Silverback Exposed | May 28, 2008
Since my last post people have been clamouring for more details on Silverback, so I thought I’d explain where the idea came from, then show you a few screenshots.
Clearleft are a very user-focused agency and we try to do at least one round of usability testing on every project. We keep things as simple as possible by using our own premises, recruiting our own subjects and feeding the results straight back into the design process. Instead of expensive suites we’ll set up a computer in an empty meeting room and train a video camera on the screen to capture what the subject is saying and doing.
We tried using dedicated testing software like Morae, but it took ages to set up, didn’t play well with Parallels and was, ironically, very difficult to use. The app was packed full of features making it perfect for a dedicated usability lab but was far too bloated for the type of guerrilla tests we ran. What’s more, with a price tag at around $1,500, it was just far too expensive for the majority of small agencies to use. There had to be a cheaper way, so we looked around but we couldn’t find anything.
Around the same time a friend of ours participated in a usability study run by Leisa Reichelt. Simon explained how Leisa had opened up the iSight preview pane, and then set her screen capture software running. The result was a single file showing both screen activity and the users reaction. We really liked the idea but felt that the ever-present video would be distracting to use. Realising there was a need for something more sophisticated we set about building our own.
Development on Silverback started in late December and we had a very early alpha version working by early January. However developing in a desktop environment was new to all of us and we were amazed how fickle it was. In fact, it was surprisingly similar to developing for the web, with it’s own text display issues and 3-pixel spacer bugs. Some things that looked difficult were surprisingly easy, while other things that looked easy were frustratingly tricky. Luckily we had a great Cocoa developer, Martin Redington Redington, helping us along the way.
We also called on the services of Jon Hicks to help with the logo and interface design. As the application was for Guerilla usability testing we’d been using the working title of Silverback as an in-joke since day one. When it came to thinking up a proper name we brainstormed for ages but couldn’t think of a better one. We knew we wanted an illustrated gorilla as our icon and after toying with a few ideas, including dressing Silverback Steve up as Che Guevara, we settled on the lab coat and clipboard look.
For such a deceptively simple application, it’s actually gone through a lot of iterations, and we’re currently reaching our 60th build. We’ve spent a huge amount of time tweaking the interface, optimising the output and streamlining the code. The development of Silverback has very much been a team effort and we’re getting to a point where we are almost ready to launch.
At this point I’m starting to feel a little like an expectant parent. I’m really excited about the launch but also slightly nervous. Like all the best applications, Silverback scratches an itch and it will be a welcome member of the Clearleft family. I just hope you guys love it as much as we do.
Posted at May 28, 2008 12:30 PM