» SPSU Home / Usability Center / About us

About us

How we got here

We've been helping clients make sense of the user's experience for nearly two decades

Originally launched in 1994 as part of an IBM Million Dollar Total Quality Management grant, The Usability Center @ Southern Polytechnic has since expanded our space, upgraded our facilities, and focused our services on one thing and one thing only: user experience (UX).

Along the way, we have worked on projects for software, hardware, mobile devices, IRV systems, websites, web applications, documentation, training, elearning, and more.

Who we are

We're a seasoned team of UX practitioners, who also teach the next generation of UX practitioners. Because we teach usability testing, information design, information architecture, website design, and content strategy courses to graduate students in our Information Design and Communication programs, we keep current in the latest research and we publish articles and books that advance the discipline.

This is a winning combination for you, because we apply research to practical applications for continuous improvement of our UX processes and outcomes.

When you work with us, you always have the full participation of our co-founder and center director, Dr. Carol Barnum, along with senior usability associate, Dr. Laura Palmer.  We add other team members as your project requires.

Our seasoned IT staff assists us in setting up and administering the perfect testing situation to meet your needs, whether testing takes place in the lab or remotely.

Our support staff stands ready to greet participants, handle check-in and paperwork, and provide all the refreshments and custom-ordered meals required on lab testing days. We're well known for our great food!

Carol Barnum, Director and Co-Founder

Carol Barnum picture

  • Internationally-recognized authority on usability testing
  • Author of 6 books, including her latest: the award-winning Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set...Test! (2011, Morgan Kaufmann)
  • award-winning conference speaker
    • Prize for Best Presentation at the first European Usability Professionals Conference
    • Top-rated speaker at STC (Society for Technical Communication) and UPA (Usability Professionals Association) conferences
    • Invited keynote speaker at the first World Usability Day, Michigan State University
    • Invited speaking engagements in Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, China, and throughout the United States
  • Award-winning author of articles on usability testing and technical/intercultural communication in international refereed journals
  • Invited founding editorial board member, Journal of Usability Studies, peer-reviewed journal of the Usability Professionals' Association

Contact Carol


404-680-0329 (mobile)

Laura Palmer, Senior Associate

Laura Palmer

  • Specialist in the visual presentation of qualitative usability results
  • Co-presenter at CHI 2010, STC 2011, and UPA 2011with Carol Barnum on the Usability Center's results with Microsoft's Product Reaction Cards to discover the desirability factor in user experience
  • Co-author with Carol Barnum of a chapter in Usability of Complex Information Systems (2011, Taylor & Francis) on the use of the product reaction cards
  • Course specialist for Information Architecture, Web Design, Visual Thinking, Writing Across Media, Content Strategy
  • Ph.D., Texas Tech University; dissertation focused on usability research

Contact Laura


678-915-7203 (voicemail)

What makes us unique

 When you do business with the Usability Center @ Southern Polytechnic, you not only get the use of constantly upgraded, state-of-the-art usability lab facilities, but you also get the full services of a technology university—its staff, its faculty, and its resources—to help support your project.

Customer education

 Unlike some testing facilities that conduct external testing for clients and deliver a report, we believe that usability testing has a two-fold function:

(1) to gain results that improve products in development, and

(2) to educate the team about the user-centered design process and the way in which real users interact with their products.

This two-pronged approach means that you get instant results from testing and long-term understanding of the user experience.

Team approach

For every project, we organize a team that uniquely serves the requirements of the project. Because we have the resources of the entire university to draw upon, we can create the right team of specialists for every project.

team meeting

Our team members

Our team members include a Team Lead and one or two other experienced team members to manage the logging/data entry and video recording. Team members also facilitate the planning and development of the test, as well as the debriefing and analysis sessions.

Your team members

In addition to the Usability Center team members, we work with one or more members from your organization.

Your team members represent the stakeholders for your project. Typical stakeholders come from product development, marketing, user assistance, customer support, training, and quality assurance.

The knowledge you gain

When you are first getting started with usability testing, this team approach provides the added benefit of educating and training your team members so that you can begin to incorporate a user-centered design process into the development of your products.

With our process, you don't just get a report and the session recordings. You get a team--focused on one goal: learning from users and turning that knowledge into action.