Usability Testing: Microwave

Usability Testing is a technique used in User Centered Interaction to evaluate the product through by testing it on the user. Usability in itself describes the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. It allows testers know if the user can successfully complete tasks, identify problem areas and analyze ease of use.

This week in studio, we focused on the importance of usability testing and how it is operated. We learned through demo videos of previously held tests and learnt that a viable test has a product to test, a test plan, a moderator who asks the questions, a notetaker who observes the test and notes the data collected, and most importantly the user themself.

What?

For our test, we were given a home appliance that is commonly used: a microwave. We were to chose the model and chose the one shown in the photo below. Our user group was 18–20 year-old male and female college students.

Sunbeam SGDJ701: Microwave Tested.

Our aim was to identify if young adults can effectively operate a commonly used appliance. As a large class we brainstormed possible usability issues with the product.

Some issues we could tackle.

In order to narrow down our search, my group focused on three key features of microwave use. Task 1 was to set the clock time to the current time in 24 hours. While many people know how to use the basic functions of a microwave, a microwave owner has to atleast once set the display clock time. To test the usability of this, we designed task 1.

Task 2 was to use the preheat option — setting the defrost to 1.5 minutes. This was to test the buttons and the functionality of the test.

Task 3 was to clean the microwave. We did this to understand the accessibility of all parts of the microwave, for an microwave owner must be able to clean their appliance with ease.

The basis of our test: tasks.

For data collection, we picked the following three data types: time taken to complete task, difficulty level, and open-ended feedback. The time was to quantify the different ease of use between the three test participants. The difficulty level was to get the idea of how the user viewed the task and the product’s usability. The open-ended feedback was to create quality checks and recieve recommendations.

This test was combined and presented. A video of our Usability Test Presentation can be found here.

So What?

This test was conducted to see if a basic home appliance is easy to use. The test plan made by my group was targeted towards people who may have used a microwave before but may have never done certain tasks while living at home such as setting the display clock time and cleaning the mcirowave. This allowed us to test the ease of use for a young adult out in the world for the first time with a microwave model they had never used before.

However, while conducting the test, we found our test to lack in challengibility. All users were able to use the microwave without facing major issues and therefore our test failed to provide concrete feedback. While some struggled with the lack of a conventional “enter” button on the microwave, they knew how to use the basic functionalities of a microwave.

This makes us cautious of how to create tests and make them more focused on parts we as the tester think need work. Without this discretion, we may take the difficulty for granted. But this can be a double-edged sword because a designer and tester should not design the product with themselves in mind but the user. Hence underestimating ease is better than overestimating.

Now What?

The fact that we were allowed to design the test, collect the data, and analyze it was useful. These skills can be applied to future internships. It also shows how the user interacts with the product and the importance in the user feedback. Based on suer feedback you can make future implementations to the model you have created.

This technique can be applied to hardware users as well as software users. While testing hardware, you have a tangible product and therefore need to create the test in person. For a software, you can create the data plan much like a survey letting the user fill in online surveys for feedback and improvements.

Furthermore, watching the participants interact with the product showed how important human interaction with a product is. For example watching the participant push wrong buttons showed slight struggles that while the user may not mind, could be simplified to avoid the slight confusion, like intuitive technology. This can also be applied to softwares much like how Amazon watches site interactions to allow users reach end goals faster.

The formal testing scenario where the test is broken into steps, clear instructions are given, and the consistent protocol emphasizes the importance of moderator neutrality. This formality and Think out-loud Protocol (ToP) can be applied while interacting with humans on an everyday basis as well as interviews.

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