Mobile usability testing – a simple tech solution

The main activity for my team at the moment is making our website mobile friendly, one section at a time. First up was the postgraduate prospectus.

Changes like this need testing. We’ve been running usability sessions on desktop for years. We use Silverback to record what’s happening on the screen. It also records video and audio of our users as they complete a series of tasks on the website.

Our aim with the redesign is to make the user experience consistent across all devices so we now need to run mobile usability testing too.

How do you do that?

Finding a solution

There’s nothing I like more than problem solving. Even more so when I can find a solution with kit we already own.

I’m a slave to Apple and often use an Apple TV to mirror my iPad screen onto my TV. So I wondered if I could do something similar with an iPhone and the Mac we use for desktop testing.

My first thought was to use an Apple TV for this. We have one, but haven’t got it working on the University’s enterprise network. If you can help me out with that, please let me know in the comments.

And then OS X Yosemite and Quicktime came to my rescue. Here’s what Apple has to say about it in their list of new features:

Using QuickTime Player in OS X Yosemite, you can record the screen of an iOS device running iOS 8 via the Lightning connector.

Brilliant.

Our mobile usability testing setup

With Quicktime open and your device connected via Lightning cable the setup is simple. All you need to do is select which camera you want to record from. Here’s a screenshot of how to do that:

Quicktime iOS recording

Selecting the device that’s attached to your computer will display its screen on your desktop.

You can then record what’s happening on the screen either in Quicktime or, as we preferred, using Silverback. Your recording will look something like this (our participants’ image has been replaced by ‘generic person icon’ to protect their privacy):

Recording your mobile usability testing session

This setup worked perfectly for us. It required no extra kit and so there were no additional costs.

More DIY solutions

For some other mobile usability testing solutions check out Barry Briggs‘ slide deck from Forefront Leeds – How to test your mobile site without spending a fortune.

Advice for first time bloggers

Last week I ran some training for first time bloggers. To give some personal insight I thought a lot about my own blogging practice and how I got started. And here’s the result.

In the beginning…

I started blogging before I was even aware of what a blog was. I was a teenager, working out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I created an account on diary-x and started writing. I’ve never thought about it before, but this means I’ve been blogging in some form for around 15 years. I’m comfortable doing it. I’ve developed a voice that I’m happy with. And yet I still get nervous every time I publish a post. I wouldn’t have it any other way – it means I care about what I’m writing and making it the best I can for the people who are going to read it.

I can’t tell you the number of blogs I’ve had over the years. I’ve always had at least one on the go, but more likely two; one personal and one professional. When I’ve set them up they’ve all had a clear purpose. Some I’ve set up and then handed on. Others were written for a specific event.

Deciding what to write about

There’s an easy answer to the question of what you’re going to write about – anything. Yes, really. As long as you’ve got a clear idea of the goal of your blog and the overarching theme, within that you can write about any topic. You don’t need to be an expert. In fact I think it helps if you’re not. What I’ve observed from interactions with the readers of my blog is that they’re looking to learn from the experiences of others in a similar position to them.

I’ve got the best response to posts where I’ve shared what I’m learning or what I’ve tried. The most popular post on my blog is about writing handover notes. I wrote it when I was looking for tips on how to write a good handover document and couldn’t find anything useful. It gets as many daily views (around 40) as it did the day it was published over a year ago. Why? It shares my experience, offers practical tips and covers a topic that isn’t written about much.

The act of writing

Once you know what the topic of your post is going to be, get the initial ideas out of your head. Put them down on paper or in a digital notepad, whatever works best for you. You might find it helpful to give yourself a time limit – I usually begin posts in my lunch breaks which gives me a deadline for getting something down. Don’t edit as you go along. You’ll end up with a rough draft or perhaps just a list of disconnected thoughts. The important thing is that it’s a start.

Now you can edit. I find it’s best to leave the draft for a while, when I come back to it with fresh eyes it’s usually obvious where to go next.

I find it’s easier to write outside of the blog environment. Only once I’ve got what I’d consider to be the final draft do I copy this to my blog editor. At this point I preview it to see how it looks in the template and give it a final proof. Once the final tweaks are made it’s finally time to publish.

Conclusion

And there you have it, my advice for getting started with blogging. I’ve summarised that stream of consciousness into a few key takeaways:

  • write about your experiences and share what you learn
  • give practical advice
  • choose topics where there’s a gap in existing writing
  • once you’ve got a topic, just get some ideas onto the page – don’t worry about order or style
  • give your draft some space and then begin to edit after a few hours

Do you have any top tips for beginner bloggers? Share them in the comments.

A year in the world of web content

In January I will have been in my role as Web Content Officer for a year. As I head into my last few working days of 2014, here’s a reflection on my first year in the world of web content.

Highlights

I’ve enjoyed getting stuck into content standards and style guides. This includes:

  • contributing to our editorial style guides with the aim of making them clearer and more comprehensive
  • working on a tone of voice guide for our new postgraduate website
  • setting parameters for improving content for mobile (which we all know is improving content for every device)

The piece of work I’m most proud of this year is overhauling our team website. Is it always the case that the web team has the worst website? Not any more. We’re now practicing what we preach; we’ve restructured, stripped back and rewritten. Part of this work involved redefining the role of our team and how we work. For this I got to embrace my inner-trainer. I facilitated a workshop in which we came up with the team’s mission and a set of guiding principles.

Challenges

Starting out in a new profession I have been slowly getting to grips with the overall context of working on the web. My work is largely with words, I’m not a techy but I need to understand the technologies that allow me to get my words online. With every new task I do, I learn a little more. One year in I think I’ve got a good enough understanding of the systems and setups at my institution.

There is a thriving community of librarians and I had a well established network that I could go to for support and advice. Coming from this, I have struggled a little to find and build a place for myself in content communities. There are many reasons for this. The ones that I have control over will form my professional new year’s resolutions. A lack of confidence has held me back this year and I’ve not been putting myself out there. Next year I need to write more, comment more, share more and start the conversation.

Events

This year I attended my first conference outside the UK, Confab Europe in Barcelona. It was also my first content strategy conference. And it was probably the best conference I’ve ever been to. All the presentations were practical and well structured. The speakers were engaging and clear. You’d expect nothing less from people who communicate for a living, right?

Closer to home I attended the University’s NU Digital event where our team had a stand. It was great to get out of the office and talk to colleagues about what we’re planning for the website in the coming year. Everyone was excited to see our new, responsive postgraduate website in action. And even more excited to hear that all our external sites will be going through a similar redesign process soon.

And finally…

From the posts I’ve written this year here are your top five:

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