When you commit to creating meaningful, usable experiences one of the best ways to make sure you’re doing it well is to conduct usability testing. This testing can uncover areas of your site or application where users have a hard time understanding how to accomplish what they need to do, and can also confirm where the site is working well in terms of usability.

There are many days where you might find me walking up to my coworkers and asking “Do you have a couple minutes for a quick usability test?” It’s not scientific, and not how a traditional usability test is run — but that’s okay because even these quick ad-hoc usability tests can confirm that a design is usable or uncover that it needs a little rework. We at Clockwork see the importance of doing usability testing not only ad-hoc, but also a step up from that too.

In order to conduct those tests, we recently set up a new addition to the Clockwork office: the Usability Lab!

Here would probably be the part where I list out all the special features, add-ons and bells and whistles of our lab. The list would include two-way mirrors, an observation room, and special audio-visual equipment that records every aspect of the test. But that’s not what we have in there. Why? Because around here, one of our favorite mantras is, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (Some guy named Leonardo da Vinci said that a long time ago.)

We can run very insightful tests with our current lab setup, and it didn’t cost us a fortune to set it up. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • A 6×10 room with a door. The door allows us to have a quiet space, and privacy from the rest of the office.
  • A MacBook Pro connected to the internet. We happened to have an extra one at our office, so technically we didn’t spend any money to get it in the usability lab.
  • Silverback. This software allows you to set up and run tests while capturing screen activity, video record your participant, and export each session to Quicktime for viewing later.
  • The know-how to write tasks and ask participants to perform them in a way that does not lead them to any one answer or outcome.

Don’t get me wrong, two-way mirrors, observation rooms, and all the other bells and whistles are great. But they’re not always necessary for conducting an effective usability test. In the future, we may add extra features to our lab, but for now we’re excited to get testing. In fact, we ran our first official tests last week and they were a smashing success!