"Usability Testing Educating Future Engineers in User Friendly Design"
The following article is written to complete the requirements for the Personal Objective of BSU 510 Technology: Use and Assessment The Personal Objective being: By the end of this course, I will be able to submit an original manuscript on usability testing for publication in a journal. The Journal I selected is Tech Directions and their guidelines for submission can be found at: http://www.techdirections.com/guidelines.html This Journal was selected because of its widespread circulation, loyal readership, and continuous publication of over 60 years. It has published articles about Project Lead the Way in the past, and only one article was found relating to Usability, which focused only on web design. This could be a new avenue of exploration for this publication and an opportunity to raise awareness about Usability and PLTW. Usability Assessment Testing: An Opportunity to Educate Future Engineers in the Importance of Product Usability By Trevor Stout (A Teacher at New Castle Area Career Programs and a Ball State University Graduate Student, both in Indiana.) With the adoption of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) by many High School and Career and Technical Schools across the country, it is clear that the Engineering and Educational communities have come together with the common goal of producing a better engineering student. (McVearry, 2003) With the idea of a “better engineer” in mind, almost everyone has said at one time in their life “the person that designed this obviously never tried to put it together”, or some similar statement. Sometimes product design can be extremely frustrating to the end user. Enter the idea of Usability. It seems an excellent opportunity is now available to form the young minds of future engineers to understand the importance of designing a product that not only does a job or serves a purpose, but does so in a user friendly and easy to use manner. Usability Assessment Testing is one way to introduce students to the importance of this idea. This article looks to educate on what Usability Testing is, in general, and to promote the idea of Usability Assessment Testing as part of the curriculum developed by PLTW. What is the Problem? Rubin (1994) poses the question, “Why are so many high-tech products, such as computer-based systems, electronic equipment, and even everyday appliances, so hard to use?” (p. 3) People often ask this question when they try to program their VCR or set up their home computer. The answer to this question is not an easy one, and there are actually several factors that influence why things people buy are hard to use. First, during development the focus is on the product and not the end user of the product. (Rubin, 1994) Secondly, technology has evolved and is used more by the average person and product developers have been slow to adjust to this change. (Rubin, 1994) Next product designers treat usability as a “common sense” technique when in fact it is a complex idea. (Rubin, 1994) Another factor is how product development teams design specific components for a product separately and fail to communicate through the process leaving the end product less cohesive than it should be. (Rubin, 1994) Finally the product design and how the user interacts with that design are important factors, but many engineers possess only the skills for the technical design of the product. (Rubin, 1994) As you can see there are many factors that effect why a product might be hard to use, and the idea of making a product more usable can be achieved through Usability Testing. What is Usability and Usability Assessment Testing? To understand Usability Testing, one must first understand what is meant by the term “Usability”. Usability is accepted to mean, but not limited to, "a combination of factors that affect the user's experience with the product or system, including: Ease of learning, Efficiency of use, Memorability, Error frequency and severity, and Subjective satisfaction." (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Dumas and Redish (1993) say that “Usability means that the people who use the product can do so quickly and easily to accomplish their own tasks.” (p. 4) It is important to realize that usability is more than just making a product or system easy to use. “Usability means focusing on users.” (Dumas and Redish 1993, p4) It is crucial to know and understand who the principal user will be and to work with that user to design a product that fits their needs. (Dumas and Redish, 1993) Dumas and Redish (1993) say that “People use products to be productive.” (p 4) To make a product productive, you must know the goals of the user for the product and design the product to meet these goals. (Dumas and Redish, 1993) You must also realize that “Users are busy people trying to accomplish tasks.” (Dumas and Redish, 1993, p4) The product must be designed to not only to accomplish a specific task, but to do so in what the user considers to be an acceptable amount of effort and time. (Dumas and Redish, 1993) “People’s tolerance for time spent learning and using tools is very low.” (Dumas and Redish, 1993,p5) One final concept to understand with regards to usability is that “Users decide when a product is easy to use.” (Dumas and Redish, 1993, p 4) Many product functions are underutilized because the user isn’t willing to invest the time to learn more complex functions of the product. (Dumas and Redish, 1993) Once you have an understanding of usability, Usability Testing is easier to understand. “Usability Testing is a systematic way of observing actual users trying out a product and collecting information about the specific ways in which the product is easy or difficult for them.” (Dumas and Redish, 1993, p12) In Usability Assessment Testing the user actually performs the tasks while the test monitor observes. The goals of Usability testing include making products that are: “easy to learn and to use, are satisfying to use, [and] provide utility and functionality that are highly valued by the larger population” (Rubin, 1994, p26) Examples of Usability Tests can be found at the following sites: Case Study: Sun Cobalt-Usability Testing http://bussedesign.com/pdfs/bdu_cs_sun.pdf GNOME Usability Study Report http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gup/ut1_report/report_main.html Usability Assessment Test for the Sanyo Ultraportable PLC-XU73 Multimedia Projector http://tlstout.iweb.bsu.edu/Usability_Study.htm An example of what Usability Assessment Testing can accomplish is evident in a test that was performed on a Sanyo Multimedia Projector. Many educators are familiar with this type of device, as projecting movies, Power Point presentations, and other graphical educational materials is becoming a daily activity in the classroom. (de Groote, 2002) The findings of the test concluded that the use of a quick start guide would be a great benefit to the users of the projector. While the controls were easy to operate, locating the controls seemed to be the primary problem. You can view the entire test at http://tlstout.iweb.bsu.edu/Usability_Study.htm. What is the Purpose and Benefit of Usability Testing? The primary purpose of most Usability tests is to make the product or system easier for the user to operate by reducing the amount of time it takes to learn how to work the product and by making more of the product’s functions available to the user with less effort. (Dumas and Redish, 1993) The ultimate goal of the Usability Assessment test is to test the products usability, but there are additional benefits to the company designing the product that come about as the result of such a test. These benefits include: “selling more of the product, selling other products, enhancing the company’s reputation, saving money on internal products, reducing support costs, reducing training costs, reducing the need for updates and maintenance releases, and making documentation and training easier to develop”. (Dumas and Redish, 1993, p14) Why Teach Usability and Usability Testing? From the Manufacturing Industries perspective, Usability is about to become much more important. The International Standards Organization (ISO) is developing a standard for Usability that will rate a products ease of use. Standard 20282-2 Ease of Operation of Every Day Products is slated for publication in June of 2006. (Iso/cd ts 20282-2., n.d.)A product with this ISO certification will be recognized by the consumer as easy to use and will most likely motivate manufactures to make changes to their existing products as well as design new products to meet these criteria. (Whitehand and Piatidis, 2002) Another case for teaching Usability Testing at the High School level comes from the International Technology Education Association (2000) Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) where standard 13 states “Students will develop the abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.” (p. 133) The STL is in place to ready students for a world filled with technology . (Technology Education Association, 2000) Usability Assessment testing is one way to achieve this standard. Usability and PLTW: A Good Fit It is becoming apparent to many companies that putting products in the marketplace that fail is bad business.(Remington, 2000) Enter Usability Engineering. Usability Engineering is a cycle of Design, Implementation and Evaluation, and Usability Testing is a key component of Usability Engineering. (Remington, 2000) Project Lead the Way’s goal is to “increase the quantity and quality of engineers and engineering technologists graduating from our education system.” (PLTW About Project Lead the Way –The History, n.d.) To do this PLTW has developed guidelines and sample curriculum so that schools involved in the program can take this information and expand upon it to educate and guide students in the different areas of engineering. The High School Pre-Engineering Curriculum includes: Introduction to Engineering Design, Digital electronics, Principles of Engineering, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Engineering Design and Development, and Civil Engineering and Architecture. (PLTW Project Lead the Way High School Programs, n.d.) They are also in the process of developing courses in Aerospace and Biotechnical Engineering. (PLTW Project Lead the Way High School Programs, n.d.) Two courses lend themselves to Usability Testing, Principles of Engineering and Introduction to Engineering Design. Principles of Engineering looks to help students understand Engineering and Engineering Technology by “Exploring various technology systems and manufacturing processes [to] help students learn how engineers and technicians use math, science and technology in an engineering problem solving process to benefit people.” (PLTW Project Lead the Way High School Programs, n.d.) Usability Testing is focused on benefiting the end user, and exploring Usability Testing as one “various technology system” that will in the end “benefit people” fits with PLTW focus in the Principles of Engineering class. Introduction to Engineering Design is “A course that teaches problem-solving skills using a design development process.” (PLTW Project Lead the Way High School Programs, n.d.) During the design process, it is crucial that usability be engineered into the product from the start. (Dumas and Redish, 1993) Since Introduction to Engineering Design looks to teach “problem-solving skills using a design development process”, the introduction of Usability and Usability testing would be a natural fit inside this curriculum. When teaching Usability Assessment Testing one advantage is that the test can be conducted with a small number of participants, usually around five. (Nielsens, 2000) This makes it easy for the teacher, in the event of a small class size, to create activities in which students can participate and still have accurate results. Conclusions It seems evident that to better prepare future Engineers, it would be good practice to include the teaching of Usability Testing in the PLTW curriculum. While it is currently not specifically outlined in the curriculum, it could easily be included in several of the PLTW classes. Inclusion of Usability and Usability Testing would be a great tool for students at the High school level to learn, especially those pursuing an engineering or engineering related degree. If students were educated early on the topic of Usability, maybe fewer people would be up at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning trying to figure out how to assemble that bicycle or perhaps people would actually increase the number of hours they sleep because they could program their VCR to record that 10 p.m. show instead of staying up to watch it! Indeed the concept of Usability is one that is important to the everyday consumer, and Usability Testing is the end to the mean. Couple Usability Testing with early education and the future of product Usability could be bright! References de Groote, Marjon. (2002, June) Multimedia Projectors: A Key Component in the Classroom of the Future. T H E Journal, Vol 29, Issue 11, p18. Retrieved February 7th, 2006 from: http://www.thejournal.com/articles/16006 Dumas, J. S. & Redish, J. C. (1993). A practical guide to usability testing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing. International Technology Education Association. (2000), Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology. Reston, VA; Author, [Electronic Version]. Iso/cd ts 20282-2. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20th, 2006 from: http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMB ER=36452&scopelist=PROGRAMME. McVearry, R. D. (2003). High-tech high schools build bridge to college. Retrieved March 20th, 2006, from http://www.nspe.org/etweb/14-03feature.asp. Nielsens, Jakob (2000). Alertbox: Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users Retrieved February 5th, 2006 from: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000319.html PLTW About Project Lead the Way –The History (n.d.) Retrieved March 20th, 2006 from: http://www.pltw.org/AUHistory.shtml PLTW Project Lead the Way High School Programs (n.d.). Retrieved April 5th, 2006 from: http://www.pltw.org/hsprogram.shtml Remington, R. (2000), The usability engineering approach. Los Altos, CA: Target Software. Retrieved March 20th, 2006 from http://www.targetsoft- ware.com/aiaa.htm Rubin, J. (1994). Handbook of usability testing: How to plan, design, and conduct effective tests. NY: Wiley Technical Communication Library. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.) Usability: Usability Basics. Retrieved February 4th, 2006 from: http://www.usability.gov/basics/#definition Whitehand, Richard and Piatidis, Alexander, (2002) Do you buy easy to use products? Retrieved March 17th, 2006 from: http://www.usabilitypartners.se/news/2002/editorial08.shtml