Accepted paper:

Producing findings in an industrial usability testing lab


Stuart Reeves (University of Nottingham)

Paper short abstract:

Usability testing is an important approach in the shaping of product and service design outcomes in industrial settings. I present a study examining how findings are practically 'produced' in and as the work of stakeholders, both running tests and observing them as they unfold.

Paper long abstract:

Usability testing (often called 'user testing', or just 'testing') is routinely employed in industry to shape product and service design outcomes. While there is a long tradition in STS of examining the social practices that more typical 'labs' turn on (e.g., 'scientific' labs), usability labs have received little attention (except Woolgar (1991)). I present an ethnomethodological study that starts to uncover how usability findings emerge in practical action. In order to do this, informed by a broader ethnography, I use video recordings of usability labs at a design consultancy where various stakeholders and participants engage in usability tests with a prototype website. This study seeks to articulate what constitutes usability testing's practical 'production work' and thus begin to nuance conventional views of usability findings as straightforwardly 'there to be found' or 'read off' by competent evaluators. As exhibits of this production work, I explore how stakeholders collaboratively locate 'troubles' in the test's unfolding, and then surface these as candidate findings, some of which ultimately may be still be 'passed over' and dissipated. As part of this I unpack how troubles and solutions are formulated as a matter of this production work, and how this turns on, variously, the topicalisation of prototyping, the organisation of test protocol, and the contingencies brought to this work by stakeholders' particular orientations. The study suggests conceptual distinctions between existing work on labs for experimentation, or for simulation, and sites like usability labs where artefacts themselves come to be constituted very differently.

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Discovery, discussion and decision
Democracies of controlled experimentation? The emerging landscape of social laboratories