HCDE 210 Experience: Usability Testing

WHAT: For our third sprint of the quarter, the topic of focus was Usability. When working with usability, and more importantly when testing usability, there are some questions that we must keep in mind:

  1. Who is the intended user?
  2. What is the intended task?
  3. What is the intended context of use?

These three questions are the building blocks of usability testing and should be referred to often during testing to avoid steering away from testing the product and evaluating the user and their abilities.

My task was to design and conduct a usability test for a microwave oven with a team. Our test was to have 3 users perform 3 tasks, and we collect 3 different types of data for each of the tasks. After collecting the data, we were to prepare a 3 minute presentation summarizing the plan and results for our usability test.

Like all projects and in good practice, the brainstorming process began with mapping out the functionalities that could be a part of our study:

Microwave Function Brain Map
Sharing Ideas with Neighboring Group

WHY: If this study were conducted in an actual Human Centered Design scientific environment, it would provide the manufacturers of the appliance in study with meaningful data about how a specific set of users was able to efficiently and effectively perform a specific set of tasks along with how satisfied they are with the use of the appliance.

HOW: In conducting the test itself, we selected our user group to be students aged 18–24 because these users most commonly and most frequently use microwave ovens to prepare meals. The tasks that we asked our users to perform were the following:

  • Make a bag of popcorn
  • Defrost a package of frozen meat
  • Set the current time on the microwave display

The data that we decided to collect for each of the tasks was the following:

  • Number of steps taken to complete the task
  • Difficulty completing the task (1-very low, 5-very high)
  • Satisfaction with the result (1-very low, 5-very high)

In addition to collecting these 3 types of data, as they were completing the tasks, we asked the users to “think out loud” or verbalize their actions and tell us why it made sense to them to progress through the task in the way they did. This allowed us to record feedback and problems, while keeping the user immersed in the study.

This is the video presentation for the summary of our usability test results:

SO WHAT: I had always been curious about the testing that product undergo in order to be considered “usable” by people that would purchase them so this sprint answered my questions and then some. I found that designing a good usability test was the most challenging and rewarding part of the process for me. Coming up with good tasks and data to measure according to those tasks while also having it be repeatable was good practice for me to gain some insight to what USABILITY really means. Once our group came up with the tasks and data, moderating was the next hurdle. In order to conduct a valuable and solid usability test, one must separate themselves as a researcher from the user and the product and take on the role of a mere observer, letting the participant of the study act normally as they complete the tasks.

NOW WHAT: I thoroughly enjoyed creating my own usability test and seeing how useful it could be for not only the classroom/scientific purpose of learning about usability but also for realizing how products came to be their final versions and how they are improved on in later models. The hardest part for me was to speak and conduct the test in such a way that completely separated the user from the product and only evaluate the product because a bit of steering off in how you phrase your questions or base your data collections, you may very well be measuring the wrong variable without knowing it. Yet again, I was out of my comfort zone for being responsible for an entire study but I came to realize that once you have your ideas out in front of you, conducting the study came naturally because the users you were performing the study with would provide honest and wholesome data that could mostly if not fully be used to report back to manufacturers in a formalized setting.

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