M&Ms and Hidden Cameras

Building the Stylight Usability Lab from the Ground Up

Alexandra Furman
6 min readJun 27, 2016

For our research team of two at Stylight, the struggle has been real when it comes to booking space for in-house usability testing.

We have a big, beautiful office here. It’s an old manufacturing warehouse in Munich’s historic Nymphenburg neighbourhood, with gigantic white walls and low hanging steel beams. Our individual meeting rooms spread across multiple floors, for a bit of privacy from our open concept atrium, and up until now, we’ve had to pre-book space in those shared rooms for every testing session. With each session we’d have to set up the camera for testing, legal forms and a laptop, as we hopped between rooms.

As Stylight has expanded, we’ve taken over more of the building, now occupying much of the ground, first and second floor. What’s even more exciting, is that with this expansion, we were allocated our own space to build a testing lab. This involved pitching a technical and furniture budget to management, and justifying the need for the space, but everyone was pretty excited about it. With the help of our feel good management team and Sam our infrastructure guy, I set out to design a new space for collecting product insights.

The need spanned beyond the room booking issue. We also needed a space where users felt comfortable, eliminating the interview-like feel of our meeting rooms. Ultimately we wanted the girls to feel like they were at a friend’s place, gossiping about the latest app.

All the essentials packed into our 26 square meter lab space

The spatial requirements

We decided that the majority of our user research could be done in one single room. The first element we needed was a lounge area for comfortable mobile testing, with a clear sightline to the TV. We wanted girls to be in their natural environment, which more often than not, means they’re semi-distracted. We learned during a round of remote testing, that millennial women within our demographic were often watching tv, having conversations, in transit, or even waiting in line at the grocery store while using our app for shopping or browsing content.

The second element was a desk space, for web testing. This needed to be a space where we could walk the girls through a desktop test for stylight.de, and have a comfortable place for both the participant and the tester to sit for an hour long session.

Third, we needed a multipurpose round table area. Primarily meant for focus groups and participatory workshops, this was a spot where we could lay out activities and have discussions with a larger group of 4–10 people. It needed to be stacked with paper, pens, dot stickers and various stacks of product reaction cards. We also wanted to able to use this area for post-test synthesizing, and presentations of research findings with the product teams. For this, we included a whiteboard on wheels which we can pull in and out of the room, to keep our synthesized findings away from the eyes of users.

The fourth element we needed was an observation room. Rather than knocking out the wall to the room next door, and setting up a creepy interrogation room, we decided to make it virtual. We wanted to be able to live stream it to the shared meeting room next door, or have our teammates tune into the stream and take notes directly from their desks.

Software and devices

The tech setup for the lab needed to be robust and reliable, so that the interviewers didn’t need to play around with the setup during a test. For running the whole show, we designated one macbook for the live streaming setup. Wirecast was the main vice here. We created five shots that we could record; one for android testing, one for iOS testing, one for pc testing, one for mac testing, and one for the birds eye view from the ceiling.

Our mobile shot streaming live to Youtube via Wirecast

On the desk area for web testing, we decided to set up a 13.8 inch Lenovo pc laptop, and a 13 inch macbook pro, and let the desktop testing participants chose both their machine, and their browser. We want participants to use what they’re used to at home, whether it be a mac or a pc, Safari or Chrome.

For our mobile testing we went with an Samsung S5 as our android device, and an iPhone 6 for our iOS device. On the iOS device, we needed to install the Reflector 2, in order to mirror the screen onto our system macbook pulling the Reflector window into Wirecast. Reflector for Android is a little shaky and crashes a lot because it doesn’t use airplay, so until we find a better solution, we’re currently using the mirror beta app.

For video footage beyond what the laptop webcams provide, we have a two camera setup. We have our USB cam for capturing participant’s facial expressions during mobile testing on the couch, and a ceiling cam to get a broader view on the room for documenting workshops and more space heavy research activities. For testing mobile, we could not make use of the front facing phone camera to record facial expressions, without building our own software. Since we planned to screen mirror on the mobile devices, we could not run any additional apps (IE a camera app) in the background. That’s where the USB camera came in to capture participants facial expressions.

Mobile testing can be conducted completely wirelessly with no visible cameras
Workshopping area with our gigantic whiteboard, ceiling cam, and stocked up workspace

Keeping it comfortable

The virtual observation room was a great start. With our previous testing setup, I brought a member of the team to take notes for each session, and having two strangers in a room watching you doesn’t exactly feel nice. Keeping it one on one takes away a lot of that pressure.

A bit of home furnishing and attention to detail also goes a long way, particularly with the personas we’re working with, who care about the aesthetic of fashion and home decor. The furniture setup was meant to simulate a living room, so we set out to get everything from a big comfy couch, to a wall mounted TV with chick flicks on repeat. Making sure we have snacks, candy, and drinks stocked up added to the “friends place” feel, making it a bit more relaxed. We also have a fully loaded Smart TV and chrome bit with all sorts of movies and reality shows, for the girls to flick through.

A fully decorated “living space” to get comfy in
The mini bar. We’re currently trying to get Stylight branded “to go” cups so participants can finish their coffee on their way out

Striving for a more natural environment also meant our cameras needed to be disguised. The ceiling cam came fairly discreet in its appearance. It looks a bit like a smoke detector, positioned in the back left corner of the room. For the mobile testing, we placed our USB camera in a plastic plant to be pointed at the participants. Ethics and honesty here are still huge, and we inform participants that there will be session recordings, however seeing exactly where those cameras are located isn’t always necessary.

Spot the hidden camera
…The sneakiest part of our lab

The almost — final product

We’ve now tested the setup and are ready to bring users in. At this point, it will be a continual process of tweaking the lab, adding nice little details, and making sure our tech setup is reliable and as automated as it can be.

Updates to come!

Tap the ❤ to share, and follow our progress on twitter @Afurmm @StylightTech

All photography by Christina Ilchmann.



Alexandra Furman

Living, learning & creating. User researcher from Vancouver.