“Usability testing has been very hard to do,” says Harley Manning, vice president of research at Forrester. “Anything that lowers the barrier makes it more likely that you’ll do it -- or if you’re already doing it, then more likely you’ll do it more often.”
What these tools won’t do, Manning cautions, is transform people with no experience performing usability testing into human-factor experts.
One key aspect of the discipline is careful selection of test subjects. If someone represents an edge case rather than a core constituency, turning on a camera and screen recorder could do more harm than good. “You’re liable to put in all sorts of design ‘solutions’ that in fact make the product harder to use for the majority,” Manning says.
For developers who rarely get to see people using their software, any opportunity to observe users is likely to provide valuable insight. Arguably such observation can, and should, occur throughout the software life cycle. A software team will often nominate one member to advocate for the user. Equipped with low-cost and easy-to-use recording tools, that team member can capture users’ experiences with alpha, beta, or production software. Ideally the material will be edited down to highlights, but even raw footage can be helpful.
It’s still hard for developers to watch this stuff. We have had a tendency to spare them the pain -- and to sacrifice the gain -- because connecting developers to users in this way has not often been practical. This new generation of tools aims to close that critical feedback loop, thereby helping developers figure out what ease-of-use really means to users.