Constructing and Equipping a Lab – Part 3

Now that we have determined your goals and you have determined that you do need a lab, we can build a lab that suits your needs and looks to the future as well.

Having a dedicated lab—be it a multi-purpose room, observation room with a two-way mirror into the testing room, or observation room virtually connected to the testing room—allows you to purchase the equipment needed to suit your business needs and methodology.

Questions to Ask Yourself

The specific equipment you need for your lab depends upon on five questions:

  • What you are testing?
  • How often you are testing?
  • Do you intend to test in multiple locations?
  • Is testing space available?
  • Who is your target population(s)?

Construction and Location

You may have an existing space that you can modify or you may be starting from scratch.  Either way, we have started a list of some things to consider when choosing a location and beginning any construction details:

Must Have

Strongly Encouraged

Nice to Have

  • Locate in a quiet, interruption-free environment
  • Multiple, controlled light sources  
  • Internet connection
  • Phone connection
  • Cell service, for testing on mobile devices
  • A work surface
  • Sound proofing

    • Building walls up beyond the drop ceiling
    • Using extra insulation behind walls
  • Having both a dedicated testing room and an observation room
  • Located in an area with little to no foot traffic to cut down on distractions
  • Seating room for multiple observers
  • One-way mirror (requires sound-proof glass)
  • Proximity to a restroom for participant convenience
  • Multiple electrical outlets
  • Portable furniture
  • DMZ line, which provides greater freedom in accessing the internet

Equipment and Furnishings

Upon your set up, it is important to determine which technology, materials, and furnishings will help you in your lab for each particular test. 

Must Have

Strongly Encouraged

Nice to Have

  • Computer with a monitor and keyboard
  • Updated browsers
  • Webcam attached to computer monitor
  • Audio capture
  • A few adjustable chairs
  • Phone, preferably with a speaker
  • Screen capture software
  • Picture-in-picture (PIP) capability
  • Online survey platform
  • Ambient microphone to capture audio while conducting interviews, testing mobile devices or other test scenarios  away from laptop
  • WebEx program for remote testing
  • Usability sled, for mobile and tablet testing
  • Administrator privileges on computer to download or update software
  • Wi-Fi, especially helpful when testing on tablets
  • Large TV or projector for observers to watch tests
  • Usability software
  • Eyetracking equipment
  • Card sorting software
  • Prototyping software
  • Tree testing software
  • Video editing software
  • Locking drawer or cabinet
  • Access to a printer from test room and observation room
  • External speakers for the computer
  • Digital video camera
  • Intercom
  • File storage and management system


Accessibility focuses on how a disabled person accesses or benefits from a site, system, or application. The Section 508 Guidelines detail specific criteria required for electronic publications and media—like captioning. To build accessible sites, we recommend site testing with disabled individuals, which requires additional technological considerations.

For example, multiple authors have documented difficulties in using ‘think-aloud protocol’ with individuals who use screen readers. We will explore best practices for usability testing with disabled individuals in an upcoming article.

Usability testing with disabled individuals often requires the use of specialized hardware dictated by the type and severity of the disability, as well as the incorporation of specialized software.

Examples of Adaptive Software include:

  • Screen readers; read information on your screen using synthesized speech
  • Screen magnification software
  • Speech recognition software

Tell Us About Your Lab

Creating your own usability lab does not necessarily need to include construction, one-way mirrors or a substantial budget. With a designated space, a mix of equipment, the must haves, some strongly encouraged, a few of the nice-to-haves, and some practice, you can begin to collect usability data in your own time and on your own turf.

So what has your experience been? The lists that we have started are not all inclusive and we prioritized based on our lessons learned and those we’ve talked to.  We want to hear from you, though. Tell us in the comments below about the lessons learned from constructing and equipping your lab.

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