The University of Queensland Usability Laboratory (UQUL) is a state-of-the-art facility for user-centered design and evaluation and hosts the research of the Cognitive Engineering Research Group.


On this website we describe the UQUL itself as well as some of the equipment we use in our research --- both UQUL equipment and more specialised CERG equipment.

In 2009 and in 2012 we received funding from UQ's Major Equipment Infrastructure fund to perform a major upgrade of the UQUL equipment and also to equip the laboratory with portable units for AV recordings in field environments. In 2016 the UQUL used its portable equipment to support a major simulation study at Princess Alexandra Hospital.

See photos of our first industry Short Course in 2004, which was delivered to the Australia Taxation Office. We covered all aspects of user-centred design, including user testing of prototypes in the UQUL. This was the first of many collaborative uses of the UQUL facility.

Download the UQ Usability Laboratory Brochure and Poster. (Please note that we are not currently supporting commercial usability work in the UQUL.)

Lab and equipment

In 2009 and 2012 we received funding from UQ's Major Equipment Infrastructure fund to perform a major upgrade of the UQUL equipment and also to equip the laboratory with portable units for AV recordings in field environments. Further support was provided by two Australian Research Council (ARC) grants starting in 2014 and a further ARC grant that started in 2017.

The core UQUL working suite includes a usability laboratory with a control room and two test rooms; a briefing room for participant meet and greet or for participant preparation; and an AV programming and data analysis room. Offices of technical and academic staff and of graduates are immediately adjacent.

The "usability boutique" with the "flying wing" design. The UQUL layout is based on the "flying wing" design originally conceived in 1998 by Sanderson and colleagues at the SCHIL Usability Laboratory at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. The layout works well for cognitive engineering investigations in which human interaction with a work layout or with other people is required. We think of the UQUL as a "usability boutique" that supports cognitive engineering applications especially well.

Mirrored glass. The extensive mirrored glazing allows an unconstrained view from the control room of coordinated activity across the two rooms, which is valuable when running investigations that involve networked collaborations, or when handling a large number of observers. When a view from the control room into the test rooms is not needed, concertina blinds can be pulled down over all glazed surfaces in the test rooms, creating a warmer atmosphere. AV can still be picked up in the test rooms and relayed to recording equipment in the control room.

AV fitout. The original UQUL fitout used Panasonic dome cameras with inbuilt, remotely controlled, silent pan-tilt-zoom-focus capabilities. The three cameras assigned to each test room can be repositioned to any of 11 locations in each test room, including a centre ceiling location to capture tabletop collaborations. The cameras are also effective in extremely low-light conditions, allowing us to simulate C2 or combat centre operations (eg submarines). Audio pickup is achieved with a sensitive pressure zone microphone in each test room that is mounted high above the glass on the control room side of the room. These microphones provide excellent audio quality without requiring participants to wear lapel microphones or encounter desk-mounted microphones. 

Equipment. Increasingly, our equipment must support investigations in the field as well as in the UQUL itself. We have considerable experience with reproducing the capabilities of the UQ in remote field locations. CERG's equipment inventory includes various head-mounted camera arrangements and a custom-built eyetracker for field research.

AV recording. In original fitout of the control room, there is redundant equipment for each test room that can nonetheless be flexibly configured to collect AV from test room 1, test room 2, or both. AV input can be collected onto various forms of storage media. Quad, picture-in-picture, and other vision mixing options are available.

AV analysis and editing. In our AV room, we have a wide variety of playback and editing equipment and various video analysis tools. We also have a sound generation workstation with high-end reference speakers for our sonification work.

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Using the lab

The UQUL can be used for the following general classes of investigations:

  • Cognitive and physical evaluation of workstation layouts and multi-screen navigation
  • Co-present collaborative work for groups up to around six people that is technology-intensive or otherwise
  • Remote collaborative work in groups up to around 12 people that is technology- and network-intensive or otherwise
  • Study of human interaction with portable or wearable devices
  • Wide variety of usability and interaction design activities.

We invite research collaboration on topics of mutual interest. Unfortunately, however, we no longer host commercial usability work within the UQUL. Tours of the laboratory are handled by Professor Penelope Sanderson.

Students interested in carrying out honours, Masters, or PhD projects in the UQUL with the CERG group should visit our page of Thesis projects.

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If you're not driving, you can get to the UQ St Lucia campus and the UQUL via the CityCat ferry. View and download CityCat timetables and maps.

Finding our building

The UQUL is located on Level 1 of the McElwain Building, which is building 24A (School of Psychology) on this general interactive map of the UQ St Lucia campus in Brisbane (you can also zoom in and out on the map to find our general vicinity). You can also find us at J6 on this UQ Parking Map.

The UQUL area is room MC136 through room MC144 on the diagram below.

Finding a park

A map of the parking areas of the university is at the UQ Parking Map and the McElwain Building is at the J6 intersection. If you are a visitor using a UQ Parking-issued scratchie, then you can park anywhere except in the light blue and white striped areas.

If you don't have a scratchie, then there is long-term hourly-fee casual parking on Blair Drive (I5 to J4), along Macgregor Drive (H2 to L4), and under the UQ Centre (K6/L6).

Finding our laboratory and our local conference room

Look at the diagram below. If you enter the McElwain Building from the car park outside (ie, from the top right of the diagram, which is approximately the north side), you will be where the red marks and "1197" are on the diagram below, which is the McElwain Building Level 1 Foyer. You would see a view something like the photograph below.

  • Finding the UQUL (MC136). Turn left at the pillar (which is left in the photo and downwards to right in the diagram) and walk along the corridor to MC136, which is the main office of the UQUL. If the glass entrance door to the UQUL is shut, knock on it and someone will collect you. The Cognitive Engineering Research Group (CERG) is housed within the UQUL.
  • Finding the conference room (MS109). Turn right at the pillar (right in the photo) and find MC109 a few steps down the corridor, on the left side.
  • Finding Penny Sanderson's office (MC123). Turn right at the pillar (right in the photo) and locate MC123 a few steps down the corridor, on the right side.
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