Advanced Visualization Lab Tour


The Advanced Visualization Lab at Indiana University asked for our help creating an app that allowed recruiters to give interactive tours with no prior knowledge of the technology. Our app essentially turns the recruiters' smartphone into a dynamic remote control of the lab.


The Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL) is a unit of University Information Technology Services (UITS). It is a working lab where students and community members can collaborate and build dynamic projects using the technology provided. It includes a large screen display, an oculus rift, two multi-touch tables, a 3D scanner/printer, and the virtual reality theater.


observation stage


The AVL is a selling point for the School of Informatics & Computing, and thus recruitment likes to give tours of the lab to prospective students and their families. However, because of the recruiters’ limited knowledge of the technology in the lab, they rely on the UITS staff to give the tours. UITS approached our team asking for our help. They enjoy giving the tours, but are unable to provide the quantity of tours recruitment requests, and would like to spend more time doing other projects. They asked us to help come up with a solution.

Initial Research

As with any project, we dove right in, conducting contextual inquiries, multiple field studies, and interviews to empathize with our users' pain points as well as the context for AVL tour operations and its significance for our school.

The goal was to understand all participants involved in the AVL and design a system that they could seamlessly integrate into their job.  The last thing we wanted was to create a tool that required additional learning and stress.


Deeper Research

In addition to observations, we also wanted to understand how others have approached our problem. Although the AVL is considered a working lab, we conducted our literature review by focusing on articles about Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) in museums, as we were not finding relevant articles about tours of a working lab. However, HCI and museums is a fairly well-studied topic, and provided us with a wealth of information.

Key challenges discovered

  • Demonstration material is dated

  • Tour fails to keep participants engaged and interested throughout its duration

  • The tour length is sometimes not long enough to address all questions asked by the participants

  • If group is large, participants do not get a chance to interact or use the technologies due to time limitations

  • Some technologies require experts to demonstrate them and sometimes these experts are unavailable due to other work commitments

  • No feedback is collected from the participants after to tour ends

  • Organizing and customizing the demo content is difficult due to a large number of stakeholders including;  the school, staff members, student ambassadors


  • Create a system to give tours where all current information is available in one place

  • Allow tour guides to interact with technology without having to touch it.

  • Ensure an engaging and satisfying experience to all participants

  • Make virtual tours available

  • Reduce unnecessary paperwork

  • Have periodic meetings between the stakeholders to update and improve the tour as needed

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 Currently, outdated printouts were available to help the tour guides use the equipment and contact cards collected prospective student information.

Currently, outdated printouts were available to help the tour guides use the equipment and contact cards collected prospective student information.

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Based on the information we collected, we determined that the best way to provide students with necessary and engaging information about the technology available in the AVL would be by creating expert videos. These expert videos will always be available for the students to watch, either by walking up to the technologies and pressing a “start” button on a monitor mounted near the technology, or by going to a website and viewing a virtual tour. These expert videos will include a SoIC faculty member discussing the uses of the technology, how to use it, what its applications entail, and successful past student projects.

In addition, the tour guide will be able to trigger the start of these videos, and bring up relevant demonstration content by accessing a web app, which only they have access to. This will make it easy for them to lead tours and make sure that all students receive the relevant information about each technology.

Once we had completed all our ideation and had a strong, clear understanding of the best feasible solution, we began screens of a very basic interface. The university required us to use their design guidelines, which limited the amount of time it took to design, but also limited the flexibility our our creativity.

 Rapid Low Fidelity Prototypes

Rapid Low Fidelity Prototypes

 Higher Fidelity Prototypes using Axure

Higher Fidelity Prototypes using Axure

high fidelity prototype
 Interactive High Fidelity Prototype, click to access

Interactive High Fidelity Prototype, click to access

Software Implementation

Our website was created using PHP, Python, JavaScript and JQuery, MySQL, HTML/ CSS - Bootstrap and Windows batch script.

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We built a responsive web front-end using php-codeigniter, html and bootstrap css. PHP controls all the server side control on web-hosting. There is javascript running in the back end capturing click events and communicating with the server using ajax. When a user clicks on the ‘project’ button an event is sent to the server with corresponding project file path / URL to open.

In the client side we have python running which keeps checking the server for events. As soon as python receives an event which contains the location of file or an url, python opens it in the relevant source in the client system.


Throughout the entire process, we gathered feedback from users and stakeholders. We also conducted several usability tests on our high fidelity prototype.

We calculated the SUS score for 11 participants  and it can be seen that it is below the average score i.e score of 71.8 . Overall they liked the idea and said the app was easy to use. Some of them suggested to have less content about each technology. A few of them talked about having shorter videos.

Future Work

The primary purpose of the app was to provide a template for the AVL staff to upload new projects, videos, and text about the specs of the technology and other talking points for the recruitment staff to use. The template format allows the app to be updated as the lab continually changes with new technology. However, one critique we received from Mike Boyle, the AVL manager, was that in order for the app to have a greater chance of surviving and being replicated by other labs of similar nature to the AVL, it needs to have a GUI backend. As it stands, in order for someone to update the content in the app they must have some programming experience. We left Chauncey Frend with instructions and explained to him how to maintain the app, but if Chauncey was to leave the university, he would take this important knowledge with him.

While creating a GUI backed was out of the scope of this project, our hope is that the AVL takes on another student group to carry on the work that we began. They can also implement some of the suggestions our  test participants suggested, such as making shorter videos, enlarging the text size, reducing the amount of text, and more. It would also be interesting for future groups to complete a heuristics evaluation as well as additional user testing to find other ways the app could be improved or redesigned, and then act on those suggestions. Then perhaps with a few more iterations, this app could be something sold to other working laps to utilize.