Usability Test of Residence Hall Microwaves

Brainstorming and Ideation:

This week in studio, we were asked to develop a usability test for a microwave. We started off our session with a hypothetical usability test using a water bottle. We brainstormed ways we could test the usability of water bottle as a group then had someone from another group come and try our tests. This was a great introduction to usability tests and helped me get into the mindset of the project. Looking at the tasks we came up with from a data perspective helped narrow down more specifically which tasks we wanted to use. This was good practice moving forward with our actual usability test.

Brainstorming for the water bottle usability test.

Following this, we watched an example of a usability test, where they were testing medical equipment, in order to get a feel for how to administer a usability test and the decorum we should follow. My group and I drew directly from this video while considering the layout of our test, especially when considering our introduction for the participants.

Notes from the medical usability video.

We then started brainstorming for our usability test. We followed a similar brainstorming strategy we used in the past: sticky notes with ideas on the whiteboards in the room grouped into large categories. We looked at specific functions of the microwave and, following this, issues that could arise from those functions.

General functions that microwaves have.
Problems that could arise from microwaves.

Our Test:

Upon looking at all the issues we brainstormed, my partner and I decided on a couple tasks for our users to do:

  1. Setting the clock time, timer, and cook time.
  2. Setting the microwave power level.
  3. Cooking popcorn.

As well as data we wanted to collect:

  1. Time (Quantitative)
  2. Satisfaction (Qualitative)
  3. Difficulty (Quantitative from the user)
  4. Button Design (Qualitative)

We chose the first tasks since they each were similar, yet different in how to complete them. For example, the Cook time could be set by typing in our specific time (1:30) or hitting the “Add 30 Seconds” button three times.

We were specifically interested in the use of the “Popcorn” button, as it was a popular function that arose out of brainstorming. We were curious how many of our users actually used the “Popcorn” button and how many typed in the time they were looking for.

We wanted to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data while testing our users. We decided this would give us the best representation of our device we were testing and of our user’s experience with it. The time would give us the best baseline for comparing our users and a combination of their satisfaction, perceived difficulty, and their thoughts regarding the button design would give us a more complete picture of their experience.

Here’s all the data and information we collected through our test:

Conclusions we Made:

Upon looking at the data we collected, we drew some conclusions that would be difficult to surmise without the information collected in a usability testing environment. I found it interesting that each of our users utilized the preset buttons on the microwave, but in different ways. Two of our three users used the “Reheat” preset button and only one used the “Popcorn” preset button. This, paired with feedback from our users, led us to conclude that most of the preset buttons are unnecessary. One of our users even said “I found the information about the presets completely by accident”.

Another interesting trend we saw was how none of our users used the “Add 30 Seconds” button. One of them attempted to use it to add thirty seconds to the timer, but found that it didn’t work for that function.

For our test, we did not have an analogue for our users to test the machine with. This caused an interesting prompt to appear on the machine, requesting our users to put food into the machine before setting it to run. The prompt “FOOD” was very confusing for our users and caused the largest time differences between them. We found this to be a very strange prompt, especially since following the initial opening and closing of the machine, the prompt wouldn’t appear again.

With these observations from the data, I would be curious to continue the testing of the preset buttons. One would think that these would be intuitive to use, but it seems from a user standpoint the extra buttons only confuse them more. I would be curious to see how the buttons could be optimized for the most functionality in the least amount of buttons, while maintaining intuitive function.

Moving Forward:

Understanding your users can be applicable to every product. Anytime a group or company needs to interact with human users they will need to understand how the user will work with their product. Developing a User Research Study from a data perspective while simultaneously considering the user base seems to be the best way to develop said study.

However, considering the aspects of design that would normally make a product difficult, starting with the original creation of the idea and concept, would help ensure the best product from the very beginning. Approaching prototypes with this lens; asking questions about the possible user experience as the initial thoughts are made, helps to refine quicker and more efficiently in the iterative process. To ensure the best product for a user base, the product should be tested at every stage. Approaching tests from this point of view seems to be the best option for this.