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How do you build a great user research lab? Start with user needs

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: User research infrastructure, User research lab

GDS has moved to new offices. And that’s meant moving our user research lab.

We’ve learned a lot since we opened our previous lab back in May 2014. Hosting 6,000 hours of user research by teams in GDS and other government organisations has taught us a lot about what does and doesn’t work.

So we’ve taken the opportunity to update and simplify some of the facilities. We’ll write more about that soon.

We started with the needs of the different people who use our lab. As always, our understanding of our users isn’t perfect - we know we need to learn more about our participants’ experience. But writing down our users’ needs has helped clarify what is and isn’t important for us.

We’re publishing these in case they’re a useful starting point for others.

User needs for a user research lab

As a researcher I need:

  • a flexible space so I can use a wide range of research methods including interviews, activities (eg card sorting), usability testing and accessibility testing
  • a space big enough for me and up to 3 participants
  • a waiting area where I can leave and collect participants
  • good lighting so I can see what’s happening and get good video recordings
  • a quiet space with no sound coming in from outside or from equipment so I can hear clearly and get good sound recordings
  • a hearing loop so I can hear the participants clearly
  • a range of devices and systems I can use for usability testing so we get more realistic results
  • to run usability and accessibility tests on participants’ own devices and with their own assistive technologies so we get more realistic results
  • to run tests where I observe one or two participants from a distance so I can reduce my influence on them
  • cameras and microphones that cover the space so I get good recordings of interviews, activities, usability tests and accessibility tests
  • someone else to control recordings so I can focus on the research
  • to mark moments during sessions so I can easily review and share highlights
  • clear video, audio and screen recordings that I can review, clip and use in presentations
  • picture in picture composites of activities and tests so I don’t have to make them later

As a participant I need:

  • a friendly space so I feel relaxed
  • an accessible space that I can use with my mobility aids (eg wheelchair, walking frame, guide dog)
  • to bring someone to help me if I want to
  • good seating and environment so I feel comfortable
  • seats and surfaces that are at the right height for me
  • a plain environment so I’m not distracted or agitated
  • lighting that can adjust for my vision so I can see what’s happening
  • a hearing loop so I can hear the researcher clearly
  • a comfortable space to wait for my session to start
  • easy access to the toilet
  • appropriate refreshments to be available

As an observer I need:

  • enough space for me and other members of my team
  • good seating and environment so I feel comfortable all day
  • a space I can bring drinks and food into
  • clear pictures and sound so I can see and hear what’s happening in the research
  • a hearing loop so I can hear the participants and researchers clearly
  • lighting that I can control so I can see clearly and feel comfortable all day
  • tables so I can take notes
  • power sockets on the tables so I can keep my devices charged
  • paper, sticky notes and pens so I can take notes
  • clear walls so I can collect and sort observations
  • to observe sessions when I’m away at another site or at home

If you’re building or updating your own lab, let us know how you get on.

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  1. Comment by Rosie posted on

    I'm gonna redesign my kitchen in this way!

  2. Comment by Anthony posted on

    Thanks for an interesting post, John. One other thing we've found running Dialect labs for the last couple of years is that researchers will often require a last minute change of the setup (e.g. between computer and whiteboard, or computer and mobile) and the recording setup has to be flexible enough to accommodate this - sometimes with just 10 minutes' worth of notice!