Silverback – Usability Testing for the Rest of Us

If you’re a website or software developer, then surely you’ve heard of usability testing before. To many web developers, “usability testing” is one of those buzz words that clients and developers love to use, and something that is very rarely actually done.

The reason? Usability testing requires you setup a lab of computers (or at least one) with specialized software that records the users actions and clicks on the computer, and potentially their expressions and eye movement through the use of a camera. Usability software can be very expensive and complex.

Until now.

Clearleft just released Silverback, a simple usability testing software that’s only $49.95. And it comes with a full-featured 30-day trial.

Silverback sits in the background, capturing the user’s screen activity in the form of a Quicktime video, and also records audio and video from your Mac’s iSight camera (or any webcam). The finished test can be customized and output as full-resolution Quicktime movie or saved down to a smaller file size suitable for email or web use.

How it works

So how does Silverback work? The software is so simple, you don’t even need instructions. Just open the program and you’ll be prompted to create a project (such as “The Apple Blog Usability Test”).

Then add users to the project. You have the option to add notes, or you can wait until after the session. You can maneuver them to the perfect position with a video preview and then click “Start Session.” Everything in the window (except the Silverback app windows) will be recorded. Users can resize windows, change applications, and interact with the operating system. Everything is captured.

Users clicks are recorded and accentuated in the final video with little “dots” that show you visually where they clicked (even if it wasn’t on an actual link), which is very useful information. When recording the test, there are no visual queues. Silverback sits in the background completely silent.

You can pause the session or add chapter markers using your Apple Remote. To add a chapter marker, press the “+” on the remote. To pause/un-pause, press the “Play/Pause” button.

When finished you can stop by clicking the menubar icon, or by selecting the application and clicking “stop.” You can add notes, start another session or export your data to Quicktime. To export, you’re given just a few options and can save your video out at 100%, 75%, 50% or 25% of it’s original size, and at Best, High, Medium and Low quality settings.

Silverback is a really elegant application and was very easy to use. It really reminds me what great Mac software should be like. If you’re a web designer or develop desktop software for Macs, check out Silverback and start usability testing!

Screenshot Gallery


Here’s a short video from the Silverback website:

Silverback screencast from Jeremy Keith on Vimeo.


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