DIY user testing lab. What to buy and how to set it up.

Expensive professional usability labs are often not that necessary to find issues. Lengthy report about every detail has less value than a short one about something that matters.

A year ago I was in a situation when I needed practical advice on how to set up a DIY usability “lab” for in-person sessions with our housekeepers. All articles I found at that time were long-reads deep into theory and methods, but not into the basic set of hardware. Hope this practical guide will help someone save time and $$$. I bought all these things, used Calendly to schedule meeting, and it worked out great.

This is a practical guide for anyone who is looking for a basic setup to conduct in-person sessions fast, efficient and cheap.

While testing our old housekeeper app

1. Buy the basics

Here are the essential items you will need assuming you have a laptop, a phone and a cam like GoPro or similar

  1. Small tripod for GoPro or any other cam or phone.
  2. Phone holder.
  3. Long phone cable.

The total (except for participation rewards, water, coffee, candies and cookies you will need to make people feel comfortable) is $30.

2. Schedule sessions with Calendly

I find it very useful to arrange it all using Calendly. Calendly allows setting time slots that can be reserved. Get one link, share it with everyone you want to invite and people will choose the best time that suits them.

3. Get ready

  1. Put phone in a phone holder facing the camera down on a table. Launch the camera app. Adjust the position the way hands of a user with their device will be in the frame.
  2. Connect the phone to a laptop and launch QuickTime player. Choose File > New movie recording > Click drop-down icon near record button > Choose [Your phone name]. This allows to see what camera is filming during the interview and will keep phone battery fully charged.
  3. Adjust tripod with a camera the way both you and user will be in the frame. This is where a wide angle of GoPro works well.
  4. Open interview questions doc on your laptop.
Top view layout. NOTE: It’s better to move a laptop screen away from a user to avoid distractions.

4. Edit videos

All can be done very quickly with iMovie. Put the camera and phone video side-by-side. Syncing it the only time-consuming part, but it takes minutes.

5. Study interviews and summarise your learnings 🦉

Here is a good read: “Lean User Testing” by Stephan Wolpers