Nika Smith wrote a post on the Google blog today showing the evolution of Google chat before it launched in early 2006. Google does extensive testing of new products using employees as guinea pigs (see our post on the pre-launch evolution of Gmail) as well as outsiders brought in to test software and interfaces in their usability lab.
I had a chance to see the lab a few weeks ago. It’s a small room with a large flat screen monitor, along with a desk and computer. It also has a number of discrete cameras (and a microphone) that keep an eye on the user herself as well as the screen.
Around the corner is a second room where Google employees can watch people interact with the software real time. The room has a couch and a chair along with two screens and speakers to monitor the lab. See the image to the right.
The Gmail Labs team took us through some of the pre-launch iterations of Gmail chat that were tested in the lab. Most of these weren’t included in the Google post, so I’ve added them below. All of these were eventually abandoned as the team moved towards the much more low profile chat window at the bottom right of the Gmail screen we see today.