Usability testing on a microwave :D

(left: lots of discussion going on, right: a run with our user on the microwave)

What?

We learned and experimented with usability testing this week!! It is definitely interesting to see how easily designers miss usability flaws that trip people up big time. We designed a usability test for microwaves in this lab section. We started out by coming up with a few functions that people normal use the microwave for (ie. popping popcorn, defrosting, reheating, etc.). After that we came up with a few tasks for the user to do to see just how easy or hard a microwave is to use. Our first task was for the person to set the timer and the time of the microwave, second task was for the user to take the rotating plate out and put it back in, and finally we are going to ask them to identify the wattage of the microwave. The last step is to ask the users and ourselves a few qualifying questions. We plan to ask the users how satisfied they were with completing the task, how difficult was the task (on a scale of 1–5), and we are gonna ask ourselves what the users’ behaviors were like when they were performing the task. All of these processes are to test if the microwave is intuitive to use and if it really achieves the main goal of making reheating food a fast and simple process. We found that wattage of the microwave, an important piece of information, was hard to find for most people. Wattage is important because you want to know how powerful the microwave is to avoid over cooking or burning. We also found that the tray is really a mystery for some people. It’s just really hard to align the tray on the rail. With these findings, hopefully the microwave companies can change by making the tray easier to place back into the microwave and the wattage easier to identify.

So what?

There is not a physical product to design, and so we designed a process for a product which I don’t enjoy as much. It’s almost like writing a manual, and who likes doing that right? However, I still believe this process is very important because it involves us to think critically about the product that we’re trying to test. Normally, we don’t think much when using a microwave because it’s meant to be a fast and mindless task, and that’s exactly what the makers of the microwave wanted it to be. However, this process of designing a usability test for a microwave enabled me to really think about the microwave’s different functions and it reminded me to always think deeply about the simplest objects under any circumstances. Usability testing enables people to look at the many facets of an object to find flaws and to ultimately make the product more refined and easy to use.

Now what?

I feel like this technique would probably be the most widespread among companies that design products for people to use. Any product that has an interface or needs someone to engage with needs a usability test before being released. For example, if I was working in a software company like microsoft (be it the xbox, windows, windows phone sector) I would need to conduct a usability test on how intuitive the software was when people use it. Likewise, if my company designed hardware, like apple or samsung, I would still need to conduct usability tests to see how easily people found the home button, volume button, return button, charging port, camera button, etc. Generally, this technique would be great for any company with a product for humans to use. I feel like I wouldn’t use this technique as much if I was in an investment company or a law firm. Those kind of companies don’t require usability tests because they don’t come up with products for humans. They are more service and people to people type companies. They don’t need to conduct a usability test on their employees because the employees can directly tell the clients what they need and want.