Usability Lab


Usability lab.

The usability lab at the University of Minnesota is built to adapt to many uses.

The soundproof observer room is larger than most, and the space includes a one-way mirror so your team can sit in comfort while you watch participants use your product. Displays on the wall and along the console provide views of:

  • the participant’s screen

  • facial expressions

  • keyboard and mouse activity

  • mobile devices

A variety of camera angle combinations along with the audio are recorded via Zoom. 

Members of your team who cannot attend in person can still see and hear everything that is happening during the sessions in real time via integrated web conferencing. There is a microphone and a camera in the observer room that allows them to take part in team discussions as well.

If the participants you need are not located near campus, we can host them remotely via web conferencing.

Usability Lab Specifications

Observer Room


Usability lab observer room.
  • Room size: 18’ 4.875” W x 21’ 5.5” L

  • Seating

    • The lab can seat 16 people around six tables arranged into a rectangle and at the console.

    • More people can be accommodated with rearrangement of the room.

    • Additional chairs are available. With rearrangement, the room can hold up to 30 people.

  • Audio and video

    • Two 60” screens allow for whole-room observation.

    • Five 20” digital monitors show up-close details along the console.

    • Overhead speakers in the observer room provide live audio from the participant room, as well as from web conferencing participants and attendees.

    • One multidirectional microphone in the ceiling allows web conference attendees to hear the team’s conversations.

  • Recording

    • We record all sessions using Zoom.
    • Recordings can be saved to the cloud or to a local disk.
    • Recordings include searchable auto-generated captions, simplifying the task of finding specific passages.
  • Web conferencing

    • A desktop workstation with a landline ethernet jack can host a Zoom meeting for up to 500 remote observers.

Participant Room


Usability lab participant room
  • The room is arranged for a single participant

  • Room size: 11’ W x 14’ 5” L

  • Computer hardware and software

    • Dell desktop computer running Windows 10 with an extended desktop with two monitors.

    • One monitor is a Tobii T-60 eye-tracker and runs with the Tobii Studio software.

    • We have a Tobii X2-60 eye-tracker available for use with mobile devices.

    • We have an iPod Touch and an iPad for mobile device testing, along with the adapters to connect them to our video system.

  • High-definition cameras

    • One camera is mounted in the upper corner of the room opposite the participant and can be used to capture facial expressions and/or conversations with a moderator.

    • Another camera is mounted above the participant and can be used to focus on the keyboard and mouse, written materials, or mobile device screens.

    • A third camera is mounted on a tripod and may be placed around the room to capture a needed view.

Do I Need a Lab to Do My Project?

The usability lab provides a space to bring your team together to share the experience of seeing someone use a product or design in real time. While eye-tracking, live-viewing of computer/mobile screen, and audio all make for an engaging, motivating experience, there may be better ways to approach that work than the usability lab space provides.

Situations that do not need a lab space:

  • interaction between more than one participant at a time

  • very short, unscheduled sessions as part of a fast turnaround

  • contextual understanding of a person’s use or work

  • construction or interaction with physical objects

Some alternatives to using a lab:

  • Hold usability sessions remotely via a web conferencing software (e.g. Zoom). Most web conferencing software options have the ability to record participant facial reactions as well as their screen

  • Take a mobile device to a public space where you can find people going about their day and ask them to participate

  • Schedule a conference room with a camera and/or audio recording equipment for being able to go to your participants’ location rather than making them come to you

  • Offer to go to your participants’ homes or workspaces, if you need an understanding of their context

  • Reserve a larger, open space for construction or interaction with physical objects

More Information

Additional Resources