Testing Touch

Because technology has so rapidly developed over recent years, hardware has also become more and more portable, forcing software designers to think outside the box and come up with UI solutions outside the regular WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing devices) standards. Phones, computers and tablets with touch screens have become more of the norm than the exception nowadays.

The Design Research team at projekt202 recently ran into two challenges as a result of this new dominance of touch screens. First, although there are many design guidelines regarding touch based UIs there are no comprehensive heuristics available. Therefore we decided to establish a set of metrics at projekt202 that could be used to evaluate touch-based UI applications, and ensure our designs have the best possible user experience. These metrics are the subject of a future blog post. Instead I want to focus on our second challenge which is how to usability test prototypes for touch-based UIs with target end users in a realistic setting while also allowing for remote observers.

The team’s first goal was to create a prototype that was relatively low fidelity but at the same time would operate on the actual anticipated hardware (in this case an iPad) to ensure a more realistic experience. This was successfully built by projekt202 designers who used the exporting dialog in Adobe Illustrator to export art boards to JPEGs, but because of certain attributes given to various ‘hot spots’ (interactive areas e.g. buttons, pop-overs etc) html files were also exported which could then easily be loaded in the iPad browser.

After the prototype was created we proceeded to tackle the second challenge; how to efficiently complete and record usability tests on a device, without being connected to a computer? A number of different type of cameras were tested as candidates by the p202 Design Research team for recording interactions between users and the iPad but one emerged as a clear winner with exceptional picture quality, and very minimal user experience interference – the Samsung SDP-860 Digital Presenter.

The SDP-860 captures images with up to 30 frames per second at full HD and with a 6x Optical and 8x Digital zoom, resulting in great visual quality. Our experiment setup had the Digital Presenter focusing on the iPad displaying the prototype and the user’s hand motions. This was also coupled with a web camera conveying the user’s facial expression during testing.

During most user testing sessions we normally utilize Morae by Techsmith to record statistical data and transmit sessions remotely in real-time. However, the picture and transmission quality through Morae during the use of the Digital Presenter was degraded which forced us to select a different solution – GoTo Meeting. Using GoTo Meeting, a web camera, the Samsung Digital Presenter and two lavaliere microphones, we were effectively able to record and transmit our usability testing session in real-time with great picture and sound quality.

Setup for user testing of tablet and observer view

This is a setup that we can definitely recommend to others who wish to perform user testing on portable touch-based hardware.