Human Factors Lab Considerations

Author: Thomas Stokes, PhD – Human Factors Engineer

At EG-GILERO we strive to be user-centric when we design medical devices. With this in mind, we are increasing our Human Factors capabilities, and establishing our human factors lab!

Of course, human factors is partially a cognitive exercise, making sure all of our employees understand design-thinking, usability, and human-centered design. In addition to approaching medical devices with the right mindset we wanted to make sure we had the resources needed for user research and human factors verification and validation testing. Our HF lab will allow EG-GILERO to perform rapid user testing and iteratively improve the medical devices we design.

It is not often that someone gets the opportunity to put together a usability lab like this, and it’s no trivial task. There have been many decisions along the way, and some still ongoing. In this blog post we will walk through some common questions and things to keep in mind when setting up a lab.

Deciding if a lab is right for you

The first big question to ask yourself is if you need a lab space and/or if it suits your needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I/ does my company have physical space for a testing room?
  • Do we plan on testing on a semi-regular basis (upwards of 2 tests a month)?
  • Do we design devices intended for human use, that can be optimized better with frequent user feedback?

If you find yourself answering yes to these questions then having a user research/ human factors lab is the right call for you (logistics permitting).

What is the cost of a lab? Is it expensive?

A human factors Lab do not have to be expensive. Certainly, if you have the budget to spend on it you can spend tens of thousands of dollars, but that is excessive in most cases. The best advice is to start small, only purchasing some of the basics first, then buy more as you find the need.

Ok, so we’ve decided to start our own lab, what exactly do we need in the lab?

Keeping with the advice of starting off small, then building as you see the need for it, lets put things into tiers:

Tier I

For a bare bones setup all you need a physical space (preferably a comfortable, separated space, at least the size of a small conference room), and a way to take notes about a testing session (notepads, protocol/interview sheets/ laptop, etc.). If you have these two things, you could technically say you have a lab space.

Tier II

Just having a room and a way to take testing notes is a bit spartan; you will also want to get cameras and microphones so that you can record your testing sessions. AV recordings add a lot of value to your research team in terms of being able to go back and review footage to study things like common errors, and gives you the ability to share what you observed with other stakeholders who could not make the testing session.

Tier III

Once you have this basic setup (everything from tiers I and II) you have all that you need to say that you have a proper usability lab, but there’s a few more things that you can do to take your lab to the next level:

  1. Two rooms: having a second room is a beneficial hf/usability lab setup—this way you can have separate spaces for running the test and for observers. The two rooms can be right next to each other, or be physically separated, but each comes with its own considerations, like how to connect them (e.g. 1-way glass, AV-feeds, etc.)
  2. Usability testing software: As you perform human factors studies you might notice that annotating videos, cross-referencing time stamps, or finding just the right video clip to support a main finding can become time consuming. Fortunately, there are a variety of software options that are built to streamline workflow for usability and market researchers. The licenses for these software can be expensive, but you might find that they pay for themselves saved time and efficiency.
  3. Specialized equipment: The biggest difference between a basic hf/usability lab and a state-of-the-art lab comes down to specialized equipment. There are many examples, but probably the most common type of specialized equipment you will see are eye trackers—they are expensive, difficult to use, and often difficult to analyze, but can be a great tool to show you things that don’t show up in error logs and gives researcher a means to understand how attention is directed to various parts of a UI.

Are there any aspects of HF labs that go overlooked?

Absolutely, two common ones are the human element (which is ironic), and the limits of the lab.

  1. The human element: It is important to remember your test participants and their needs—there should be a welcoming waiting area, basic refreshments should be available, your lab and furniture should be comfortable, and your test moderator should be friendly. In short, remember to be a good host to your participants—happy participants will be more relaxed and helpful.
  2. The limits of labs: Labs are an excellent means for research; they provide you with a level of control, and a base of operations, but you can never be absolutely sure of the external validity of in-lab findings. Do not neglect observational methods, like contextual inquiries, once you get a usability lab—combining in-lab testing, with observational methods can be a very powerful means of triangulating your findings.

Remember to keep these considerations in mind if you have the fortune to set up a hf/usability lab at your place of work. Note that the advice above just concerns the physical space – and not the additional logistical and structural considerations needed for an efficient running lab. Keep an eye out for a future post, where we detail the human factors lab at EG-GILERO.