We made the decision to build our very own UX Lab. The reason for our investment in building our very own UX Lab is due to the fact that as an agency we are becoming better and better at creating user experiences that do not have a lifespan, projects that live outside a typical campaign with a shelf life of 2-3 months. While this shift to user experience design within agencies has been happening overseas for some time, we are excited to see this becoming more and more important for clients here in South Africa.
The user experience space has been relatively untapped in South Africa for some time with a very few companies offering this service. Companies like Flow Interactive and ISO Flow come to mind, but other than that most agencies in South Africa we find seem to limit the definition of UX Design to wireframes. Good grief!
When going about building our very own UX Lab we had the unique opportunity of creating a Lab that had everything we could ever want.
While it was tempting to list a radunculously long list of star wars type tech we would want installed, what was more important to us was having a Lab that actually helped us solve the problems we perpetually found when launching projects.
Below is the wish list we ended up with of what we wanted our dream Lab to have:
1. A Human Friendly Test Environment.
A place where someone wouldn’t feel like they were in a Lab or CIA headquarters being looked at anonymously through one way glass. (c’mon who are we kidding, no one is going to give you natural reactions when they’re feeling watched.) So the Lab is styled like a library kitted with old books, a leather couch and even a duck taxidermy.
2. Testing on Real Mobile Devices.
We want to test on real mobile devices, not just mobile simulators. While mobile simulators are great for getting the large bugs out for functional quality assurance tests, there is just no way to better a test an experience on mobile than a person holding a real phone.
3. We Want to Test Everything.
We want to be able to test anything from a quick small iteration to a notification feature to a large software system that takes an hour or two. We want to push the boundaries of what we can test as well, a information architecture schematic, a clickable wireframe, a design screen, a rough prototype, an interactive fridge, a game, or a connected arduino device thingy. Why not? We made sure the system is scaleable and allows us to plug almost any input to record almost any action we are asking a user to take. So in short, what we can’t test with an input tracking clicks, taps or movement we make up for with the video and audio feed.
4. Video Recording
We want to be able to easily record each session so we can go back for a closer look to validate a hypothesis or to see if we’ve missed something on the day. While most of the time the “A HA!” moments happen almost instantaneously in the room with each person, there are most definitely important user experiences that are invaluable for making smaller improvements to usability that we find is lost if we are not able to go back into screen recordings and video/audio recordings of each test session.
This room is mainly for behind-the-glass testing, where a moderator can view and talk to the recipient through the one way mirror. This is great when testing live websites or very high fidelity prototypes. When a recipient is alone in the testing room they tend to be more willing to work out any problems they may have with a site. We have found that it is very easy for a recipient to ask, “Am I doing it right?” when we are sitting next to them, but if we are in the other room giving them instructions every so often though a speaker, we tend to get more realistic results
This led to our first technical decision: how to send the video and audio from the testing room to the boardroom. It could be done digitally over the network using something like Morae, or it could be done with a separate camera and mic in the testing room connected to a projector and speakers in the boardroom. We settled on the latter, mainly because of the flexibility. Along with the computer in the lab, the digital method would require another computer in the boardroom which was used for working and also for gaming with the help of sites as Elitist gaming that offer the best boosting online. It also would have made it difficult to stream the audio into the Bat Cave.
This way if you sat in either the Bat Cave or boardroom you where able to see and hear the recipient and see their screen.
With this analog setup we have not only been able to run website and app usability tests but also one-on-one interviews, mobile device and world-wide remote testing. All recorded and all viewed live the comfort of a boardroom. It gives us the flexibility to adapt the setup as we need it and as new testing challenges arise.
Two, this is inline with our focus of building more products and services type work. Having this facility in-house also allows us to offer this to clients, companies or anyone who needs to validate a product they have built with a real audience.
Our UX Lab is being used for 2 main reasons:
1. Testing with a real audience:
Testing a prototype, a new feature in your app or an entire piece of software with the a segment of your target audience is the only real objective way of knowing if it’s going to work before putting it out there into the public.
2. Doing a Functional Cross Device Test:
You’ve just spent considerable time and money in developing something and you’re at the stage where you are ready to go live, but don’t have the facilities need to do a hygiene test on all computer operating systems, browser versions and mobile devices.
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