For as long as I’ve been doing usability testing, it’s been generally assumed that displaying video of the participant to the observers--usually in a small picture-in-picture window--is a good thing. This participant picture-in-picture (PPIP) video theoretically increases observer empathy and helps convince even the most stubborn executive that their product makes users miserable. And as generating PPIP became easier--thanks to ubiquitous webcams and slick screen sharing software--it’s become more or less standard practice.
But after years of teaching people how to do usability testing, I’ve come to feel that showing observers the participant's face may not necessarily be a good thing. In fact, I think it's often an unnecessary and detrimental distraction.
In the past when I’ve expressed this opinion I’ve always prefaced it by saying “I know I may be wrong about this, because I seem to be the only person who feels this way.”
But when I started telling some friends that I was thinking of doing this presentation, I was surprised to find that some people in the field whose opinions I respect the most felt exactly the same way I did. As one of them said,
“My own main issue about showing the participant is that for me it really takes away from being able to concentrate on the interface and what the user is DOING and SAYING in relation to it. It’s hard to keep concentrating on this anyway and easy to get distracted, so why furnish a distraction that is NOT the main concern of the test?”
In this session, I’m going to try to make the case for not showing PPIP video to people overserving your usability tests.
As always, you can make up your own mind when we’re done.