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Configuring a Mac laptop for user research

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Popup research, Tips and techniques

The amazing new GDS research studio at Aviation House has both Windows and Mac computers, allowing our research participants to choose the system they're most familiar with.

When we're out and about doing popup research, we rarely have this luxury. Participants who typically use a Mac may have to test content or services on a Windows PC, whilst Windows users may have to use a Mac.

In this post, I'll show you how to configure your Macbook to make it more comfortable for research participants familiar with Windows PC.

Configuring your Macbook for Windows users

  1. Create a separate user account for research. Now you can mess with the settings without interfering with your regular work. Also, your browser history, Google, Apple and other accounts, social media, email alerts and other applications don't get in the way during research.
  2. Attach an old school wheel mouse with left and right buttons. This helps people who prefer to use a mouse, and almost all users seem to know how to use one.
  3. In System Preferences > General, set ‘Show scroll bars’ to ‘Always’. This helps people who use the scrollbars to scroll. Very few people notice that there are no buttons at the top and bottom of the scrollbars, those that do quickly get on with dragging the scrollbar or rolling the wheel on the mouse.
  4. In System Preference > Mouse and System Preferences > Trackpad, turn off ‘Scroll direction: natural’. This helps most Windows users, whether they scroll using the mouse scroll wheel or with the trackpad. It can flummox Mac users and, for reasons I don't fully understand, some Windows users also expect the natural scroll direction. At the start of the session, ask the participant to try out the mouse scroll wheel or trackpad, and change the scroll direction setting if you need to.
  5. In System Preferences > Trackpad > Point & Click, turn off ‘Tap to click’ and set ‘Secondary click’ to ‘Click in bottom right corner’. If a person prefers to use the trackpad but expects left and right buttons, just tell them they can click the trackpad where the left and right buttons would be.
  6. Have Chrome, Firefox and Opera available as well as Safari and let people choose their preferred browser.

This doesn't, of course, solve all problems.

Some people won't be able to find the @ and " keys and you'll need to point them out.

Some people will tell you that they hate Macs and can't use them, but they'll eventually calm down and get on with it if you smile and nod.

Digital skill and experience

I've found that people with low digital skills and experience have internalised a lot less of the Windows UI and don't notice the differences as much as more experienced Windows users.

People with high digital skills and experience notice the differences but quickly adapt to them.

Share your experience

Overall this configuration works very well for me and my participants. If you try it, let me know how you go by leaving a comment.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Alvaro posted on

    Nice tips! I would add another one... Turn off autofill forms in the browsers