McShefferty

Workshop Timer

Objective

The main objective of this project was to solve the issue of time keeping and presenting visibility of progress to participants during workshops and other time sensitive collaborative events.

Image of a clock

Typically when running workshops we have a fixed time period with little or no flexibility. There are two conflicting behaviours in this situation:

  • Participants who get distracted from the key goals of the session and go off on a tangent
  • Participants who are obsessed with checking the time to make sure everything will be covered as quickly as possible.

Hypothesis

By providing visibility of progress/time to the participants we expect that we will increase both the momentum of the sessions and focus on key tasks.

Solution

The simple solution to this problem is to have a representation of both the length of the session and display progress without the distraction of a specific and ticking hands/numbers.

An elegant solution to this is the a timer with no numbers just a representation of the overall length of the session and time spent. This will allow participants to focus on the tasks at hand while at a glance having an overview of where we are within the session. It should:

  • Run locally on any device
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to see at a distance
  • Unobtrusive

The Prototype timer currently allows you to:

  • Select a duration in minutes
  • Audio alert on completion
  • Reset
    This project also provided me with the opportunity to experiment with CSS, Javascript and SVG’s.

Next steps

  • Allow for time to be entered in hours
  • Make the timer scalable so it scales with the browser window.

Special thanks to

Recording user testing

Alternatives to Silverback

Silverback has been our goto tool when recording user testing sessions. Silverback 2 had some issues with updated MacBooks and couldn’t get access to the built in webcam, so we would have to use an external webcam. Silverback 3 fixed this issue along with bringing a host of other new features. Unfortunately we encountered some issues with Silverback 3 and it has now being pulled from the app store. Hopefully Silverback 3 will be back soon and be as reliable and robust as previous versions. In the meantime it seems the perfect opportunity to explore some alternatives to Silverback.

Image of laptop

Criteria

Before we begin exploring alternatives it would be useful to understand what functionality we require and what criteria are of importance. We are looking for a tool that captures screen recording and audio, combined with the output from the built in webcam. It needs to be compatible with the latest MacBooks, the built in microphone and webcam. We will be reviewing the tools based on the following key criteria:

Price - The cost needs to be affordable (£100s is ok £1000s not so much)
Reliability - Reliability is essential - We need confidence that recordings are being created as expected
Simplicity - Has to be easy to use, particularly for people who won’t be performing testing every day

Lookback (currently in BETA)

The first option we are going to review is called Lookback. Lookback has various different versions you can download including:

  • iOS SDK - For dev who know what they are doing
  • Android
  • iOS - For jailbroken iPhones
  • OS X

For our requirements we are purely interested in the OS X application and associated web platform.

First impressions

Installation of the OS X application was a straight forward process. Once installed I started by creating a test recording and exploring the interface. There were a few bits of unexpected behaviour, by default you have the ability to restart the previous recording, this is actually a really handy feature. Visibility of mouse clicks is off, so if you want these it’s important to remember to enable them.

I then previewed the recording locally and it all seemed to work as expected providing a combined screen capture and webcam recording. My next step was to save or export the recording. To do this you have to first upload the recording. I’m always a little wary about using third party platforms to store user recordings, but the process itself was straightforward.

After uploading the video to the web app I found it in “my recordings”. Opening the video launched a youtube like player. At first it seemed like the video didn’t load, but skipping the timeline ahead a couple of seconds seemed to fix this.

A couple of interesting features of the web app include the ability to create organisation and within this create playlists. So you could create a playlist for each project.

You can also add time based comments on the video via a simple interface. Then when you playback the video the comments pop up at the appropriate point. This would be really useful when reviewing a session with the client or wider team.

Sharing seems to be a focus of the web platform. You can invite people to collaborate on your videos and have the ability to easily embed a video on a website. Providing functionality to easily discuss the recordings with collaborators.

My next step was to export and download a combined video that included:

  • The screen recording
  • Web cam recording
  • Audio

Opening the video in VLC media player worked fine. Trying to open with quickTime player encountered some issues as the file didn’t have a file extension. Manually adding the file extension .mov allowed me to open the file in quickTime player.

Summary

Lookback seems to provide the basic features that we need. I’m slightly concerned about having to upload videos before being able to export, both due to the complexities and data privacy. With this being a Beta release it will be interesting to see what price range the final release falls into. Regarding reliability it’s really too early to tell, but first impressions are promising.

Update

After using the app to capture real user testing sessions I encountered problems accessing my sessions. When you complete a recording the session attempts to upload automatically. Unfortunately my uploads got stuck, which stopped me from exporting the final combined recordings. This seemed to be primarily down to the size of the recordings. For the capture of a high resolution MacBook screen, web cam and audio, a 45 minute session was clocking in at over a 7gb. A single day of testing could leave you with over 35gb of recordings attempting to upload. For our purposes I don’t think it will be practical to upload so much data. Until there is an offline option I don’t think this solution is fit for what we require.

This issue highlights a recurring problem with all screen capture solutions, which is the amount of space recordings take, when capturing high resolution screens. Keeping a careful eye on your disk space is essential, particularly if you are capturing the sessions to the drive that contains your operating system (your machine may start to grind to a halt). If you run out of disc space, then transferring data and making room can be a time consuming process.

Price: 5/5 - Free (Beta) during Beta. No final price available.
Reliability: 2/5 - Major issues with uploading of the videos. Apart from this issue the app seemed pretty stable and robust, with only a few crashes on launching.
Simplicity: 4/5 - Interface is simple and intuitive. Basic tasks are straight forward. I made a couple of mistakes the first time I used the app, but you quickly learn how it works.