Behind the scenes of a usability study

24 Mar 2021 4min read

Usability studies are a staple activity of the human factors group at Team Consulting and an essential part of medical device development. By testing how different users interact with devices, we can gain valuable insights into user preferences, how accessible the devices are and any potential risks associated with using them.

To paint a picture of what actually occurs during one, I’ve set out my experiences from one of my first usability studies here at Team.

08:30 – The team arrives at the market research facility. This equipment, including high-definition cameras and observation rooms, helps us to maximise the quality and usefulness of the data we come away with.

09:00 – Set-up of the study room begins. The kit list for usability studies is typically lengthy, ranging from sharps bins to spare reading glasses for participants. It’s important to try and plan for any eventuality, to ensure the user is comfortable and able to carry out tasks effectively. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the list has also swelled to include enough face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to last the full length of each study.

11:00 – Once set up is complete, the team will move into position ready for the first participant. Typically, one person will be with the user as they test the device, while another observes from behind a one-way mirror in a separate room, invisible to the participant but with a perfect view of everything going on. Each session involves a blend of getting the participant to use the device naturally, alongside asking specific questions to gauge their understanding of it. Questions might include “where do you think this device should be used on the body?” or “how do you think this device should be held?”.

12:15 – After the first participant, the team will take some time to discuss the session. How does the session pacing feel? Did the participant do anything unexpected? If so, what led them to do this? Taking time to analyse participants’ behaviour is essential to understand how they see the device and how they think it should be used. After a thorough clean of the room, the team are then ready for the next participant.

12:30 – The next participant will likely interact with the device in a completely new way. For example, they might toss the instructions aside, race through the process and get things wrong. Whatever their actions, different questions are raised for the team. Did they assume the device was simple to use? Or were they just keen to get home?

14:00 – Having spent so long working with a device, it is easy to assume you could predict how participants will use it. However, participants differ in all sorts of ways and it’s fascinating seeing which behaviour patterns emerge as they get to know the device. The way they hold it, the way they read the instructions, even the way they open the packaging are all useful signposts, highlighting use errors that future users could make.

19:00 – It’s not unusual for sessions to continue into the evening, as some participants can only come in around their work or family commitments. After the last session, the team will debrief on the events of the day and then make sure we’re ready for the next day’s sessions.

Following the study, the process of consolidating the vast amounts of collected data into a comprehensive, coherent report begins. No two usability studies are ever the same, but each one offers the team an opportunity to refine our processes, learn and improve.

I hope this gives you an insight into what happens behind the scenes of a usability study. If you’d like to find out more, visit our human factors page or, get in touch.

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