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Tracy Frank, Published March 09 2010

Microsoft opens user studio

Microsoft recently opened a new user experience studio on its Fargo campus for product studies.

Participants work with programs for one to two hours while being observed by Microsoft researchers in exchange for free products.

Most of the research in Fargo will focus on finance and human resources, but researchers say they can also use people of different backgrounds. The new studio, which has two labs, will draw researchers for different products, especially if Microsoft Fargo is able to build up a large database, researchers said.

“If we can get 10,000 people in our database, it will be a place where we could do research across all of Microsoft,” said Kevin Honeyman, Microsoft Fargo senior user experience lead. “It could potentially mean more user researchers hired at this campus.”

Microsoft Fargo now has a database of around 3,000.

“I think this area is going to be great for other user researchers,” said Crystal Gilson, a Microsoft Fargo user experience researcher. “We’ve got lots of universities they can tap into, lots of developers, a growing community, lots of new businesses.”

In addition to lab studies, Microsoft conducts surveys that allow people to participate in studies from their homes or offices, said Katie Hasbargen, Microsoft Fargo senior communications manager.

In the user experience studio, participants work on tasks while a researcher watches from the other side of one-way glass. Designers might also sit in on the studies.

Gilson said many Fargo designers have not had a chance to see people using their products.

“This really opens up a chance for them to see that,” she said.

Researchers have been running studies in Fargo for six years in a smaller lab. The biggest challenge is getting enough participants, Gilson said.

Kim Young of Glyndon, Minn., a bookkeeper at Domino’s Pizza in Fargo, has participated in at least five Microsoft user experience studies.

Young said she once mentioned wishing she could use her keyboard instead of the mouse for an application and her suggestion earned her a high-five from the programmer.

“You never know if it helps or if anything you say can be used, but they always make it seem like you’ve done a great service for them,” she said.

Young has earned computer games, software and a webcam for her efforts.

Heather Bunn of Fargo, a bookkeeper at Laney’s in Fargo, has participated in four studies.

“The nice thing about participating in these is you can kind of tell them if they’re doing something that’s really kind of strange,” she said.

Bunn has received Zune digital media player supplies for participating.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526