Look! We built a usability lab!

We had an empty room. We wanted a usability lab. So here’s what we did.


  • It needed to be mobile. (The room wasn’t mine to commandeer)
  • The set up needed to be fuss free. (I don’t want to trip on a labyrinth of wires)
  • It has to work seamlessly with Android, Windows and Apple devices. (Duh!)
  • Cost effective. (Can’t break the bank)
  • Observers can watch the test live. (Nothing beats instant feedback)


Reinventing the wheel is just not the best way to get things done so I went googling articles and blog posts to find out how other companies have built their usability lab.

There was this really helpful article I found which shared the following set up:


It was an awesome starting point. I also found the chance to pick the brains of other practitioners in the field and learnt that Lookback (https://lookback.io/), while a hot favourite, has started charging for their software.

I like Lookback. I used it before when I was at General Assembly and once when I was helping run a test for the National Gallery of Singapore app. It has a very clean interface and allowed for picture in picture capture which is very helpful. I’ve never used it for a live audience but their newly launched observer’s account looked promising. The only drawback is that I needed a Mac to run the program and I have a Windows computer.

How the setup might look like if we had chosen to use Lookback.

It’s back to the drawing board again to evaluate the other tools uncovered.

We’ve got the TOOLS!

After some experimenting, I managed to breakdown the needs of our usability lab further.

We needed to be able to:

  1. Capture and record the user’s facial expression
  2. Capture and record the actions done by the user
  3. Capture and record the user’s speech
  4. Share 1&2&3 to another room where the observers are


This is the second setup proposed. The tools that are used include Reflector , Faststone , Skype and Chromecast.

This setup was implemented and tried out during an internal showcase (woohoo we now can run usability tests!).


Some problem areas were identified.

  1. The internet connection was slow, Skype call quality was bad.
  2. For Reflector and Chromecast to work properly, all devices had to be on the same wifi network.
  3. The laptop facing the user was proving to be quite a distraction.
  4. The observers were not able to see where the user was pointing or focusing on.
  5. Skype had a distracting ad banner.

We have a WINNER!

Since Skype was causing so much problems, it was removed from the final setup. We took the feedback into consideration and went to our tech guys and requested for their expertise.

We wanted to use webcams this time and use Chromecast to broadcast the audio from the Testing Room directly to the Observers’ Room. They were amazing and provided us with invaluable help.


This is how it should look like.


Setup in the Testing Room. How the webcams are placed to capture the hand motions as well as the facial expressions of the user. The laptop is facing away from the user so he or she will not be distracted by the screen activity.


Setup in the Observers’ Room. Handouts for the observers were also prepared so that they can follow along and take notes during the usability test.

What the observers will be viewing (together with audio) over Chromecast in the Observers’ Room.


Our setup works well for us. Next step will be to make this whole setup so mobile that we can also use it overseas or in another location that isn’t our offices. That will definitely come with challenges! Stay tuned.

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