Usability Testing with a Microwave

The third week of our HCDE exploration course was centered on usability, an idea which is focused on making sure a product or technology is easy for a person to use in order to achieve a certain purpose. For our studio class, we got to try our hand at creating and conducting our own usability tests as well as doing some rudimentary usability research.

Planning the usability test as a group was key to our success

Project Development and Planning

The first step of deciding which product to test was determined for us by the criteria of the project, which specified using a microwave. Next, we wrote our script and gathered participants whom we would as to perform certain tasks, which would hopefully illuminate some possible usability improvements for the microwave. We chose three tasks, three different types of data for each task, and three participants. For our tasks, we chose setting the clock, cooking something on a specific power level for a certain amount of time, and removing and reinserting the glass turntable. For each task, we recorded the time taken to complete it, user satisfaction (determined by the user), and ease of experience (how easy was the task?). For each participant, we guided them through these tasks while recording the necessary information. Combining our data allowed us to see trends and gain new insights.

Being purposeful about the tasks you choose is important

Data Analysis and Insights

After completing all three usability tests, we examined our data to see if there was anything that could be illuminated about the usability of the microwave. We found in general that people had difficulty cooking for a specific time and on a specific power level because the buttons had a specific syntax that was required. In addition to this, people found it relatively easily to set the clock because the buttons were clear. This process of the usability tests is crucial because it can reveal insights that may not have been obvious prior to testing. Furthermore, it is important to confront the data you’ve gathered and look for links that can highlight areas for improvement and possible reasons why certain features might be harder to utilize. The process of designing how data will be gathered is also important because it obliges a mindful selection of tasks for each participant to complete, based on the likelihood that it will provide researchers with new insights. For example, choosing to have participants use the power level and time setting simultaneously to cook showed that the process was unnecessarily complicated and could be fixed by making the syntax more intuitive.

Possible Improvements for Next Time

Given the opportunity to perform similar usability tests, I would use the experiences from this project to improve upon the process of conducting the test and measuring/gathering data. First, I would have more than just three participants. Small participant pools are easy to gather but can yield skewed data because anomalies will be amplified. I would instead collect at least twenty or thirty participants. Furthermore, I would employ more precise methods of gathering data, using a better timer and developing a more specific user satisfaction scale (where each numerical value has a qualitative label). Finally, I would spent more time writing the usability script and running through it, as there were necessary improvements that I did not realize until I was using my script to conduct the actual usability test. Overall, this project was valuable because it incorporated elements of ethics (using human participants in testing) as well as design (planning out the structure of the usability tests).

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