Do Microwave’s Really Work?

By Zoe Nelson

Sprint #3 Usability Tests

Gotta Love Titles

This weeks project was different than the last two weeks. When we got to class, we split into groups of two and three and that was who we worked with for the entire project where as the past projects we had constantly been working with different people. The goal of this project was to learn how to conduct a usability test. During lecture we watched a video of a usability test being conducted on fruit, then in class we conducted a short usability test on a water bottle. From there, we had a pretty good understanding of how to conduct our own. We were then given the task of using this same process to learn about the usability of a microwave.

Learning about usability tests.

Time For Some Multiplication

Once we got our task it was time to physically go about designing and conducting it. In order to do this we used something called 3x3x3. This simply means that we needed three different test subjects to do three tasks and the test proctor needs to record/ask the tester three things. The fist part of coming up with these things was to identify potential problems with microwaves. For example one of our three was trying to reset the clock. From prior experience we knew that this could be a more complicated task that requires pressing more than one button. After we came up with all of the problems we could thing of, we needed to narrow it down to the ones that seemed the most relevant. With the three problems in mind, we had to come up with a task that would address and test each problem.

Coming up with tasks based on problems.

Our three tasks for each individual to complete was 1) change the power setting to low, 2) set the clock to 12:30, and 3) microwave a bag of popcorn. With each task we were testing the design of the buttons and their functions. From there we came up with three specific data points for each task that we could compare with after all the tests where completed. Finally we came up with three different people that we could test. All three of our testers were similar however their experience with microwaves and our specific model differed.

Pop Quiz!

Not actually a pop quiz, but the next step was to test and record our testers results. Of this entire sprint, this was the most awkward part. Mainly because everyone we tested had used microwaves a few times. To them, our tests seemed almost mindless and unnecessary. That being said, they all did a good job participating and did as we asked.

Participant three completing a task.

So, Do Microwaves Work?

After all of our tests were completed it was time to analyze the data. At first it was slightly challenging because due to different experience, our results varied. However, overall we came up with some predictable results and one unexpected one. When it came to changing the power level and the clock, neither one required much effort. Of the two changing the power was easier than changing the clock, that being said, changing the clock didn’t take more than two tries for any participant. The final test, microwaving popcorn, proved to be more challenging than either my or my partner predicted. The thing that mad it complicated was the way the buttons were set up. Instead of entering a specific time, you had to choose a preset option. Say you wanted to cook something for 3min and 30sec. One would have to click that preset time, then on the display the number 10 would show up because that was the number of the preset option. Overall the display was good, however the preset options could have been unsimplified making it less complicated.


If I were to continue this project, there is only on thing about the microwave I would change. I would get rid of the preset times and allow the user to easily pick what ever time they wish. Having the preset times limits the user from cooking something for a period of time longer than 3min and 30 sec. Now if I where to do this project again there is one thing I would change, potentially impacting multiple things. In class we came up with our sets of questions for each task, however once we took a closer look, we realized now all of our questions were applicable. For the final task, microwaving popcorn, one of our original questions was “why did you pick either the preset popcorn time or pick a custom recommended time?”. However when we looked at out microwave, we realized there was no popcorn button, forcing us to change a question. When first starting this project, I was unsure about how useful a usability test would be. After completing this sprint, I now see that without testing users on the specific device, there is no way to know if all the choices that are being made are the simplest and most efficient.

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