New usability lab

User Experience Center Plan copyBy Andrew Lehn —

University of Wisconsin–Stout has plans to offer new research services to students and outside clients in the form of the Stout User Experience Center, which will be housed on the 3rd floor of the renovated Harvey Hall.

So many students design products and items that users interact with, and all of these students will be able to benefit from the services offered by the UXC. But what does usability research have to offer?

“Ultimately it’s a really fine-grained type of audience understanding and analysis,” explained UXC Director and Professional Communication and Emerging Media professor John M. Spartz. “We gain that understanding not by fictionalizing who that audience is, but by actually engaging that audience.”

Web, layout and game designers—even physical designers in art, engineering and fashion—will all be able learn more about the people on the other end of their product and become better creators because of it.

The UXC is going to be made up of the Usability Lab and the connected Focus Group Room, both decked out with new usability research technology for students and faculty to take advantage of. Once up and running the UXC will also offer client services, both to internal UW–Stout clients and external clients in the real world. As the only usability research center in the UW–System, and one that offers external services as well, the Stout UXC is in a good position to offer great opportunities for Stout students to do real-world work for real-world clients.

When completed, the lab will contain computers with UX software, eye-tracker technology and facial expression cameras for recording research participants. The lab will also offer a technology called Noldus, a smart device that can record and analyze behavior patterns, facial expressions and more, as well as combine the data. The focus group room will be linked to the lab by recording microphones and cameras, as well as an intercom for communication between participants and researchers.

The UXC mission is to engage in research, to contribute to the practice of user-centered design, and to promote the application of user centered principles everywhere. “When people design something they often have too technical an understanding of how their products work, and they don’t often think of the general user,” says Dr. Spartz. The UXC should do just that; helping designers make better products for people is a key goal of the UXC.

The UXC aims to be a place where people of all the various programs and majors at Stout can come together and build professional relationships both inside and outside the Stout campus.

“I see the UXC as a place on campus where people can come and meet and share expertise, because we here in PCEM don’t have the market cornered in user experience,” says Dr. Spartz. Look forward to this new resource on campus and be prepared to have better user experiences.

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