Lab Design Services
A lot of work goes into designing a usability lab that can fulfill today's needs while being flexible enough to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Ovo Studios has been designing usability labs for years, with our first labs still being used in a production environment running two to three tests a week.
Our lab design services are part of our turnkey fixed usability lab solution which includes installation, training, and a year of support.
If you already have a usability lab, you can benefit from Ovo Studios' technologies via a fixed lab retrofit. Our most common retrofits include:
- VCR Replacements: replace your existing tape-based recording technologies with an Ovo Studios Logging Core and take advantage of our video recording and screen recording technologies.
- Labs for MoraeTM Users: you may find that your organization's acceptance of user-centered design activities has grown to the point where local observers would benefit from fixed lab facilities. Regardless of whose recording technologies your use, Ovo Studios can help you design and build a fixed lab infrastructure for a generous viewing and listening experience. Contact us to discuss strategies that are tailored to your facility and budget.
- Camera Upgrades: replace your existing cameras and their hardware-based control with Ovo Studios Lab Control software and compatible cameras. Not only will you be happy with the cameras' zoom and picture quality, but you will also like getting rid of the boxes and cables that are cluttering your control room because hardware control is software-based in an Ovo Studios lab.
- Audio System Consolidation and Enhancement: typical legacy labs have very complex audio systems with little functionality or spare bandwidth. Customers who would like to add phone taps for telephony or remote testing usually take advantage of our expertise in tidying and extending their existing audio system.
We give our retrofitted systems as much attention as new construction and include deliverables and services like:
- Drawings for all systems we provide.
- Cables with clearly marked connections and cable IDs on each end of the cable.
- Installation, commissioning, and training.
The remainder of this page is dedicated to answering questions that we are frequently asked during initial design meetings. Use this information to build your own lab or to guide your interactions with lab vendors. The information on this page is provided for informational purposes and it is without warranty. Use the information at your own risk.
How big should my lab be?
The sketch above shows a lab with generous room dimensions. If you have to reduce room dimensions, reduce them in this order:
- Reduce 10' Control Room dimension.
- Reduce 18' Observation room dimension*.
- Reduce the 14' overall lab width.
- Regarding the countertop, have your countertop vendor cut 5" long x 1.5" wide holes along the rear edge of counter. These are your cable pass-throughs. Place these every couple of feet. Two-inch diameter holes work well too.
*Try to keep the Observation Room as large as possible. This permits it to be used as a conference room, whiteboard design room, and multimedia room.
What is HVAC and why do I care about it?
HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) is one of the most vexing aspects of building a usability lab. Many of us work in offices where the existing office space is often too hot or too cold. Further subdividing this space leads to incredible challenges for environmental control within the lab suite.
Often, usability labs are cold because thermostats are placed in control rooms where there is A/V equipment generating heat. The thermostat responds to a room that is atypically warm, resulting in less heat (or more cooling) being sent to the lab suite. This can result in the user room and the observation room feeling cold.
In a perfect world, every room would have its own thermostat because they each have a unique environment. The HVAC person you work with will most likely give you one thermostat for a three-room lab suite. If you value your users, put the thermostat in their room. You'll know how to dress appropriately for the control room environment and can instruct observers to dress appropriately.
What about one-way glass?
This topic has a variety of names: one-way glass, one-way mirrors, and silvered glass are just a few that come to mind. When you deal with glass vendors, they will know what you mean regardless of which of those terms you use. Here are recommendations for a one-way glass configuration that has worked well for me in the past.
- Build your one-way window out of two pieces of glass:
One piece of tinted Glass - 25% smoked gray.
One piece of one-way Glass.
- Separate them with an air barrier.
- It's OK if the two pieces of glass are parallel to each other.
How do I soundproof my lab?
Soundproofing is the most important aspect of a usability lab, but unless you take extraordinary construction efforts, you will not have a soundproof lab. We strive for a sound-resistant lab, in particular, we want the user room to exclude sound.
We don't want the user room to exclude all sound because that might be a little creepy for someone sitting in the user room. Noises from the air vent, conversational tones from the hallway, and a phone ringing in the office next door are all potentially acceptable ambient noises. Boisterous noises from the control room and observation room are never acceptable.
The best soundproofing tips are behavioral:
- Keep your voice down.
- Do not say or do anything you would not say or do if the user were sitting right next to you.
Methods of construction can also be used to make a lab more sound resistant:
- Walls should go all the way to the upper deck.
- Walls should be filled with insulation.
- Double layers of sheetrock help.
- Attach weather stripping to the bottom of doors leading directly from the Control Room into the User Room. (The aluminum kind with rubber wipers that rub the floor.) Directly adjoining doors are usually the greatest source of sound infiltration.
- Boxes for shipping equipment back to vendors in the event of breakage.
- Blank video tapes or video tapes from previous tests, if you are into video tape.
- Extra cables.
- A Portable Lab if you have one.
Some lab vendors advocate caulking ceiling tiles in place. I've never done this, but go right ahead. Heaven help you when you need to get into the ceiling at a later date.
Do I need a dedicated resource to manage my lab?
Usability labs are complex facilities with equipment that can burn out and plugs that can be disconnected. I once fielded a call from a client whose cameras were not working. His lab had been painted over the weekend and the painters had removed the cameras to paint the walls. When they were done, they re-mounted the cameras and stuffed the cable ends into the wall instead of plugging the cameras back in.
To protect your investment in your usability lab and the activities you conduct in it, you would benefit greatly from a person who can triage a malfunctioning lab. That is why we offer LabManager+ services with all of our labs.
What else should I think about when I design my lab?
Storage: Design your lab with as much closet storage as you can. Closets let you store all sorts of things:
Coat Racks: If you live in an environment where people wear coats, put coat racks in all rooms.