Making a mobile usability testing sled the MacGyver way

Last year I had an influx of mobile projects and needed to find a way to carry out usability testing on a mobile device. I’ve been meaning to share my solution for a while, but it’s taken me until now to get round to it.

When it comes to carrying out mobile usability testing there’s a variety of well documented solutions, for example Harry Brignull’s usability testing sled made for a fiver, Nick Bowmast’s variation on a theme, and Lokion Interactives pimped sled beautifully monogramed and made by Ponoko. There’s also a great slide-deck from this years IA Summit which summarises the different approaches that can be taken, including the pros and cons of each.

What would MacGyver do?

At first I considered copying an existing solution, especially as there’s so many good ones already floating around. However, I had several requirements that I didn’t feel previous sleds had answered completely enough. I wanted to create a testing sled that was:

  • Unobtrusive for the person using it – this isn’t easy by any means but I wanted to try and stay out of the way as much as possible, meaning the sled and camera had to be small, lightweight (light enough to hold in one hand) and have minimal impact on the participants field of vision.
  • Of a professional standard – as I work in a commercial context the sled had to represent my client and agency in a professional way. I’ve seen some solutions that rely on Blu Tack or sticky-tape to hold them together, which is a perfectly fine solution but something I personally wanted to avoid.
  • Adjustable and interchangeable – I wanted the ability to alter the camera position (to allow for lefties and righties) as well as accommodate multiple devices without too much fuss.
  • Easily duplicated and disassembled – heading up a rapidly growing UX team at the time the rig had to be remade easily and consistently within a short time frame. To accommodate different devices and testing in multiple locations it had to be in kit form.
  • Made from widely available parts – to allow for future duplication I wanted the rig to contain no expensive, limited edition or bespoke parts.

The ingredients

I shopped around for affordable parts that were readily available so I could make more in the future if everything went to plan, and if something went horribly wrong I could source replacement parts easily. I managed to get everything, including the camera, for a little under £42 (including postage). I used:

* Initially I planned to use superglue, but instead opted for small adhesive Velcro patches so that it could be disassembled if necessary

The only tools used were a scalpel and a Sharpie (to mark where to cut), MacGyver would have been proud.

The ingredients for my mobile testing sled

Making the sled

Firstly I had to attach the webcam to the case, in a way that wasn’t permanent but was secure and stable. The Hue HD webcam comes with a USB stand, but it wasn’t necessary as the USB on the camera could be plugged directly into the extension lead.

The Hue webcam and iPhone case

Four small cuts were made in the back of the iPhone case, the space between them equal to the width of the USB extension lead. Two cable ties were passed through, horizontally to the case, and left untied.

Attaching the camera to the case

Then the USB lead was placed between the cable ties, which were tightened to secure the lead in place. A small square of adhesive Velcro was placed just above the USB port with the other half stuck to the webcam’s USB plug. This meant that once the webcam was attached to the USB port the Velcro held it in place and stopped it from moving around, or detaching under it’s own weight. Initially I was worried that the Velcro wouldn’t hold the weight of the camera but it actually worked well and was pretty solid. Finally the iPhone was clipped into the case.

Attaching the camera

The end result

The camera was attached so that it curved up from the bottom of the phone and therefore didn’t obstruct the users view too much, it also meant that the cameras built-in mic was close to their mouth. Once the camera was attached and the phone was in the holder the USB lead could be attached to a laptop, which in this instance was equipped with Morae testing software. By using Morae, we could position a second webcam (we used the laptops built-in webcam) to capture the participants facial expressions and body language.

The finished mobile testing sled

It took a little bit of tweaking to get the camera positioned correctly so that it was in focus, and the webcam did add weight to the phone and unbalance things a little, but without hands on experience of other testing sleds I can’t say whether this was better or worse than other solutions. We also found that, if we didn’t get the position perfect, occasionally the camera was susceptible to wilting to the right or left but only very slightly and not to the extent that it was noticeable to the participant or detrimental to the recording.

That said for only £42 (not including the recording software license) and only taking 30 minutes to build from scratch I was really pleased with the end result. It was straight forward to adapt for other devices (e.g. iPad and Android devices) and very convenient to transport. I’d recommend it as a solution, and it definitely worked for me, but without trying out alternatives I couldn’t say how it compares.

If you have a go at recreating this sled I’d be really interested to hear about it, whether the experience is good or bad.

Another 5 invites to give away

If you miss out the first time heres a 2nd chance.

If you miss out the first time here's a 2nd chance.

The lovely people at have given me another 5 beta invites to give away.

If you’d like to have the opportunity to play with leave a comment below and I’ll pick 5 lucky people randomly.

If you’d like to know more about read my interview with Rob Farrow, VP of Marketing and Global Brand Development at, from a couple of weeks ago.

Daytum: my annual report is 1/12 complete

At the very beginning on January I mentioned that, as well as maintaining a blog, I wanted to record aspects of my life over the course of the year. I had been playing around with the idea for a while and then, thanks to Boagworld, heard about Nicolas Felton and his annual reports. I decided to give it a go for myself and I’m happy to say I’ve managed to stick with it for a whole month so far!

Thanks to Daytum, the “home for collecting and communicating your daily data”, its been easy to keep track of things. Along side Felton’s Daytum I’ve also been using Dopplr and good old Google Docs. I’ve been surprised by most of the numbers but none more than the amount of caffeine and alcohol I consume in a month, thank goodness I didn’t start recording until New Years day!


Here’s how January turned out.

A short summary

  • In January I averaged 3.5 caffeinated drinks a day, accompanied by 2 alcoholic beverages.
  • Decaffeinated non-alcoholic drinks only accounted for 35% of my total liquid intake.
  • I slept for just over 201 hours which means I only get an average of 6 hours a night.
  • I ran 43.5 miles, an average of 1.4 miles each day and the distance between Reading and London.
  • I only managed to fit in one 10 mile bike ride.
  • My travel, which included 2 flights, generated 282kg CO2.
  • I watched 8 films.
My first datum post

5 beta invites to give away release more beta invites is “a new solution for managing your online identity, your content, your contacts” as well as being a way to control “who sees what.”

I must admit I haven’t really used it yet but have been signed up to it for ages. Yesterday I was given 5 invites to help share the love so if anyone would like an invite add a comment to this post (including your email address, which won’t be displayed) and I’ll invite you up real nice.

I’ve only got 5 invites so first come first served, so get commenting.

If anyones interested you can see my at

Schofield broke the internet (sort of)

I’m very conscious that I can occasionally get a bit obsessive about things, and Twitter is no exception. I’m also very conscious that I keep mentioning Twitter on this blog (cough @paulseys cough).

Anyway, earlier today Sam Shepherd (@samshepherd) twittered that Philip Schofield had just mentioned Twitter on ‘This Morning’ and as a knock on she was witnessing an influx of new followers. I don’t follow many celebrities on Twitter, its not really my thing – although I do make the exception for Will Carling, Johnathan Woss and the legend that is Robert Llewellyn off of Red Dwarf. I like the fact that those that I do follow regularly interact with the people following them (although I don’t follow him I understand Stephen Fry is similarly motivated) and its not just an excuse for a fan club, in the way that connecting on Facebook seems to be.

Having a full-time job, and arguably a life, I’m fortunate enough not to have to be subject to daytime television but thanks to Ben Ayers I was able to watch the footage via YouTube.

There seems to be a bit of a debate at the moment around the benefit of Twitter and how much it’ll catch on in the mainstream. When Sam Shepherd mentioned the instant impact Schofields comments had I wanted to check it out for myself.

Thanks to Tweeteffect I was able to estimate the Silver Foxes initial follower numbers at about 450 before he mentioned it on ‘This Morning’. By 11am this had risen to 1,795, by 1130am 1866. At the last count before writing this post the total number of followers was sitting at 2,450 (at about 13:40) and still rising. 2,000+ new followers in the space of 2 hours, not bad for a mornings work.

Its impressive to see the scale with which main stream media like this can have an impact. While this was going on I decided to monitor the situation thanks to another Twitter service, Twitscoop. It was amazing to see all the new users popping up, and although most likely only a snapshot of the real uptake, funny to see how many were tweeting along the lines of, “OK Schofield, I’ve signed up… now what?”.

Results for "Schofield" on Twitscoop

Results for "Schofield" on Twitscoop

The thing that interested me the most was the reasoning behind all these new users signing up and the motivation behind it, if it wasn’t for the celebrity endorsement how many of them would have signed up to Twitter? Will it be down to the ‘celebrity’ users that Twitter finally gets dragged into the UK mainstream and will that sort of uptake negatively impact on the early adopters in anyway?

It’ll be interesting to see how much more the Twitter numbers swell by the end of play today based on this issue. I can’t think of a way of effectively measuring this sort of phenomenon, and I certainly don’t have the inclination to take time out to figure it out either but I’m sure it’ll get a few more mentions in the media by tomorrow.

Here’s the YouTube clip if you’re interested.

Vaguely related links

The tagging game: 7 facts about me

It seemed that as soon as this blog was started Ollie Bray had already tagged me in the “seven things you didn’t know about me” new year tagging game.

I try to avoid most ‘meme‘ but I thought as its Ollie and this is a new blog I’d play along. Of course I didn’t realise how hard this would be until I started trying to write some down.

So here goes, 7 things you probably hopefully didn’t know about me:

  1. In 2006 I ran the London Marathon in 4hours 0mins 37secs. I was officially the 9885th fastest man in London on that day, oh and just to make myself feel a little bit superior for about a second this also means I can complete a marathon 14 minutes faster than P Diddy.
  2. Having this game sent to me by Ollie reminded me that I some how managed to fail A-level Geography, in no small part to a ‘puppy-in-my-pocket’  and only scraped a D in Art with Art History. which didn’t seem to stop me from going on to study Art and Design at Bournemouth & Poole College.
  3. In my first job I was given Bravo TV as a client and had to art direct a photo shoot with 2 Page3 models. Which was nice.
  4. Having run 2 marathons and a number of half marathons, along with regularly swimming and cycling I’d love to complete a Triathlon. The chances of doing one any time soon seems slim though.
  5. When I was a kid, before wanting to become a graphic designer, I wanted to be a Countryside warden.
  6. I completed and won a Sunday Telegraph crossword competition when I was about 12. I won a book. I can’t remember which one (this is officially the lamest fact ever).
  7. When I was about 13 I sang live on stage with the Yetties in front of 1,000 people. If you’ve never heard of the Yetties (and if you live outside of Dorset, or have no interest in Folk music you most likely haven’t) they’re apparently England’s most popular folk group. Kind of like a poor mans Wurzels.

Having stumbled and fumbled my way through this (and really wishing I hadn’t bothered starting) its now my turn to tag 7 people. I pick:

  1. David Burton – Head of Innovation at Redweb
  2. Carl Martin – Account Executive at Redweb
  3. Andrew Moore – (another) Account Executive at Redweb
  4. Matt Goddard – Director of UX Media (because I don’t know him that well and it might be interesting)
  5. Will Smith (not that one) – Web Designer at Atelier Studios
  6. Ben Gribbin – freelance designer and podcaster
  7. Pedro – SQL Server geek and the catalyst that first lead to this blog

The baton has been passed. To be honest they may have dropped the baton already, but its out of my hands so I don’t care what they all do with it (although I probably will update this post if any of them do bother).

A year in the life

Following on from my previous (and first ever) blog post I thought I’d continue the theme of new starts for the New Year. As I mentioned I’m no good at New Years resolutions, I never know what to give up or change. This year I’ve decided to do something a little different.

I love a good stat and over the years have found them influencing my working more and more. When I started out as a designer statistics didn’t really play a massive part in my creative process, but after a short time I realised the importance of knowing all sorts of data from browser usage stats, to the uptake of broadband in the UK,  through to the percentage of people who are colour blind.

As I’ve gradually moved into UX design over the past 3 years research has played an even bigger part. However, the sort of data I’m talking about can be very impersonal.

On hearing Paul Boag’s interview with Nicholas Felton, of I found myself inspired. If you’re unaware Felton, or Feltron, has been recording multiple aspects of his life for the past few years and putting together visually beautiful ‘annual reports‘ which graphically represent the data he generates.

Run fat boy, run

Without really thinking about it I’ve done similar things, all be it on a much smaller scale, in the past.

After running the London marathon in 2006 I started training towards the 2007 New York marathon. I’d been pleased with my London result but wanted to improve on it, so being the geek I am I put together a small but perfectly formed micro-site that showed my training schedule. I updated it each day for 6 months, and was able to see how I was progressing overall.

A couple of months in I picked up a niggling injury that just wouldn’t go away. Unfortunately, when I started recording my daily mileage, I hadn’t thought about the negative affect a growing mileage deficit would have on me psychologically. It probably didn’t help that every time I missed a run the chart I’d built showed a picture of a greasy burger!


Having heard about the ‘Feltron Annuals’ it got me thinking back to the New York marathon and how much of my life is already recorded. My Flickr account shows a visual record of my life over the last few years, Twitter exists as a constant running commentary, I use Pennies on my iPhone to record expenditure and even Google Reader highlights what time and day of the week I spend reading blog entries the most, so why not push it one step further.

So for 2009 I’ve decided to pull all these elements together and then some. I’m under no illusions that I won’t take it any where near as far as Feltron but thanks to his new site Daytum I can at least make a start!

It took me a while to get my head around how Daytum worked but once it clicked I fell in love with its simplicity. So thanks to its creators, Nicholas Felton and Ryan Case, I’ll be recording small aspects of my life as of 1 January 2009.  I’m starting off small but hopefully it’ll build over time so keep an eye on this blog to see how I’m getting on.

Keep up with my progress

If you want to keep up to date with my progress you can subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter or view my Daytum account.

Previous attempts at daily records