Usability Testing

What I Did

This week, my focus was on usability testing. I worked in a group with two other people to design a test of usability on some of the basic functions of a microwave. Our test plan was simple: we set up our testing in By George Cafe in Odegaard Library on the campus of the University of Washington and tested random college students studying in the cafe around lunchtime. We decided to use the microwave in this area because we wanted results from a representative audience of microwaves, and figured college students use microwaves a lot more than the average user, given their limited income as well as eating habits. So, using them as our user gives us real-time and more meaningful results. The actual tasks we had them complete began with telling them to pretend like they were cooking popcorn. The basis of this task was to see how our users would go about actually cooking popcorn: by using the button or manually typing in a time. We were also testing how quickly they were able to complete this task, and if they were burdened by anything. Ease of use is extremely important when it comes to heating something as basic as popcorn. Next, our users were sent to open and close the door, and lastly change the temperature heating setting. These two tasks were intended to show how some of the customizable settings should be panned out. For example, our particular microwave had a button our users pressed to open it, and we wanted to test to see if users prefer this over a handle to open the microwave. We also wanted to test how long it took users to realize where the temperature moderator is, or even that this customizable option existed. When actually running our test, we studied three users of which each of my group members had the chance to moderate one time while the other two were note takers. When actually running our test, we looked specifically at three factors for each of our three tasks: time it took to complete the task (efficiency), the difficulty it took to complete each task rated on a 1–5 scale (effectiveness), and how successful our users were completing the task, as well as anything they didn’t like about it and other comments they had (satisfaction). In our results, we found that a majority of our users didn’t use the assigned buttons and preferred to input their cook time manually, because they simply don’t trust the power of the microwave. Users pointed out the fact that every microwave is different, and therefore they did not find the temperature change feature to be useful because they didn’t know how much the microwave would heat to begin with, let alone how to even get to it. In fact, we found that a lot of our users would not even use this feature had they known it existed or where it existed. The link to my video presentation of how my usability testing was both collected and analyzed is linked below:

I am moderating a test of one user of the microwave
I am taking notes on what the user is commenting about using the microwave

What I’ve Learned

In using this usability testing technique, I found it extremely effective to define what we want to gain out of the user and then attack the issue at hand using some guidelines. What I mean by this is that once we were able to define usability and how we can find a successful user interface with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction, it became a lot easier to define tasks for our users. These tasks were designed around gaining effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. The more basic the task is to the user, the better we can understand if the microwave is actually designed towards specific users nowadays. In running the testing, I found it interesting how most users only know about a few functions of the microwave, and are not really able to customize it to how they want to, simply heat things up manually. In analyzing our data, I found this process fascinating in that it allowed me and my group to find the results we wanted in a very organized way. By finding different types of data (quantitative and qualitative) and analyzing it on different types of scales, we were able to find how users should be able to interact with a microwave, instead of how they could now. To me, this was the most interesting part of it all. This study raised some questions for the future regarding microwaves and how we went about our testing process. In terms of the specific test, our results indicated that there should either be a different interface regarding the customizability aspect of the microwave. The setting of changing the temperature was burdensome in that it was hard to figure out where you could change it (what button to press) and then, once at that button, how to change between levels of temperatures. Therefore, questions upon should microwaves even have this function or if they should, what is a different way this can be presented arose. Some problems we can learn from in the future regarded our testing. The only issue that lied in the way we tested this design was the applicability of the test itself. In other words, having the user actually cook real popcorn or food, and adjust the microwave according as they would normally do at home lacked in this study. Maybe actually having popcorn for our users to make would stabilize results or even make our results more accurate to how users would normally go about completing each particular task. We can learn from this by actually having food in the future, or maybe even by using a different microwave in the dorms or another residential area as compared to a very public place in a library cafe.

In the Future

I could most definitely see myself applying usability testing in the future with a variety of uses. First of all, in my present life I could apply it to my job. As the manager of finances for the fraternity I live in, I am in charge of a ton of user-centered payment systems as well as confronted with the new technology that has outdated payments on some fronts. For example, Venmo is an app that a lot of people would prefer to use as a method of payment, and testing my users to see how well setting up an account for the fraternity would be used by my users would tell me how I should begin running my Venmo account system. Moreover, by testing how my users would actually use the app, I can test how I should set it up for them to use, or even figure out if it is even useful to set up an account for them in the first place. In the further future, using this technique to test any product or system of management (which I plan to get into) in my life would be extremely useful. In running a business, I feel as though it is important for me to cater to my business, and the users of my business are what makes my business go. Therefore, figuring out what they have to do to complete a certain task, or even how they would go about attacking a certain task is imporant. What is even more important is catering their comments and answers with my design. So, usability testing is of extreme importance when trying to first design my system of management or even products in the future, and then gaiing feedback on the success of my product and business system. Some approaches that usability testing may not be helpful for are when I am evaluating things that cannot be changed, such as the budget of my business or when payments are sent out. It would not be feasible to go about usability testing here because neither me nor the users can change either of these things, and therefore trying to figure out the flaws of how these are used would be extremely difficult.