Usability Test — A Test for Microwave Oven
Usability Test is a necessary step in the process of designing. During the process of Usability Test, designers are able to collect feedbacks from their targeting users and improve the quality of their designs. This time, the product being tested is the GE Profile Microwave Oven.
Before the Test
The microwave has a complicated control pad and many advanced features. The purpose of this Usability Test is to observe if users can complete the basic and advanced operations with given instruction. In order to do that, two basic operations and one advanced operation are selected. Participants were required to change the clock to an hour later, microwave for a specific amount time (so that they cannot accomplish it with the simple option of “Add 30 Seconds”), and defrosting a piece of meat. All three tasks are picked from daily events, users may want to change the clock regarding daylight saving, cooking accurately, or defrost quickly. The reason for it is to simulate a real situation that the participants can emerge themselves in so that the test will be neutralized. Participants’ demographical information along with the time of operation, difficulty, and verbal feedback will be gathered for further analyzation. The time of operation represents the efficiency of the design, the difficulty shows users’ satisfaction of the design, and verbal feedback will provide specific information for improvements.
During the Test
Participants were given information about this usability test and required to act naturally as no one is observing. The participants were told that the moderators are individual researchers to separate the moderators from the product. In this way, the participants will have no concerns of speaking about the weaknesses of the design. The users were also told that the test does not reflect their ability so that they will not take anything personally. The instructions were given at a normal pace to reduce the impact of moderators on the participants. During the operation, time was recorded quietly that would not disrupt the participants. After the operation, users were asked about the difficulties and their feedback of the operation. Their words were repeated to get the participants feel free to give more follow up feedbacks. The data were collected for analyzation.
After the Test
Data were collected from the participants and demonstrates that the microwave is usable. However, the control pad is complicated and the instructions are confusing. Participants were not able to get feedback from the display which also makes confusion. The company needs to improve their product by simplifying the operation and control pad with a clearer display.
During the usability test, some of the participants were confused with the instruction instead of the operation. It is confusing about if the participants were having trouble with the operation or readings the instructions. Given the operation of advanced features of the microwave, it is difficult to separate these two factors because the completing such operations require the understanding of the instructions. I believe visual instructions need to be given to eliminate the effect of unclear instruction.
Usability Test requires isolated room to simulate natural situation and avoid the impact of previous participants to future participants. In this case, we were not given enough room to separate the participants which may affect the result. With better resources, the results will be more accurate in the future.
The Future of Usability Test
Because of the importance of Usability Test, it will be conducted many times before any productions come to public. For example, if the GE company would like to produce more microwave products, they need to conduct more Usability Tests on different types of users, because in this case, the design is not good enough to maximize the potential of users using the microwave. However, the Usability Tests are not used to test the functions of the products. The focus is whether the user can use the microwave but not how good the microwave is or how well the tasks are accomplished. I believe that with the focus on users, the designers can get a tremendous amount feedbacks and possible improvements to make the product more usable.