A Microwave's Usability Test

Test Preparation

Brainstorming of tasks for users

During the process of preparation, we put our ideas together including which part of the microwave we should test, what kind of tasks would be representative of these aspects, and what type of data we need to collect for the usability test. Our target user group are mainly students from University of Washington since college students normally have busy lives with many events and activities scheduled back-to-back. With the little time, they have to prepare meals, they often depend on ready-to-eat or quick instant meals that require very little preparation time.

The objective of the test is to evaluate the usability of the microwave.

Test Execution

Before running the usability test which was set up in a lounge room in a dorm where students have the easiest access to the microwave, we made a substantial moderator script involving things to say to users such as scenarios with questions.

The scenario is to simulate a possible common daily routine of warming up a meal. The routine was simply divided into three chronological tasks:Setting the microwave clock at 4:21 pm, microwaving food for 1 minute and 30 seconds and then canceling the action, and finally cleaning the Microwave by simply removing the rotational tray and properly inserting it back.

Running the test with one of the sample users

Collecting all the three types of data, we summarized that several users complained that they were confused between the two buttons: Cook Timer and Timer On/Off. Therefore, they had some difficulty properly setting up the clock. The last task was rated as the easiest one to perform with least amount of steps and time while the first one was rated as the most difficult as it took the most time and buttons/steps to complete.

Here's the link to our video presentation:

Problems Encountered And Reflections

When we are running the test with one user we have chosen, he seemed to get stuck during the task involving pressing several buttons. It makes me wondering if we might make the tasks too hard for novices. There could be a failure of the user completing all three tasks. Therefore, we should think more of the underlying problems that a user could come across with and the ways to help them going through it if necessary.

Besides, if we could do differently, we should include more than just 3 participants to help test the product. In this way, it will help us to discern better between trends/patterns and individual's unique, unusual approaches. In addition, encouraging each participant to talk more about their actions and thought process is important, too. So we can understand on a much better level of interacting with the product’s properties and functions.

From our point of view, the whole process of the usability test means a connection between the product and the users. Good designers care about the feelings of their product and what it brings to the users. Will it be convenient to do this? Will it be understandable in this way? All of these should be take into considerations when designing a product. And during this test, we made face to face contact with users, which gave us the most immediate feedback from them about the microwave. In this way, designers could use the feedback to make improvements on the next version of the product.

The next thing we could do is analyzing the data gathered from the test and showing the outcome to the designer group. Therefore, they would know where the customers like about the microwave, and where they dislike.

Improvements for the Microwave

One thing to make using the microwave easier is to redesign the positions of the buttons since they look almost the same so the user cannot tell which button to press. Maybe adding some differences to it is a good way.

Also, the tray is not very easy to fit in the microwave. We heard that users would like it to be more stable. So making the holes in the tray's bottom deeper would lead to a smoother user experience.

That is the end of our usability test of the microwave.

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