One of the best ways to build technology that truly fits into people’s lives is to observe people using your technology. At my job, I frequently set up usability tests, so that we can observe people using the interfaces we have designed. It has become easier and easier to run these studies, thanks to tools like GoToMeeting, or Morae, however, one of the most challenging tests to set up are tests on mobile devices. You start out with many of the normal tasks to conduct web site usability tests: email campaigning, scheduling participants, coordinating conference rooms, technical set up… but then you have the additional challenges of setting up multiple webcam feeds, trying to stream live video into the next room, hosting a remote observation room, and keeping your eye on stakeholder questions while moderating the test with the participant.
We know how powerful and inspiring it is for stakeholders and developers to watch sessions live, while you are conducting the tests with participants. But watching mobile testing live? While in the field? My sister-in-law inspired me to believe this is possible because she once live streamed herself running the Okinawah Marathon in Japan. It was almost like being there with her…the kind of experience you want your development teams to have, so they can understand the context your users are in…
So how do you run a mobile usability test in front of a live studio audience? Here are a few tips I picked up from watching a lot of 30 Rock (NBC’s Comedy Series, created by Tina Fey, about putting on a late night talk show). The following are a few thoughts you can use to emulate “Liz Lemon” traits:
1. Speak your mind.
When things are getting tough, go to your boss and be vocal about it. They are never going to know what you are struggling with unless you TELL THEM. Just tell them the whole story, and they will help you find a solution… or at least tell you not to worry about it.
2. Keep track of the details.
Keep lists of to dos. Make checklists for repeat tasks. Double check your work. Test. test. test. Rehearse like crazy. Nail your opening script. Be on time. Do everything in your power to cover the details. You might start to feel hopeless, if you are covering all your bases, but not scoring any runs… if you know what I mean. But try not to worry about that. Just try not to drop any balls.
3. Stay focused on your work.
Many people will try to tell you how to run your test. This can be distracting if you are not staying focused on the test you crafted. They are great at offering their opinion on the participants you’ve brought in, the scenarios you wrote, and giving their suggestions of what you should have done differently. Everyone has an opinion, and while it shows that they care about the research, they are almost always wrong. For example, people who complain about the people you recruited wouldn’t know the first step in finding the right people… most of them wouldn’t even know how to describe who the “right” people are! Just stay focused on you… you need all the self confidence you can muster up for this “show” to go off well.
4. Shake off the mistakes.
You can’t get held up with the mistakes you make. You might forget to record the audio properly, or ask that extra question your stakeholders asked you to put into the script last minute. Your computer might go to sleep, leaving your observers with nothing but a blank screen. Just shake it off… take a deep breath, and ground yourself. Focus on what the participant is saying, and follow their lead.
5. Don’t sweat the stress induced forehead acne.
Your adrenaline will kick in once you get doing during your tests. Then, all of a sudden you will lightly brush your hand across your forehead to discover a sore little bump, freshly arisen, out of nowhere. Even if you swear to be calm, and not sweat the small stuff the week you are testing, your adrenaline will kick in, producing stress hormones that create break outs on your face. Don’t pick at it, just let it run its course. Your body needs to heal.
Just remember, running a usability test in front of a live stakeholder audience may be stressful, but it is rewarding. Watch 30 Rock, and pick up some tips.