A New Type of Gorilla is Born
Clearleft is comprised of skilled professionals who have a passion for the processes used to create usable websites. It was that passion that led to the birth of Silverback, a usability testing application for the Mac. Usability testing is something that is often overlooked for an array of different reasons:
- The cost and time is perceived as too high, and therefore left out of the scope of projects.
- Not enough staff to administer and process the tests.
- Lack of the proper equipment or tools.
So, assuming you don’t have thousands of dollars, usability experts, and testing labs at your disposal, what are you to do? Enter Silverback.
What is Silverback?
Simply put, Silverback is beautifully simple usability testing software that utilizes your Mac’s built-in iSight webcam and microphone. With its simplicity and its affordable price point ($49.95), Silverback allows anyone to perform usability testing with little or no budget. The best part about Silverback is that it comes ready-to-use right out of the box. There are no large configuration files or settings, it just works. Jonathan Christopher of Monday by Noon says it best when he states:
My favorite applications do one thing and do it well. Silverback will be one of those applications.
Clearleft are known for their elegant interfaces, and it is immediately apparent that they paid close attention to the interface of the application itself. The interface eliminates the cruft and gets out of the way, allowing you to run the tests and parse the results without sifting through an intense interface. It is this attention to the little details that allow you to keep your usability tests simple and focus on the user interaction, versus setting up the application and learning the interface.
How Does it Work?
Setting up projects is a quick and painless process, and setting up the profiles is just as easy. Silverback utilizes the iSight camera of your Mac, which can turn your laptop into a portable usability lab. Once you create a project and a profile, you can start recording the session. While the test is in progress, Silverback is completely transparent to the user. It records the video and audio of the user, as well as highlighting the clicks of the user. You can control the recording process via the Apple remote, setting chapter markers while the test is in progress. The participants of the test only see what they need to see, and nothing more.
Once the session is completed, you can make notes on the session and then export the test. Once you are ready to export the test, there are options that allow you to place the video in any corner of the screen. Along with the placement of the video you can change its transparency. I see this as one of the greatest features, as you can see the video and watch the user interacting with the interface or website, and make it semi-transparent so that you can still easily see all possible clickable areas. Depending on the time of the session and your exporting options, you may want to go make yourself a cup of coffee while you wait for the test to finish exporting as it can take some time. The final exported video can then be stored for later review, and you can use the interface to make notes about the test.
Is it For Me?
In the beginning we looked at some of the different reasons that developers overlook usability testing. Silverback addresses those barriers with:
- Cost. The cost of the application is $49.95, with 10% of the profits made on the software going to save the gorillas. This makes the application affordable no matter what the size of your organization.
- Staff. The simplicity of the application makes it easy for anyone to use. While it may take a more skilled individual to process the results, it is very simple for anyone to setup and administer.
- Equipment. The only hardware you need is an Apple computer equipped with an internal or external iSight camera and a microphone (if you choose to record the audio and video).
Many developers are familiar with the different analytics tools available to them. Analytics are a vital part to understanding a website. They allow you to see the quantitative data associated with your website. However, analytics fail to show you some of the qualitative data associated with your website. Performing usability tests give you a glimpse of that qualitative aspect, as you can setup and execute tests and see how a user responds. You are seeing first-hand how a user navigates and performs different tasks on your website.
It is important to note that, just as with anything else, it takes professionals to analyze the results and then plan for a proper course of action. This does not replace usability experts. Silverback is just another tool in a web developer’s toolbox. When used properly, it is a very powerful and lightweight application. Silverback comes with a free 30 day trial, but I will admit that it only took minutes for me to realize that this is a must-have tool. If you are looking for a tool to help you perform usability tests on a smaller budget and minimal staff, then look no further than Silverback.
Software Name: Silverback
Rating out of 5: 4