How to Build Your Own Mobile Usability Kit

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Here at RefME we love our users almost as much as we love citations. As the company’s User Researcher, my job is to better understand how students use our services to create, manage and export bibliographies for their assignments, trying to capture which part of the experience works well for them and which aspects can be improved. For this reason, we conduct regular usability testing sessions, where we invite individual users to our offices and we observe how they use our products. This is an important part of agile product development and helps us inform decisions around the future of our tool.

Given RefME is a cloud-based service that offers a cross-platform experience, including an iOS and an Android mobile app, we often end up testing our products on a range of different mobile devices. However, testing on mobile devices is notoriously challenging, as observing touch interactions is as important as capturing what happens on screen. To solve this issue, we have built our own rig that makes it possible to test on nearly any mobile device, allowing us to use our participants’ phones when required. In this article, I’d like to take you through our mobile kit setup and show you how to put it together step-by-step.

You will still need to have a laptop set up to capture the interaction. If you’d like to see how we integrate our mobile kit in our usability lab, check out our article on How to set up a usability lab on a budget for startups

What you will need:

Total cost: £59.34


Assembly Instructions:

You should now have (refer to picture 1):

  • A mobile cradle with a set of hooks
  • Mobile camera
  • USB extension cable
  • Duct tape 

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1. Attach the hooks to the cradle

Take the pair of hooks and attach them to the cradle. The cradle comes with different sets of hooks (one type is shorter and ones is longer), it’s up to you which ones you decide to use, depending on the height of the phone you want to test on. Don’t worry too much about which ones you choose, as you can easily change them at any time.
N.B.: If you are planning to use the phone’s camera during testing, this can be accomplished (with some phones, e.g. iPhone 5) by using the longer hooks on the top side (see picture 2).

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2. Tape the camera to the back of the cradle

After you have connected the HUE camera to the USB extension cable, use some duct tape to attach it to the back of the cradle. You want to make sure that the camera will be able to capture the whole screen of the device, so try to tape it as close to the edge of the cradle as possible (see picture 3). Also, make sure that the extensible part of the cradle is facing downward, so that when it is extended it won’t impact the camera angle.3
Done! Now the only thing left to do is to place the testing phone in the cradle and adjust the focus of the HUE camera (you can do this by turning the small wheel on the camera).

As you can see, the setup is straight-forward and very flexible, as it can accommodate a wide range of phones by changing the hooks on the cradle.

If you want to learn more about our usability testing setup, including the software that we use to make it easy to capture mobile and desktop interactions, feel free to check out our article on how to setup a Usability lab on a budget for startups.

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