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Journaled Sessions 

What is it?

Journaled sessions bridges usability inquiry, where you ask people about their experiences with a product, and usability testing, where you observe people experiencing the product's user interface.

Journaled sessions are often used as a remote inquiry method for software user interface evaluation. A disk is distributed to a number of test subjects containing a prototype of the software product, as well as additional code to capture (or journalize) the subjects' actions when using the prototype. Users perform several tasks with the prototype, much as in formal usability tests, and their actions are captured with the journalizing software. Upon completion of the series of tasks, the users return the disks to you for you to evaluate.

Because the journaling portion of the evaluation is largely automated, this approach to remote, hands-off inquiry is certainly more "usable" then self-reporting logging, where users are requested to write down their observations and comments and send them back to you.

How do I do it?

Journaled sessions allow you to perform usability evaluation across long distances and without much overhead. Once the code to journalize user's actions is in place, it is relatively inexpensive to distribute the test disk to a large number of participants.

Provide the users with prototype software, journaling software, and a script of test tasks for them to perform. You could make the script part of the journaling software, providing for a higher level of interaction from the user.

In addition to merely recording the user's cursor movements, mouse clicks, and other interface interactions, you can also provide dialog boxes in which the user types in comments or observations at various points in the execution of a task. With some thought, this method can approach the type of interactive inquiry promoted by contextual inquiry.

The main disadvantage of this technique is that there is no observer to "see" what the user is doing--the facial expressions of the user, or even spoken comments inadvertently expressed during difficult portions of the session.

Of course, provide a pre-paid mailing envelope for your evaluators to return their log.

When should I use this technique?

This technique is best used in the early stages of development--probably even pre-development, where the information you're attempting to gather is more preferencial than empirical. You'll want to ensure that your user pool is rather straightforward and honest, so you can assume their journaled sessions actually depict what they'd actually do with the product.

Who can tell me more?

Click on any of the following links for more information:

Castillo, José, Remote Usability Evaluation Home Page, 1998.

José has a ton of remote evaluation stuff on his page.

Nielsen, Jakob, Usability Engineering, 1993, Academic Press/AP Professional, Cambridge, MA
ISBN 0-12-518406-9 (paper)
Clickometer is a shareware click counter.

Invisible Key Logger counts keystrokes.

Other software products that count clicks: RSI prevention software, automated software QA suites from companies like Mercury Interactive, Segue, Rational, etc.

All content copyright © 1996 - 2016 James Hom