The User Studies Labs (USL) are a university-wide facility for research on human-computer interaction. Originally built to observe and record individual users of the ZOG system (an early hypermedia system), the USL were opened up to university use in 1985 when Bonnie John took over their administration. Since then they have been used for dozens of investigations into the usability of new technology and interaction techniques. For instance, computer scientists have studied speech-recognition, command languages, and help systems; psychologists have studied computer-aided instruction; the English Department has studied documentation and collaborative writing; the business school has studied errors in telephone-based interactions and the efficacy of object-oriented programming; and engineers have studied the effects of access to large databases on engineering policy decisions. The USL are also used in undergraduate teaching, where students can learn to perform "think-aloud" usability studies.
The USL have equipment for both single-user laboratory and field recording of color video data. Computer-based video and data-analysis equipment set up on transportable carts can be loaned to researchers for a few months at a time to do their analyses in their own offices, freeing the laboratories for data collection. The USL recently acquired an additional 760 sq ft laboratory and a 260 sq. ft. conference room to accommodate research into the usability of multi-media, multi-user, multi-location computer systems. The larger room allows us to investigate the performance of groups of people (e.g., a 12-person design team) as they use networked systems, shared workspaces, and other computer-mediated group-support tools. The combination of the large room and the smaller conference room allows us to investigate communications between remote users working in concert with both local and remote groups, using new technology such as personal digital assistants, video communications, or wearable computers.