Silverback – Guerrilla Usability Testing

A few months back, I made a random Tweet about some internal screencasts I was working on, and got a private ping from Clearleft’s user experience guru Andy Budd, asking a bit about what I was recording and what software I was using to do so. That’s when I began suspecting that the Clearleft crew had some devious alchemy underway in their Brighton, UK headquarters.

The result of such mad science? Silverback- a Mac-based application for lightweight usability testing. All you need is a Mac laptop and Silverback to capture usability testing sessions on… well, anything that you can run on a Mac. Very cool.

As opposed to Morae, the 10-ton elephant of usability testing, Silverback is lean, mean and focused- and doesn’t require you to lug around cameras, tripods and control machines to supplement the testing environment. And in contrast with bulkier screencast production tools like Captivate and ScreenFlow, Silverback focuses on the organizational and functional tools you need to perform quick, lightweight usability tests wherever you can find a subject and perch a laptop (or desktop) with both screen activity and iSight video captured for each user session.

As I’d expect from Andy, the Silverback interface is refreshingly straightforward and direct – with your initial view of the application helping ease new users quickly into the workflow:

silverback_1

I’ve had the opportunity to test Silverback over the last few weeks, and find it incredibly useful for exactly this type of testing. I can quickly drop my laptop on someone’s desk, fire up Dreamweaver CS4 internal builds, and the workflow is great- just click record, center your subject within the iSight correctly, then hit record and step back to let your subject hit the spacebar, and start your test. Management of projects and test sessions is simple and effective- the projects pane on the left helping you navigate the test session list on the top right with your individual session details and annotations artfully presented beneath.

silverback_2

When you’re ready to export a session to a more portable/distributable video file, just hit the “Export” button underneath the appropriate video thumbnail, pick a video format and destination, then let the encoding commence. As with all encoding processes this can take some time depending on the size of your session and codec/resolution of choice, but the resulting video will encapsulate both the screen capture and iSight video, along with microphone and computer audio- making it easy to share the results amongst your workgroup.

For a bit more on Silverback from the source, Andy’s also put together a screencast to accompany the release- you can view it below to get a walk through the workflow:


Silverback screencast from Jeremy Keith on Vimeo.

A big tip of the hat to Clearleft for creating such a handy, simple tool in Silverback, and one that I’ll use quite regularly. For the price ($49.95 USD after a 30-day free demo period- with 10% of your purchase going to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, no less!), it’s a flat no-brainer to pick up right now if you do any type of usability work, and worth every penny.

(Oh, and to illustrate the attention to detail Andy and team have put into the app- just horizontally resize silverbackapp.com in your browser window and check out the sweet parallax effect with the hanging vines. Simply gorgeous.)