Norwich University of the Arts to open digital user research lab in Norwich

Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) is to open a Digital User Research Lab in October 2015, to be situated in the Ideas Factory Digital Creative Incubation Centre.

The project will be funded by a grant from the HEFCE Catalyst Fund, along with support from New Anglia LEP, and business partners in the Digital Creative business community.

The idea behind the project is to incorporate innovative User Experience (UX) design thinking into NUA courses, as well as offering local digital creative businesses the chance to incorporate UX cost-effectively into their own design and development processes.

The Lab will be a place where users of all sorts of digital products will be invited to trial prototypes, using mobile phones, tablets, consoles and computers. Their experience will be tracked by specialist Morae software, and their experience watched live by clients and designers in the Incubation Centre board room. This enables designers and creative developers to optimise their products, putting the user at the very centre of product design.

By situating the Lab in the Ideas Factory Incubation Centre, NUA will be creating a truly contemporary facility that the resident start-up businesses scan make full use of, bringing fresh, insight-based design to market.

As part of the University’s strategy to prepare its students for the world beyond graduation, by equipping them with high-level skills, an exposure to the principles of UX is becoming increasingly important.

As Rob Johnson of project sponsors Sony Computer Entertainment Europe puts it: “It’s invaluable for creative students, particularly games designers, to have experience of UX testing while they are still at university, even if it only extends to understanding what it is, and how the professional world uses this type of methodology every day. It will be part of their working lives as soon as they graduate.”

BA Games Art & Design and MA Games will be amongst the first courses to use the facility. For regional businesses, the Lab will meet a need for an affordably priced, gold standard facility, located conveniently in the centre of the City. The intention is that this will enable talented digital creative entrepreneurs to access a national and international customer base which is not currently open to them.

Tom Wood of Foolproof, co-sponsors of the initiative, says: “The workhorse that moves commercial digital products from concept to market is the research lab…But smaller digital creative businesses can’t get access to high-spec testing facilities in Norwich, meaning that they either have to hire expensive facilities in London, or they simply don’t conduct testing. A lab which can be hired locally would increase the likelihood of more research being done, and mean that the area can keep pace competitively with other parts of the UK and with global competitors.”

Professor John Last, NUA’s Vice Chancellor sees the project as an essential catalyst for the digital creative sector. “NUA is a net importer of creative talent into the region, and we play a pivotal role in supporting and accelerating the businesses in our sector. The Digital User Research Lab will be a focus for digital creative business, enabling us inspire the designers of tomorrow and create economic mobility for regional business to access an international customer base.”

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