An important objective of user research, as well as determining user needs, is for our team members who design and build to see what users do, and hear them discuss their needs and opinions of product ideas and prototypes.
Usability labs allow team members to watch these research sessions. This set up features a room for interviewing and one for the observers. The observer room has a either a one-way mirror or live-streamed video of the research sessions. Having the team observe sessions is an efficient way of ensuring research findings are incorporated into the product’s next iteration.
The research team wanted to try out the new, off-site video studio to see if it could be used for user research. We didn’t want to invest in any additional equipment until we knew it would work for us. So for last week’s research session, we got the video team to set up their equipment so we could try out the studio.
I spent a few hours with Tom from the video team setting up the two rooms the day before the research session. We had three static cameras in the test room; one face on to the interviewer and research participant, one shooting from the side and the third on a monitor showing the laptop screen as the participant saw it. As the cameras are used for shooting videos they’re HD and the images are crystal clear.
Pop-up user research lab
We had two microphones on stands above the table to pick up the audio. Having the mics high up meant that we avoided the sound of the computer fan being picked up. The outputs were fed into the mixing desk and the person taking notes could switch between camera views.
Due to a lack of internet on the premises the whole set up had to be cabled, so the day before the session we put down cables and taped over them so there was no trip hazard. The cables can easily be lifted and re-positioned when the video team next uses the room. In fact, the whole set up is portable, so all the equipment could easily be set up in another location.
We tested all the equipment as we had the first interview early the next day. As the cameras were going to be static we had to ensure they were in the best position, we also did lots of checks on the audio so the observers would be able hear the interviews clearly. This investment in setting up paid off because the interview sessions ran really smoothly.
The audio and video quality was as good, if not better than we have experienced in commercial labs. What’s also heartening is that it only takes a small additional outlay to make the space work for us. For example, we need some equipment that will enable us to show what the participant is doing on screen and their face at the same time. We also need software so we can demonstrate how the site works on a mobile device, and of course a reliable internet connection.
Another issue we need to address is what we do about storage of the session files, as they are huge.
The studio room
We will definitely be using the studio again soon. Thanks to Tom for making this work so well for us on the day, and thanks to the video team for finding the premises.