An Analysis of Testing Microwave Usability

Microwave Design and Usability : What was done?

A participant struggling when asked to change the power level on the microwave.

Our group designed an interactive test with three different tasks. The first test was to have the participant set the time on the microwave— the time that was selected had a range of numbers to increase the complexity of the task. Changing and setting the time on a microwave is essential for users to know how to do, especially because often times the very first thing that an individual does when using a new microwave is to set the time. Making sure that setting the microwave’s time was intuitive and relatively easy to use was important. The second test was to have the participant microwave a muffin at half power (50 out of 100) for 3 minutes. This test was selected because it tested how intuitive it was for a user to complete a task that was not explicitly shown on the number pad. For example, even though there was a button for “Power Level”, there was no indicator for how to increase or decrease this power button. The third and final test required the participant to defrost the muffin by inputting a specific weight. This test was in a way, a combination of the first test and second test. The user would have to navigate through the number pad to select the “Defrost” option and then set the weight similarly to how the time was set. To measure the usability of the microwave, we chose to record the following data: the time it took for the participant to complete the task, a rating from the user on a scale of 1 (very easy) to 5 (very difficult), and the number of clicks it took the user to perform each task. We decided to collect these specific forms of data because we found that it revealed how intuitive the design of the microwave is, since the shorter the time and less clicks there were, the easier it was to use, and the user rating would give us direct insight to how “usable” the microwave was.

Nick, our moderator, asking the participant information about microwave experience.

Reflecting back on the test : What could have been improved?

It was very insightful to see the data that was collected after the usability test. There were many connections between certain aspects such as the user’s experience with using microwaves and how quickly the participant completed each task. One example of this is that a participant in our test owned the exact model that we tested and performed all the tasks with faster times, fewer clicks, and rated the tasks closer to the “very easy” side of the scale. This made us reconsider our conclusion because the sample size was very small, and the results were skewed because this individual had prior experience with the microwave. If we took the data without thinking, it might have been concluded that the microwave’s usability was very high, but it made me think that certain pieces of data needed to be weighed against the participant’s background. Other than this, I thought that the data that we chose to collect accurately reflected the usability of the microwave. For the simple tasks, the times were short and the clicks were at a minimum, but for the difficult tasks, it was the opposite. It impacted what I thought about the design’s usability directly, since people who buy the microwave would not want to spend a large amount of time trying to figure out how to use the microwave.

A participant setting the time on the microwave.

What I discovered from the experience :

This project made me rethink what “easy to use” meant. I realized how important consistency is in design. Although at first glance I believed that the microwave had features that were extremely intuitive to use, after the test, my opinion changed. If I had control over the design of the specific microwave that was used for the test, instead of having the microwave’s power level be controlled by clicking on “Power Level” multiple times, I would have it be consistent with how the time is set and how the weight is changed. This was a major issue with the design of the microwave — while everything else was relatively easy to use, the way to input numerical information differed from task to task. My take-away from this experience that I can apply in the future when testing a new design is that the tasks chosen should consist of a wide range of features and involve “sub-tasks” such as changing the power level, which was not explicitly stated. The aim should not be getting high ratings for usability, but to test the features that the designer might believe to be intuitive when in reality, it is difficult to understand without an explanation.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Gloria Hsieh’s story.