Usability Testing


This week in HCDE 210 we learned about how to do usability testing for products. Something new I learned about usability testing was that it has nothing to do with how competent the users are, and everything with how intuitive the design of the product is. This took some getting used to while thinking of questions to ask in the usability tests, but ultimately gave me a better perspective on how to test products on users.

Our task was simple, design a usability test to test the design of any microwave we wanted (for my group partner and me, it ended up being the one that was most convenient to us).

The Test

Our test was designed to specifically test the input design, door mechanism, and disassembly process. We wanted to try to get a wholesome view of the microwave as a whole, and thought that testing these three different aspects would do just that. The first task we created asked the participant to set the cook time for 2 minutes, the second task asked them to open and close the door, and the last task asked them to remove the disk inside the microwave. From these tasks, we would collect the time it took to complete the task, a scale from 1–10 on how difficult it was for them to complete the task, and a yes or no with explanation of whether or not they were satisfied with the interaction. These three forms of data would help us better understand what was going on inside the minds of the participants while they were completing the tasks, as well as allow for constructive feedback and comments about the design. Below is a picture of what the rubric for our test looked like:

We decided to hold our test in Lander Hall on the fourth floor where a microwave was at our disposal. This microwave was a GE Profile 307KM00862, which is apparently the standard microwave put in all the residence halls. Our hope was that sitting in the lounge we would get a variety of users who may have or may have not used the microwave before, and luckily it turned out that way. Our first participant ended up being a friend of Jun’s (my group partner) who had no experience operating the microwave before. The second participant ended up being an old roommate of mine who apparently lived on Lander 4 with experience operating similar microwaves. And the last participant was a random person who lived on the floor who had a lot of experience operating this specific microwave.

During the first test, I was the moderator while Jun took notes. We switched during the second test, and again during the last test.


Here are the results from the first participant:

The main thing this participant had to say was that the labels to the buttons were very confusing which didn’t make sense at first. It took this participant significantly longer to complete the first task than the other participants, solely because they couldn’t figure out which button corresponded to which function.

Here are the results from the second participant:

The main thing this participant had to say was that the knob that set the time was way too touchy. They turned the knob half a rotation and the time shot up much higher than they expected. This was a major issue for this participant and made for one dissatisfied user.

Here are the results for the last participant:

The primary complaint from this participant was that the disk was too heavy. This participant had slight trouble removing the disk with one hand, and had to use the other hand suddenly while removing it so they did not drop the disk. Other than this though, this user had a lot of experience with this particular microwave and was otherwise satisfied.

Take-Aways and Improvements

Looking through the data we collected from our tests, we noticed two main issues with the microwave. First was that the labels were unclear. The labels and buttons were stacked closely together, which led to problems for our first participant. Making these labels more distinct or putting them directly on the button they correspond to would be a good solution to this problem. The second problem was that the knob was too touchy. This led to dissatisfaction from our second participant because the knob didn’t perform like they expected. A good solution to this problem would be to slow down the response time on the knob, making it less responsive but more intuitive to the user.

Another thing we noticed about our test that may have impacted the results slightly is that the area we had set up to test was not enough for the microwave door to open fully. We left the microwave in the alcove it is usually set up in, which made opening the door fully almost impossible without putting unnecessary stress on the door hinges. This definitely impacted the second participant, who was the one who pointed out the flaw to us, and potentially impacted the third participant who almost dropped the disk because it did not easily come out of the door.

About the Technique

I talked briefly about the technique earlier, but I want to go into more detail here about how it influenced our test. So the technique was specifically usability testing. This meant that we had to be very sure not to be testing the abilities of the user, and rather test the design of the product. While designing the test, we had to be very sure that we didn’t ask the participant anything we could test without a user, and also stay away from ability-based tasks. Initially, this was a challenge as both Jun and I immediately thought about all the ways we could test the abilities of the microwave, but did become easier as we thought about the test from a more design-centered approach. As for running the actual test, I actually really enjoyed it. There was something novel and new about asking questions about a task we often find mundane. It was strange to be thinking about microwaves in a different way, and I could tell our participants felt the same. They were often struck by the seeming ease of the tasks, and had trouble thinking deeply about the action they had just performed. This to me was interesting. Looking at a microwave from a different perspective was not something I thought would be so intriguing.

Moving Forward

In my day to day life, this entire technique is not something I could see myself using regularly, however some of the practices involved with usability testing are potentially applicable elsewhere. While moderating the tests, I noticed that I was much more prone to give reassuring affirmation to the participant. While they were explaining their reasoning behind an action or rating, I noticed myself saying “uh huh”, or “yeah” often. I’m not completely sure why I found myself doing this, but I think it had something to do with making sure the participant felt supported in sharing their opinion with us. This can easily be reapplied to my job as a campus tour guide, or as a teaching assistant. Giving reassuring feedback I’m sure makes others feel more comfortable in strange situations, so these could potentially be good applications of this piece of the technique.

Final Thoughts

This has been my favorite activity thus far in HCDE 210. Something about getting user feedback seemed oddly satisfying, even though I had no stake in their feedback. I am curious to see how this skill plays a factor down the line in later activities, and am excited to potentially reapply this newly learned ability. I will also include a link to the video where Jun and I talked more specifically about participant responses below.

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