Usability Testing

Our microwave’s interesting interface

The Process

This week, to study usability testing, we conducted usability research on microwaves. We had three participants complete three tasks and collected three data points for each. The users we decided to focus on were college students of the ages 18–20, because they are a major user group of microwaves. Then, we chose our microwave to test: the Lander lounge’s General Electric household microwave oven: a microwave that is often used by our user group. We mostly designed our three tasks to test the usability of the unique features of our microwave. Instead of having a number keypad, the lounge’s microwave had a dial for numerical inputs. Thus, we included tasks that required numerical input, such as resetting the clock time.

Brainstorming possible tasks for our usability test

We designed our tasks to be fairly difficult and involved, so that we could effectively measure the amount of time each participant took to complete each task. We also decided to collect user ratings of satisfaction and difficulty in order to get a more direct sense of user’s thoughts on the usability of the microwave. Overall, our test ran smoothly, but users has a very difficult time figuring out how to use the microwave. Our data showed that the most useful and common task, to microwave something general for a specific amount of time and power, was on average rated the most difficult and least satisfactory, and took participants the most time to complete. From our data, my group decided that the microwave was not very usable. After, we created and narrated a presentation on our usability test, which can be viewed here:


From this experience with usability testing, I was able to understand how this can be a separate field of its own. There are so many different components to usability testing, including designing the test, recruiting users, conducting the test, and analyzing the data in order to improve a product. Since we mostly focused on test design and conduction, I’m interested in learning how to effectively analyze the results and implement changes to make the product more usable. Would there be several rounds of usability testing?

In the Future

Usability testing allows designers and engineers to understand if their designs are easily and effectively usable. It is a respected and well-practiced technique in the human-centered design industry. I can see myself applying this technique in future product design projects to create the best possible product for the specific user. Usability testing can also be used for websites or other applications, and using a heat map can also assist researchers in the usability testing process. Usability testing would be most useful in the earlier stages of a product — after a first prototype, for example, because it is a foundation of the product’s design and helps to guide further development of the product with respect to human-centered design. Perhaps this technique would be less useful for already widely accepted products, such as a book or a jar, because the way to use these products is already common knowledge.