It is always surprising to us here at Mediabarn to hear stories of moderators who conduct usability testing NOT in a professional research facility.

Q.      Why should I take 10%-20% of my client’s budget for a test to rent out a facility when I can just conduct the sessions cheaper in a hotel room, community center, Starbuck’s, or in a spare room in the client’s office? After all, those funds could be spent running additional sessions.

A.       Yes, those funds could be spent elsewhere, but the return will probably fall short of what you can gain from bringing in new clients. Research facilities provide a great experience to clients that they are sure to remember.  As a result, when these clients need future testing done, who do you think they will go to?  Renting a research facility is a quick and easy way to enhance the quality of the usability testing experience for all parties involved.

What’s in it for you?  How often is it that a group of people come together in hopes of learning about your research? Renting a research facility means you will have 8-10 clients in a room engaged in what you are doing. That’s 8-10 potential new clients, perhaps from a partner company, another department, or senior staff.  Chances are that in 18 months, someone from that group will leave their position and find new work at a new company, and will perhaps bring you in for their research. If you are able to provide a first-rate experience for observers, those observers will remember you. The bottom line is that it is a good investment; the more people see how valuable your research is, the more work (and money) you will receive in the long run.

How the client benefits: Research facilities allow your client to bring the team together, sit in a room (away from the distractions of the office), and watch real users interact with their product. The “war room” atmosphere is great for getting decision-makers together in one place to observe how users respond.  A professional facility creates an environment that fosters research while providing clients with an experience from which they are sure to derive benefit. We have hosted numerous client groups and have heard over and over again that the observers really enjoyed themselves. Usability sessions are often fun to watch, especially when provided with quality food and drinks, and the appearance of the beer and wine cart (for night sessions).

Q.      Why do clients need to be present at the facility when they can watch the recorded video sessions later on?

A.        Sure, the videos are recorded and posted on a secure server, but realistically we know almost no one takes the time to watch them.  Over the years we have posted videos for clients, and sadly we know they probably aren’t being watched.  More often than not, only one or two sessions are viewed, and for only about a fraction of the study length.  We have had teams of 20 people request access to the videos, with the good intention of getting folks to watch them, but most people never even sign in. At the facility, video footage is watched live and data can be analyzed right away in the viewing room.

How the Research Benefits: Unlike a Starbuck’s, the facility’s sole purpose is catering to the usability testing process. The features and amenities specific to research facilities are invaluable. The facility provides a quiet, professional setting without distractions and interruptions you would find at other locations. The materials that a usability site provides are going to be top of the line and are customized to deliver the best results possible.  The placement and set up of these tools have been perfected to result in optimization of performance. Having the necessary materials on site means no scrambling around beforehand and a shorter set up time. Don’t forget to estimate the cost of set up time for outside locations, the time it may take to re-establish the setup if there are malfunctions (which are inevitable), and the possibility of data being lost or damaged in transit. Most facilities have reliable backup systems that will securely protect your data.

Performing the sessions in a research facility allows analysts to control all aspects of the environment. Familiarity with your facility means less time fumbling with new equipment, optimal placement for recording materials and a room configuration designed to make users feel comfortable and relaxed.  In order to increase the reputability of the research conducted, all users should have a similar experience. Thus, controlling for consistency among users is of paramount importance.

Results from usability studies illustrate that simplicity is key. Research facilities make the usability testing experience as simple as possible for all those involved. At the end of the day, your client is paying for an off-site where they can gather top of the line research while having a good time watching you work. This benefits your business, the client’s goals, and ultimately (because everyone is engaged) it makes the product that much better for end users. Thus, everyone wins. In conducting usability studies, you are trying to improve the user experience, so why not let a research facility, such as Media Barn, enhance your experience!

Jason Pentecost

About Jason Pentecost

As Principal and Co-Founder of Mediabarn, clients and associates rely heavily on Jason for his breadth of interactive experience and his keen perception of where the industry is heading. He works closely with our key clients and is never too far from anything that goes on at the ‘barn. Jason…
Posted in user research, uxlab.

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