Khaled Weir, Web Strategist at Cyber-Duck discusses the pros and cons of two forms of user testing.

At Cyber-Duck, we pride ourselves on our user centred design methodology and conduct user testing sessions using our eye tracker on a regular basis. Last week we had a great opportunity to perform some user testing on our client’s soon to be launched website at a busy graduate fair. With limited space, it would be impossible to effectively set up our eye tracker, so we decided to conduct guerrilla user testing instead.

The concept of guerilla user testing is that rather than recruiting users in advance and setting up in a specialist lab, you simply go to where you’re target audience is with a laptop and some simple software and conduct informal and spontaneous tests. We used Silverback; a simple application that uses a MacBook’s built in webcam and microphone to record the screen and user as they use your application or website.

Eye Tracking requires more space and ideally, as much control over the environment as possible. The specialist equipment and software is much more sophisticated and captures much more data than other forms of user testing in a much more scientific manner. Guerrilla user testing is easy to organise and faster than eye tracking, but you only collect a fraction of the data and your results are likely to be less structured and reliable. Due to the nature of guerrilla testing, candidates could be tired, uncomfortable or just totally caught off guard, i.e. not in the correct frame of mind. While you could argue that users aren’t in a natural environment in a testing lab using an eye tracker, moderators have more control over the environment and can help to offset this.

While you will be able to detect certain usability issues with a guerrilla approach, a well-planned eye tracking session followed by focus groups is almost guaranteed to detect more user experience issues. Eye tracking enables you to see the story between the clicks which guerilla user testing doesn’t. Despite its limitations I see guerrilla user testing as a viable alternative to eye tracking when budget or other circumstances rule it out. I was impressed with Silverback and had fun, grabbing students, explaining the concept of user testing and our website to them.