M_ Interface 01
This case study was completed for the CSS 478 Accessibly & User Centered Design course taught by Annuska Zolyomi. Our teams goal for the course was to study the interaction between visually impaired individuals and their use of in-home kitchen appliances to uncover opportunities to redesign and improve the interaction between the human and the appliance to increase accessibility and usability using low fidelity prototypes.
The domain of our project consists of the home kitchen of individuals with visual impairments and how these visually impaired users are interacting with their kitchen home appliances to cook/prepare meals for themselves. Some key activities include using a microwave, dishwasher, range, or oven. Our domain also consists of individuals experiencing situational visual impairments such as lost or broken glasses, substance-induced impairments, and those recovering from eye surgeries.
The stakeholders involved in our domain included individuals living with visual impairments like blindness, blurred vision, or light sensitivity. These individuals could be of any age and live anywhere. They use technology in their everyday lives and do not want to depend on others to complete their day-to-day tasks. They want to feel independent and empowered to be able to take care of themselves. They need accessible technology to support them in their daily lives. Our second group of stakeholders consists of individuals experiencing situational visual impairments such as lost or broken glasses, substance-induced impairments, distracted individuals, and those recovering from eye surgeries.
One technology that is currently being used by visually impaired individuals is Be My Eyes, a free mobile app that aims to make the world more accessible for blind and low-vision people. The app connects blind and low-vision individuals with sighted volunteers and companies from all over the world through a live video call. The app fills the role of a sighted partner for visually impaired users when they are otherwise alone. However, sometimes visually impaired individuals do not want to rely on an app, and can feel worried about app privacy. They must then rely on other technologies or just learn to work with non-accessible technologies.
Concerns with Available Technologies
The main concern for appliances like the 'Talking Microwave Oven' is accessibility and availability. These products are difficult to find and often outdated. The MaxiAids microwave is a design being sold since 2006. Furthermore, the price point of these appliances is much higher than comparable non-accessible alternatives. The MaxiAids microwave is still over $350 online. Accessible appliances need to be keeping up with current design trends and technology innovations to remain relevant, which isn’t happening currently. Other concerns include manufacturer support after purchase and lack of variety. Our group is focused on what accessible appliances do and do not exist and how we can improve those appliances.
Explorative Usability Study:
To answer our research questions, we first conducted a usability test with 5 participants. We recruited individuals between the ages of 18 - 28, both male and female, who cook at home. The participants were individuals we had easy access to. We worked with participants who already experienced varying degrees of vision impairment. We asked them to imagine they did not have their glasses near by. The participants were also given the contingency to not be closer than one foot to the appliance. This ensured the limitation was consistent between all participants and that the experience was representational. We recorded the participants that agreed to be recorded and took notes on our observations. The participants were asked to be as vocal as possible while completing their tasks and we did not interfere during the study except to relay the tasks.
To analyze our data, we first color mapped all of the data points we recorded of participants. Then the participant survey responses were put under quantitative analysis. We categorized each task completed by each participant as either complete, incomplete, or partially complete. This, accompanied by our participants’ survey responses to average task difficulty allowed us to see larger themes and analyze each task individually. We closely analyzed participant feedback and our recordings to identify design mismatches. After this organization of the data, we discussed as a group the main themes and insights that were discovered.
The high-priority observations based on our research that our team noted were the issues with the microwaves touchpads. Tasks involving the use of the touchpad had a completion rating of 46.67% juxtaposed with the tasks not involving interaction with the touchpad whose completion rating was 90%. From the numbers and our observations, our team was in agreement that there are standing issues with the tactile feedback (or lack thereof) given by the microwaves used in our five micro-usability studies. Respondents noted that there was no distinguishable difference between each button and that it was difficult to determine the button functionality. Additional observations that we noted came directly from our post-activity survey responses completed by study participants. When asked if they have any suggestions for features that would increase accessibility respondents gave the following answers:
“Raised buttons on the microwave or raised bumps to differentiate the buttons.”
“There is no easy way to tell if you've done anything correctly, if you had a voice tell you what button you clicked or something similar that would be helpful or maybe like 3 beeps for a certain function.”
“Definitely making the buttons unique in the way they feel so you know what they are for or when you press a button the microwave tells you what button you clicked ‘timer’ or ‘power.’"
“Voice activated timer. If a blind person needs a timer they could use alexa or siri to set one without having to navigate through a menu/interface. I think for most applications add[ing] 30 seconds would be enough. Maybe an easy way to know this button [is] through touch. Add bumps onto key buttons or all of them and have some way to differentiate between them. Also when you press a button[,] have it say the button back to you.”
These responses similarly directed us to focus on the tactile and audio responses given by the microwave touchpads. Our team made additional notes regarding findings that were specific to the situational impairment. These notes based on our team's observations included the importance of color contrast throughout the entire interface. Having a small font on a dark display made it difficult for our participants to distinguish the text on the microwave displays. Conversations regarding backlighting and brighter displays were observed as well.
Another insight we received from our usability studies was the importance of muscle memory for task completion. Some participants noted that the only button they used on their microwave was the “add 30-second” button, which meant that they were not familiar with other functionalities of the microwaves. Participants that were familiar with the button layout of the microwave and its functionalities had an easier time operating the device. Also, tasks that are completed with high frequency by participants such as placing a mug inside the microwave and selecting the cooking time, were exponentially easier to complete than tasks such as setting a timer. For example, in Task 3, place the mug inside the microwave, all participants unanimously agreed that the task was a difficulty of 1(on a scale of 1-5, 1 being the easiest and 5 the most challenging). This supports our hypothesis that tasks that occur the most often in our participants’ lives were the easiest to complete.
Before prototyping we began by creating an interaction flow for our improved microwave interface. In this flow, we highlighted the specific features we wanted, mainly the audio feedback, and tactile buttons. As well as the choices the users should be able to make. In this flow you can see the user has an option to enable or disable the audio output. We chose this as audio feedback is not always needed, especially when our users are not experiencing visual impairments. The buttons however would always be tactile, as there is no easy solution to adding or removing tactility, and they are relatively low profile.
In prototyping, we agreed as a team to keep it low fidelity, as none of our team had the technical skills to create a working microwave interface. In creating it we used cardboard, glitter glue, and acrylic gems from Michael's, to achieve our desired improvements. We chose cardboard over foam due to the fact that we wanted to keep it extremely low profile. We used the glitter glue in an attempt to create custom raised icons, in the initial construction it did look promising, but after it dried it was extremely flat. This is also something that we could iterate on in the next round. The gems provided sufficient tactile feedback, however on numbers above five they increased in difficulty to differentiate.
In combining these three materials, we created a low fidelity prototype. We included every button that we were tested in our initial study in order to keep functionality consistent. While not exactly beautiful it was extremely functional. We left the blank buttons as we wanted the feeling of a completed interface, even though we cut some of the excess features that we either did not test or our initial users were not necessary.
While implementing our prototype we attached it to the physical microwave, and ran our usability tests with it acting as the working user interface. In running the tests we did use the Wizard of Oz Methodology, when the users pressed a button, the tester would read back what was pressed. This was also a very low fidelity way to implement this as we did not build any sort of sound board.