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Hotel Room User Testing

A current project requires lab user testing in four cities in California. We knew that for the Bay Area, we could use our client’s office, but for L.A., Fresno, and Sacramento, what would we do?

Our first impulse was to get a formal user testing lab — totally pro set up, one-way glass, lots and lots of M&Ms. So we priced out a couple of labs in L.A., and the cheapest we could find was $1500 for a day. Which struck me as obscene.

And considering I hate testing facilities as it is. It’s sooooo corporate/conference-y. So foreign and weird.

So, instead, we booked adjoining hotel rooms. One serves as the testing room, the other as the observation room. Bring down a cheap, small, digital camera, and wire that to a TV in the observation room. Hotels are all about the high-speed internet access now, and Courtyard and Residence Inns by Marriott offer it for free.

Have the testing room be a suite, so that there’s a desk set-up in a room with no bed. (Otherwise, it feels a little too… porn-y.)

And hey, since you’re traveling, you need a hotel room for the night before (and possibly night of), so the rooms serve double duty.

Two adjoining hotel rooms run for around $300 for a day, depending on location. Even if it gets up to, oh, $500, that’s still a huge discount over a testing facility.

Why would I use a testing facility, again?

  1. Brilliant. I was trying to figure out where to do my next lab sessions and it needed to be somewhere close so the stakeholders could come in and observe; we just happen to have a Residence Inn and a Courtyard across the street. Great tip Peter!

  2. Another thing you can do is rent day office space. When I was in NYC, I rented office space at the Chrysler building for $15/hour. internet was another $15 day. Included a view of the city and an Aeron chair. I used, which has offices all around the country. The also provide reception services and a waiting area. Far less sketchy than luring people into a hotel room. 😉

  3. How creepy. I can’t imagine what that does to a participant’s comfort level. Don’t clients usually pay for testing facilities? Yeah, they’re outrageously expensive, but they do have benefits like: hosting, good video, client observation areas, etc.

  4. How is a well-appointed hotel suite any more or less creepy than a sterile observation room?

    Not *one* participant demonstrated any degree of “creepiness” during our work. Not one. We got great input from them in our interviews and observations.

    Hotel lobbies are great for hosting.

    A $400 digital video camera is great for good video. And we have this camera for field research and for our in-office user tests anyway.

    An adjoined room is great for client observation.

    It’s not like we’re bringing them into a Motel 6. Go with a respected hotel brand (Marriott, Westin, etc.) get a suite, and it’s fine.

  5. We’ve tried the hotel route, but I’m much happier with executive office suites. These little gems are real offices in real office buildings, but cost less per day than a hotel room. (We usually rent them for about $750/month, prorated for whatever time we actually need.)

    They typically come with receptionists, waiting rooms, phone service, internet connections, conference rooms (perfect for paper prototyping tests), kitchens with free coffee, copiers, and everything you might need.

    We’ve used them in cities all around the US & Canada and had tremendously good results. It works out very well.

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