Usability Test: When Users Try To Pop Their Popcorn

A usability test for the microwave in the 7th floor, Lander Hall
The microwave oven we tested.


The presentation video of my team’s usability test.

My teammates and I designed a usability test for the microwave oven in the 7th floor, Lander Hall. We invited 3 users, college students, to complete 3 tasks. First, we asked the user to set a one-minute timer, because users use timer feature a lot in everyday life. Then, we ask the user to change the time to one hour ahead. This is the function we need to use twice a year because of daylight saving but it may often be ignored. Finally, we ask the user to pop the popcorn to test a commonly used preset function. We collect 3 types of data: the time the user spent on each test, the error rate, and how difficult the user think the task is on a scale of 1 to 5, to help us find out what need to be improved of the microwave oven.

So What?

The takeaways we wrote after designed the test in the studio.

During this process, we discovered that this microwave oven is especially difficult to use for the user with no particular experience using this kind of microwave oven. Users are confused with things like the “Start” button is actually not the first button to press, the knob needs to be pressed after turned. And I want to know how to improve the microwave oven and make it more available for people with no experience.
The main problem we encountered this time is we have to improve our process while running the test since we didn’t run through the whole test before we start it. For example, we didn’t know the timer of the microwave oven is unstoppable. We could not stop it during the test, so we have to ask the user to wait and have some popcorn. If we can try everything and restructure the test, we will get a more smoothly test procedure and more reliable data.

Now What?

Our working desk after the test.

During the UCD Charrette session, I explored how to design based on the users’ wants, needs, experience, and limitations. But without usability test, we cannot even find out what are the users’ wants, needs, etc. If we just imagine what users want, the test may result in something completely different. For instance, before we run through this test, we predict that the task to pop the popcorn may be the easiest one. But in fact, users spent the longest time on it and the error rate is also the highest. So usability test is like the foundation stone of user-centered design, to help designers find out the true needs and wants of their users.

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