Usability Testing with UserVue: A mixed bag

Every developer loves to test, right? Well, ok, maybe some more than others. But when you’re introducing a new product or trying out a new user interface, it’s always valuable to get user feedback and see how it all works out.

Now, Microsoft and other larger companies have “usability labs”, big rooms with two-way mirrors and video recorders, but this is usually out of the realm of possibility for most companies. TechSmith, makers of Camtasia, Snagit had introduced Morae a few years back which was a desktop-tool that made it easy. They now have introduced a new tool named UserVue, that offers remote user testing.

I did up a quick screencast on how it works. It’s very cool, intuitive and very non-intrusive.

There’s no question it’s a valuable tool – but I do have some issues with it:

1. Markers are for Morae use only. I’ve told Techsmith about this and I will continue to harp on it. Without making markers available to the user directly from the web interface without having to use Morae, UserVue ends up being a very useful and usable but very expensive screen recorder.

2. The price. $149/month prices UserVue out of the market for many smaller companies to use it on a regular basis.

How often should you test your application’s usability? Well, some would say do it during the design or testing phase and then close it off. If that’s your approach then the $149 is definitely well worth it – but it does mean that you have to plan on when you do your testing. At that price, you might be better off considering free recording tools such as GoToMeeting which lets you record your sessions, albeit without the “usability testing” feel to it. But GoTo is only about $49/month.

I’ve used both – UserVue will get better, of that I’m sure but I also know that right now, a company needs to invest in Morae to get the full value out of it. If you aren’t doing usability testing, and are building applications, it’s something you need to consider. If you are, and need to find a tool that makes it easy to record “test” sessions remotely, UserVue is great – a bit expensive, but very useful.

My suggestion to TechSmith is to offer a hosted version of Morae with the $149/month or build a series of reports based on the output markers from each session. Then the $149/month UserVue becomes an even more indispensable tool for usability testing.

Without it, you’re not really offering anything that’s not already available for less than $149/month.

This post may sound negative but it’s not – I really like UserVue and it’s got huge potential. I just want to make sure that potential gets realized!

If you are doing usability testing with your applications, what tools are you using?

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