Sprint 2: Usability Testing

I never truly appreciated good design and user researchers until now. In studio this week, my team came up with tasks for users to do with our assigned device, the refrigerator. We used the 3x3x3 method: 3 tasks, 3 users, and 3 data types. We found three users and asked them to open the refrigerator and remove an object, rearrange a shelf, and get water using a built in water dispenser. The three data types we collected were both qualitative and quantitative: we timed each task, recorded a difficulty rating out of ten, and listened for verbal feedback while they were performing the task. To have a wide selection of refrigerators to choose from, we went to Best Buy to conduct our user research.

planning for the usability test in studio

During our practice session in studio, we found it difficult to come up with questions that would help us target the answers we wanted without being too direct. This made me think about what questions were worth asking and made me want to learn more about developing those questions.

When my team went out to Best Buy to perform our research, we found that strangers were unwilling to participate, so our participants were employees of Best Buy; one worked in appliances and was familiar with the product, but the other two were unfamiliar with the refrigerator.

one of our participants struggling to complete the task because of the refrigerator

This project was interesting to me because I like working with people to find out what works and what doesn’t. Although I felt a little weird conducting user “research”, it was a good experience to interact with users. I thought about how the refrigerator we conducted the usability test on probably went through its own professional usability testing, but our participants still failed to use the refrigerator properly. I wondered whether our participants were not like the majority of the population or if designers assumed that users would learn how to their product. In another one of my classes, we learned that good design doesn’t require a lot of thinking or confusion and should be natural; this made me want to learn more about how to ensure quality usability testing to make the best product.

design mistake? this caps lock button could have been designed better with a small change: a light to tell me if the button is pressed or not

Usability testing is extremely important in good design. We hardly realize it, but the result of usability testing is all around us (this is usually good!). Products we interact with everyday have undergone at least some form of testing, whether it’s food that’s been test-tasted or products that have been reviewed and tested by users during research. Creating usable products can save companies money and help retain a positive image. Linda Wagner, Director of the Masters Human Centered Interaction and Design program, talked about how her team conducted usability testing and helped a company save money by identifying interaction problems. Mainly, effective usability testing can also reduce design mistakes that cause users frustration and confusion. When we were conducting usability testing on the refrigerator, we noticed that the refrigerator’s design was interpreted differently or some key features went unnoticed; one participant thought a button on the refrigerator handle was for child safety and another didn’t even notice the button because it blended in with the handle.

Good designs should be able to seamlessly fit into a user’s life patterns. As designers, we should be able to identify the user’s needs and wants by observing their actions when they’re interacting with the product. If a user has too much difficulty figuring out what to do or which buttons to press, we have not succeeded as designers.

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