Sprint 2 — Usability Testing

In sprint 2, I got a taste of usability test by designing and conducting one in a group.

After the brainstorming phase, I practiced doing a brief usability test on a water bottle in a team and test it on two classmates.
Then we summarized the takeaways we learned from the practice and started planning our personal usability test on stoves.

Our group’s test was about testing the stoves, which are used in the communal kitchens of one of the dorms in UW — Maple Hall. We executed the test with three UW students living in Maple Hall, who had not used the stoves in the communal kitchens before. We designed three tasks to test both the safety of the stove and the controls we found to be unclear or confusing.

In the first task, we asked users to tell which part of the stove is hot without touching it.

Control panel for the warming zone on the stove.

In the second task, we asked users to turn on the “warming zone” on the stovetop.

The three-sized burner

In the last task, users were asked to use the bottom right burner, which has 3 variable sizes, to heat a small pot of water.

In each of the three tasks, three types of data were collected — we time how long did it take the users to finish the task, how many errors did they make in the process, and how difficult did they felt to succeed on a scale of one to five — One being very easy, five being very hard. Analyzing the data we collected, we made a PowerPoint and recorded our presentation of the test in a video.

From the data, we saw that users varied in which tasks they found hard. And all users found it very easy to see which burner was hot in the test since they took time to look at the small panel on the the stovetop, but one of our test designers burnt her hand by mistake because she was in a hurry and did not notice the small panel where it is the only place you can tell which burner is hot. So we wonder if the test about the safety is accurate?

Data collected from the first user
Data collected from the second user
Data collected from the third user

Reflecting on the whole usability test, there are basically three things we could improve:

First, write down the tasks and practice giving the test before conducting it to users so that the test could go more smoothly.

Second, always let the users know immediately whether they succeed it or not when they are confused if they have finished the task.

Third, take more kinds of data. For example, record what did the users do exactly, in order to capture more details.

Designing and executing the usability test was an interesting process full of surprises. The fact that it taught me many details I normally would overlook is the main reason why I like this project. When I was choosing the user groups, I first thought it did not matter who I chose as long as he is a potential user. But when I was practicing doing the test on a water bottle, I realized that if I could not narrow down my user group to a certain type of people, the datas I collected would vary a lot and hard to analyze. For example, a user who have used a similar product and some one who have not will show different levels of proficiency and accuracy.

Usability testing has been emphasized more and more through out the years. It lets the “the design and development teams identify problems before they are coded.” The earlier issues are identified and fixed, the less expensive the fixes will be in terms of both staff time and possible impact to the schedule. And a usability test can be the quickest and cheapest way to do that. Most importantly, in the more and more competitive market, only the products that attract the users will have more customer. How are we able to design such a product? By doing usability test!

One good example can be found in this sprint I did. Even before I actually carried out the usability test on people, early when we were designing the tasks, I was able to realized that it is hard to turn on the “warming zone” on the stovetop, and the controls for the bottom right burner with 3 variable sizes are confusing.

Combine with the feedbacks I got from the users, I soon came up some suggestions for the stove to be easier to use:

Move the buttons controlling the “warm zone” to a separate place, for example, on the stovetop to make it easier to find. Simplify and clarify the process to turn on the warm zone, like add a panel to show if it is on.

Clarify the control for the bottom right burner with 3 variable sizes. One possible solution is to have a press button to change the size and have the knob to only change the heating level for the three sizes in just one round from low to high.

These changes to the stove could make it much easier to use and possibly attract more customers. It would be difficult to discover them without usability testing.

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