Empty lab with computers and video cameras

Usability Lab Test

A Usability Lab Test is a user test conducted in a lab typically consisting of a soundproof test room with a one-way mirror allowing stakeholders, technologists, and designers to observe test subjects from an adjacent room. The purpose of the Usability Lab is to discover UX problems designers can prioritize addressing. Many usability tests and techniques described elsewhere at Practical UX Methods can be used in a lab setting. Because of the time and expense involved in recruiting specific types of users, Usability Lab tests are typically performed in greater depth than tests conducted with random or casually recruited participants, and with more emphasis on documentation (e.g. video and audio recording, screen capture, heat maps, and task times).

The upside to a lab test is that lab conditions focus the user’s attention on the interface being tested. Through observation, a great number of people have become invested in these test results. The downside is that user behavior with the product may be affected by the unfamiliar, controlled lab environment.

Category:
Description

Schedule Time & Gather Materials

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Schedule Time:

  • Time to Write a Facilitator’s Script: 4 Hours
  • Time for Testing: 1 Hour per Participant
  • Time to Create a Results Presentation: 4 Hours
Gather Materials

Gather Materials:

  • Facilitator script
  • Prototype or live product
  • Audio, video recording
  • Screen capture software
  • Other lab software, as needed
  • Pen and paper for note taking
  • Spreadsheet and presentation software

Carry Out This Method

Man uses and tablet while woman observes
  1. Determine the goals for the lab test.
  2. Create a facilitator script.
  3. Recruit participants (6-10) from the pool of anticipated or current users.
  4. Prior to the start of the session, test all equipment.
  5. Make sure participants and observers understand the testing protocol (No wrong answers. User comments are helpful and will not hurt anyone’s feelings. The script is a guide only. etc.)
  6. Distribute scripts to observers.
  7. Follow standard questioning practice (see More below).
  8. Look for patterns between users, even during the course of testing. As patterns develop, focus questions for later test participants on issues inferred from those patterns. These patterns are likely the things that are important to them, or they may point to underlying concerns.
  9. Report insights to stakeholders, developers, and designers.

Try These Tips

  • You may need to offer greater incentives to motivate users to travel to a lab. To avoid wasting time, make sure incentives are sufficient to ensure users show up.
  • Usability Lab Tests are opportunities to build confidence with stakeholders. Although lab tests do not provide quantitative data (see A/B Testing), it does demonstrate that the practice of UX is analytical and logical.
  • Not every usability goal can be assessed in a lab environment. Complex tasks that require inputs from multiple systems, for example, may not provide useful feedback.

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