-girlfriend and she decides to put a chair through your monitor.
Silverback’s great for capturing the flummoxers. Hit the plus button on your Apple remote during the test, and Silverback adds a marker in to the movie. This allows you to jump to these when you examine the videos later.
On a very rudimentary level, that’s the Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation method. Obviously, I’m just scratching the surface here. If you want to read more, I suggest you read this far more thorough account of this stuff in action.
It’s not for everyone. One of the drawbacks being that you need someone on-board who can make the changes to your prototype. Anyone attending mine and Richard’s workshop at dConstruct this year, will know this is something that is within reach of IAs these days. We plan to spend a large part of the day talking about the mechanics and benefits of high-fidelity prototypes. These kind of prototypes are perfect for RITE.