The Effects of the Testing Environment on User Performance in Software Usability Testing

B. Grubaugh, S. Thomas, and J. Weinberg (USA)


usability testing, usability lab, lab design, user anxiety, lab anxiety, and user testing.


Usability testing has become one of the key aspects of user centered design. It typically employs various lab setups equipped with cameras and other devices to monitor the user’s interactions with the software. Psychology studies on Electronic Performance Monitoring suggest that the more monitoring equipment used, the higher the anxiety levels of the person being observed. This study observed how usability labs employing various methods of user monitoring affected user anxiety levels and performance. If increased anxiety levels are causing users to make more errors, then the lab environment could be impacting the results of usability testing. The study examined three groups of subjects performing a usability test under different electronic and direct monitoring conditions. Each lab had significantly different layouts and employed different methods of monitoring. The labs were designed to be increasingly more intrusive in the monitoring set-ups. The study measured the anxiety levels of all participants after the test and counted the number of errors made. There were statistically significant differences, suggesting that lab environment can impact usability test results.

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