Usability, 15th of Apr 2017


The topic for this week was the idea of usability, which was defined by ISO as:

The effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified tasks in particular environments. (ISO 9241)

An important detail to note is that usability testing means you are testing usability of your design, NOT the people or their abilities. With this as a foundation, the details of the test can be arranged and properly designed such that the focus of the test is on the product. For example, we took a water bottle in class and identified a certain task that one might perform with a water bottle. We chose to discuss the locking mechanism in some water bottles to keep the cap in place while drinking from the bottle. We conducted a user test with a person from another group to see if the design was intuitive (it was not) by simply asking to drink the water. We can conclude that the discoverability of the design is poor, not that the user lacks experience or is poor at using it.

Our group discussing the design choices of a water bottle.

Another key topic we discussed during the studio was how to conduct yourself in a usability test. For example, moderators in a test should speak slowly and distance themselves from the study. Dissociating themselves is important because we want the users to naturally find out about a design.

Sprint: Usability Testing for a Microwave

The sprint for this week was to pick a microwave and conduct a usability test with three people. We were to produce a “3x3x3” table in that we needed: 3 data types, 3 tasks, and 3 participants. Here is a quick summary of our data types and tasks:

Summary of Usability Test

Each member of our group brought in a participant, and we carried out the test with a microwave in the Commuter Commons at the University of Washington. After we completed the test, we compiled the results and presented them in a short three minute presentation.

Usability Testing Presentation for a Microwave

There are a few important takeaways that I feel is important to state here. Firstly, three participants is a tiny pool to work with, so it can be difficult to form meaningful conclusions. Secondly, something as small as the order of tests can matter, in that a participant was discouraged after the difficulty of the first test. Thirdly, it can be very difficult to keep trying to motivate the participant to discuss their thoughts while they are completing the test, so it is important to invest a sufficient amount of time in this beforehand.

A Reflection

Usability is arguably the whole reason for HCDE in the first place. How usable is my product? Will users be able to appreciate the design? Is this functionality being completely ignored? These can be very important questions to any company which can often reveal critical design flaws that would have otherwise been missed. I think one of my most surprising components was the microwave clock. I had absolutely no idea this was supposed to be a common occurrence, as back in Singapore at my house, none of my kitchen appliances had a clock. So when we started to test for how to change the microwave clock to an hour and a half forward, I was equally enthused as the user because I did not know how to do it either. I have yet to determine if this is a cultural divide, which reveals an even more interesting component of usability testing: culture. To what extent is culture impactful on design? Is an “international” design the best choice of action? These are hard questions to answer, which I hope will eventually be covered in the rest of this class.

Moving forward, this is an important step in any kind of design process. From systems design to a physical product, the usability of what you are producing is vital to its development. What is the point of developing a product if no one can even use it? This goes hand in hand with last weeks sprint of interaction design, and it will be interesting to see exactly how tied together these two elements are.