Button Masher

Usability Testing a Microwave

In studio this week, we were tasked with creating usability tests to run on microwaves to discover how easy they are for users, especially ones unfamiliar with the product, to understand and use them. Twelde and I worked in a group to put together a test that analyzes three users who complete three tasks, with three distinct types of data collected for each.

The tasks we had our users complete was setting the time on the microwave, putting the tray back into the microwave, and cooking cup noodles for 3 minutes. We chose to use these three tasks because of the variety of insights they provide while all being important functions of a microwave. Our users were male and female 18–20 year old students at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Twelde and I describe our usability test to another team for feedback. We created a thorough plan beforehand to ensure that we would carry out the test successfully.

Displaying the time is an essential function of a microwave, so we asked our users to set the time. Another task we asked the users to complete was putting the tray back into the microwave, because that is often difficult to do, yet such an important task. Lastly, microwaves are for cooking, after all, hence our decision to make the last task cooking a cup of ramen for three minutes.

Jay puts the tray back into the microwave. Of the three tasks, this was one of the most time consuming and difficult for all three users.

We collected four types of data for these tasks. The first was ease of use (which we measured on a 1–5 scale, 1 being very easy and 5 being very hard). We chose 1–5 because it far simpler to attribute word descriptions to each rating (very easy, easy, neutral, hard, very hard) than it is on a 1–10 scale. The next type of data collected was time in seconds, third was number of steps to complete the task, and fourth was number of frustrated comments made while performing the task. We collected these last two types of data to gauge how simple it was to complete the tasks and how the users felt about the microwave, respectively.

Some of the common observations were that overall, hardly any frustrated comments were made. For the most part, all users were able to complete the tasks in an appropriate number of steps — they made very few errors. We recorded our data in tables and created a presentation and video recording of the presentation with voiceover. From the data, we were able to draw the rudimentary conclusion that our three users found the microwave fairly intuitive. No task took more than 40 seconds, and our users rated all tasks relatively low on the 1–5 scale.

Whirlpool microwave in my apartment that we usability tested.

If we were to do this usability test again, we would test something that is more badly designed. Hopefully, that would yield some very interesting results that we could analyze. We would also draw up more difficult and complex tests next time in order to thoroughly determine the microwave’s usability. This test made me further question many of the other products in my life I use without thinking about. Because of this experience, I am more critical and aware of the usability of other products I interact with.

What I enjoyed most about this project was the fact that it took a common household item that I generally use without much thought and took a closer look through a scientific lens to understand how well designed it is. It was also interesting to be able to see how people who are not used to my microwave try to use a product that is unfamiliar to them. All in all, this project was a fun learning opportunity and helped me understand usability better.