Is Your Microwave Really Improving Your Life?

Usability Test

What did we do?

During the studio this week, we discussed about usability test. Usability is the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified tasks in particular environments. The point of usability test is to examine the usability of a specific product, not people or their abilities. There are countless products surround us, which play important roles in our daily lives. However, people often find their household appliances troublesome, or difficult to use. Microwaves are one of those products we use most frequently, yet not the most convenience one to operate.

Brainstorming about tasks ideas.

Therefore, we designed a usability test for microwave. The first task our group came up with was having the microwave to defrost a bowl of meat (weighted about 1.5 pounds), and we would get to observe the way they operate the panel. The second task was to cook something for 2.5 minutes. There were two ways to do this: participants could operate this task by pressing the “2”, “.”, and “5” buttons, or they could press the “add 30 seconds” button five times. The final task we came up with was to have the participants clean up the microwave. The participants we thought of would be college students who rarely use microwave, or who are unfamiliar with microwaves. The data we collected were the time that participants used to operate the microwave, steps the participants took to finish operation, and the satisfactions that users provided.

We worked as groups to come up with tasks and data types.

Here is the link of our video:

What did we find most interesting?

I am surprised that amount of information we can get from users in a usability test — they provided the most important perspective for designers. People often find products around them troublesome, and the opinion of users are the most effective advices for a designer, where a designer can improve product accordingly. The most difficult part of designing a usability test is to come up with tasks that are really meaningful and data type that are needed and useful. What I like about this project is we got to step inside users’ minds to figure out the practical needs of theirs. For example, when one of our participants tried to defrost 1.5 pounds meat, she was confused that why press the key “1” then “0.1” was shown on the screen. Also another participant also complained about the key “Auto”, being confused about what does this button really do, and she has never used that button. When think as a designer, we automatically know all the functions, but users don’t. Therefore, usability test is a great opportunity to get close with users and to observe from their perspective.

What can we do in the future?

The usability test we design pinpointed some practical issues that users came across. Consequently, we are going to report the problems to the microwave company so that they can improve their products. Moreover, it’s possible that we can apply this usability test to other types and brands of microwaves to find out more problems. This approach goes beyond microwaves: other household appliances such as refrigerators and ovens can take this approach. In addition to designers, we can publish our results to customers who buy these things or to housewives who use them a lot. In a nutshell, this usability test can benefit and facilitate people’s daily lives in many ways.

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