What material and method could I use to record a usability test in real situation?

I have to test some single user of an interface at their office desk, as they normally use it, without constraining them in any way. They can answer the phone, ask a coworker something, put a post-it on their screen if they usually do it (and yes, they actually do it).

I have no space to install a huge camera nor install monster software on their computer, which cannot support a huge ressource eater like Morae.

EDIT: If someone have any experience of such "ethnologic conditions," I will be intersted to know about the best methodology for collecting observation data: "tagging" notes method during the test, talk aloud method (and next data analysis)...

  • 1
    Look up 'contextual enquiry'. It's more user research than user testing. 1 hour sessions work better than full day sessions. May 7, 2013 at 15:34

6 Answers 6


You want something that will record the screen, webcam, and audio. When you play it back there is a screenshot of the person in the corner and you can see everything they are doing on the screen. In addition you can add notes and mark specific points along the way (i.e. when a task started and when a task ended).

I tested a lot of different programs and BB Flashback was by far the easiest to use, didn't cause issues and it does everything I need it to do.

  • fills perfectly my needs for a cheap price !
    – Linearis
    Oct 21, 2009 at 15:56

If resources on the test subjects computer are limited or installing specific software is not a possibility, check with the IT group and see what software they use for support [1]. Hook up your laptop to the network, start a remote session leaving the user still in control and record their activity directly to your laptop [2].

You can also use web conferencing apps [3] to transmit the test participant's desktop to your computer for recording.

[1] Windows Remote Desktop or a VNC variant are common.
[2] This should work with CamStudio, Morae and even in some situations with Silverback.
[3] Examples are WebEx, GotoMyPC, and DimDim.

  • IT guys liked the VNC solution. Certainly because it's the one wich requires the most their skills :) !
    – Linearis
    Oct 19, 2009 at 8:19
  • Good point, Tom. IT departments at a part5icipatn's location can be a major hurdle. I used to bring my own laptop and with USB plugs, the participant can still use their own keyboard, mouse and even their own display. That way, I can also safely test Beta software without risking the participant's data.
    – JeromeR
    Dec 9, 2009 at 6:17

If you're looking for cheap or free alternatives to Morae then you may want to check out this blog post I wrote a while back (sorry for shameless self linkage). There are a few good suggestions in the comments. If you're after picture-in-picture (PiP) your options are limited but there are still a few apps out there. Camtasia jumps to mind.

  • Interesting that three of thr four PC solutions are made by the same company: TechSmith. Clearly, they think Morae has something to offer the usability analyst that Jing and Camtasia do not, or the price points wouldn't differ by a factor of five* at each step. [* Roughly. Let's excuse my sloppy math.]
    – JeromeR
    Dec 9, 2009 at 6:15
  • Morae does have some valuable features that camtasia doesn't. Remote viewing is one. It's easy to stream a live session to another PC with Morae.
    – Harry
    Dec 16, 2009 at 21:26
  • Windows Media Encoder is discontinued, and the new corresponding product is Expression Encoder 4.
    – agib
    Apr 28, 2011 at 13:50

small cameras can also be v useful. I have a Flip camcorder that is tiny (you can also get a tiny tripod for it, v cute!), and can be v useful when screen recording is not possible or overly inconvenient.

  • Cute, as yous said ! Nice alternative to a intimidating camera. Discretion is the key :)
    – Linearis
    Oct 17, 2009 at 17:25
  • Yup. I get a completely different reaction to recording things with my small camera than I do with a more traditional video rig.
    – adrianh
    Oct 17, 2009 at 23:11

I totally agree with Leisa. However, regarding the Flip, in recent ethnographic research studies we tried different cameras for documenting some key narratives. We found that the Kodak Zi6 and Zi8 produce much better videos in comparison with the Flip. Both the Zi6 and the Zi8 are small and cheap, yet produce excellent HD quality videos with brilliant sharpness and clarity. They also have a slot for SD memory cards, so you can capture hours of footage. Just like the Flip, the Kodak has a USB arm and simple software.


  • really?! did you compare it to a Flip Widescreen HD? (Then again, I have been pleasantly surprised by Kodak hardware lately)
    – Leisa Reichelt
    Oct 18, 2009 at 13:13
  • I love my Flip Video Ultra (the cheaper model; I don't have the HD version). For the money, I think it's a better buy. It can record about two hours, and between sessions you can copy the video onto a larger drive, if you're doing a whole day of testing.
    – JeromeR
    Dec 9, 2009 at 6:12

I have experimented used Morae at some less security conscious user environments by taking along a laptop with the SUT and Morae Recorder installed on it. Then I monitored it via an ad hoc wireless connection to Morae Observer on my own laptop in an adjacent room.

I can't say it was an unqualified success as reception was a bit laggy, but I imagine there are some more technically-adept people out there who know how that could be improved. I did wonder whether a wired connection might do the trick.

If all you want to do is to video people at work (as opposed to recording their screens directly) then I've found it intimidating to users to have someone using a 'proper' video camera recording them.

So right now we're considering something like an iTouch to record them. Most people either have or are used to a mobile phone being used to film them at home or in other informal situations, and we think that perhaps it might create less of an adverse reaction.

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