Review of Techsmith Morae 3 for Usability Testing

Morae is a software package that allows usability practitioners to perform various activities that are usually involved in a conventional laboratory-based usability test. Morae provides functionalities to assist the usability practitioner in planning, testing, analysing data and reporting results. It is developed by Techsmith and runs on the Windows operating system.

The Morae software package has three separate and independent components:

  • Recorder
  • Observer
  • Manager

Morae Recorder

Recorder is used during the planning and testing phase of a usability test. It runs on the computer on which the participant will interact with the software/website to be tested. The main purpose of Recorder is to capture an entire usability test session; this includes video (Picture-in-Picture), audio, screen activity, observation notes, questionnaire responses and details of the user’s interaction with the software such as time, mouse clicks, key presses, etc. The Picture-in-Picture video is synchronised with the screen activity so that visual expressions of the participant can be matched to events on the screen. Recorder runs in the background without distracting or interrupting the participant. Observers on the same network can connect to Recorder to watch a session and add observation notes to the recording. Recorder automatically presents questionnaires to the participant on screen. The output of a session with Recorder is a Morae Recording (rdg) file, which contains all data of the session.

Morae Recorder provides a metric that was previously not common in usability studies, namely mouse movement. Mouse movement is the distance in pixels covered by the mouse in one or more applications. This allows the definition and establishment of a pixel per minute metric which can be part of usability requirements in software development projects. Mouse movement can be categorised as an efficiency metric since it concerns the kinetic effort involved in interacting with the software (see David Travis' article in Usability News).

Another significant functionality in Morae Recorder that can extend usability studies is the Autopilot feature. The Autopilot feature basically allows tests to be conducted without a moderator. Morae automatically presents tasks to users as they progress through the test. Users indicate the start and end tasks in a dialog box and Morae captures all data as in moderated sessions. A small modeless dialog box presents the current task to the user. A test can be scheduled to start at a predetermined time and observers can connect to the session for viewing or adding notes.

An exceptionally useful feature in Recorder is the ability to use a web cam as the primary video for showing any kind of user activity. This feature therefore allows recording and usability testing of not only software but tangible products as well; for example, by pointing the web cam at an object being used by a participant. This feature on its own transforms Morae into a portable usability lab for usability practitioners to conduct prototype, mobile device and hardware testing as well as focus groups and field studies.

Creating a Study Configuration File

The first step in planning a usability test using Morae is to create a Morae Configuration File (.mrcfg) in Morae Recorder. When opening Morae Recorder, the user is presented with the option to create a new usability study or use an existing study template. A typical Morae Configuration File includes the following details, among other aspects of a test session:

  • Study name and description
  • Scenario and tasks
  • Task scoring definitions
  • Observation codes, known as Markers
  • Severity score definitions associated with Markers
  • SUS survey and/or custom pre-test, pre-task, post-task and post-test questionnaires
  • System and application events to be captured such as mouse clicks, keystrokes and screen text.

The clear advantage of a Morae Configuration File is the ability to have all details of a usability test session in a small file that can be easily shared among team members and re-used for future tests, hence avoiding lots of paperwork. However, Morae does not store the .mrcfg file in a common ‘templates’ directory but instead each file is stored in the user-defined directory for each study. Therefore, this requires the user to locate where it has been saved on the local machine before opening it in Morae Recorder.

Morae Recorder Main Window

The main window in Morae Recorder provides a snapshot of the usability study configuration. All configuration options can be viewed at a glance and modified as needed. This can be quite useful for usability team members or any person concerned with a usability test in an organisation to quickly get an overview of previous or current usability studies without having to go through a usually lengthy Test Plan document.

Morae Recorder Main Window
The Morae Recorder Main Window

Morae Observer

Observer replaces the viewing room of the traditional usability testing laboratory. Through Observer, any user on the network can connect to Recorder to view an ongoing session. One observer is assigned as the primary task logger and can log the start and end of tasks along with observations. Depending on the study configuration, all other observers can add observation notes to the session using the predefined markers, as well as sending surveys at the appropriate time to the participant. Notes added by all observers are automatically compiled in the recording.

To connect to a session, a member of the organisation with a computer running Morae Observer will only need the IP address or computer name of the test machine. Morae Observer has an interface that is simple and intuitive enough for any user to start viewing a session and adding notes within minutes. Observers can watch the screen activity and a small video (Picture-in-Picture) of the participant, as well as listen to what the participant is saying. The mouse is highlighted in yellow and mouse clicks are indicated by an animated red triangle.

A considerably useful feature of Morae Observer is the possibility for the observer to save the session as a Windows Media File (wmv) on their own computer or on a common location on the organisation’s server for later viewing and sharing. This also eliminates the need of a Morae Manager installation on every stakeholder’s or manager’s computer to view recordings.

Overall, Observer can be an extremely efficient tool to involve and motivate stakeholders and managers into taking part in usability test sessions spontaneously and effortlessly from the comfort of their own offices, possibly even while multitasking.

Morae Observer window for connecting to a sessio
Morae Observer window for connecting to a session

Morae Manager

Recordings made in Observer are imported into Manager for analysis. Manager allows the usability engineer to carry out different types of data analysis and communicate the results of the usability test.

Manager’s main features are categorised into three sections, namely the Analyze, Graph and Present tabs.

Analyse

The set of functionalities in this part of Morae is the stepping stone in the usability testing process as it allows in-depth analysis to be made at a very fast speed. Analyse has a user friendly interface, where the main focus is on the video of test session and the corresponding markers. The video of the participant as well of the participant's computer screen can be viewed at the same time. The Analyse section has a search feature which facilitates retrieval of specific predefined events, as represented by markers, such as mouse clicks, keystrokes, comments, errors among others. Search results can be saved as a preset in the study and also exported as a csv file. Task start and end times can be adjusted and all observation notes can be edited. Additional markers (observation notes) can be also added if needed.

Another useful feature is the possibility to change the speed of the video during viewing. The timeline has a zoom feature, hence allowing more visibility and control over markers, specially for lengthy usability test session.

Graph

Graphical representations of data can be interpreted very quickly and easily as compared to tabular data. The Graph feature in Morae is designed to accomplish this task. Data imported automatically from Recorder can be compiled and represented in graphs with just a few clicks. Some predefined graphs are already provided by Morae and can be customised to fit any study.

The Graph Tab for graphical representation of usability data
The Graph Tab for graphical representation of usability data

Present

After observation and analysis of participants' recordings, a highlight video is usually presented to the concerned members of an organisation or clients. The Present feature allows the usability engineer to create a storyboard where small segments of video recordings can be imported and presented in any order. Title Clips are used to describe an activity currently occurring on the video. The video can then be exported in wmv, avi and mpeg4 format and also as a powerpoint presentation.

Conclusion

Morae makes usability testing easy. It decreases the need for sophisticated equipment, reduces setup, editing, analysing and reporting time. It allows data to be analysed and reports to be made and presented more quickly and with less effort. It is also an efficient tool to involve stakeholders and managers into usability tests. Overall, Morae 3 can considered to a large extent as a suitable alternative to lab-based usability testing.