Reflections on Usability Tasks

Ten Scenario Tasks

Before I was accepted into the Outreachy program, I completed a small usability test as a contribution to GNOME. I could see, even from a three person sample set, that usability testing can really highlight the strengths and weaknesses of an application. Throughout the testing I saw similar results from all test subjects, even though their familiarity with the technology varied. It was a pretty fascinating learning experience. Now, looking back at the report with more of an understanding of usability, I want to reflect a bit on the tasks that made up the test. Below are the ten activities I asked my participants to perform.


1. You need to type up a quick note for yourself, briefly describing an event that you want to remember later. You start the Gedit text editor (this has been done for you).

Please type the following short paragraphs into the text editor:

Note for myself:

Jenny and I decided to throw a surprise party for Jeff, for Jeff’s birthday. We’ll get together at 5:30 on Friday after work, at Jeff’s place. Jenny arranged for Jeff’s roommate to keep him away until 7:00.  We need to get the decorations up and music ready to go by 6:30, when people will start to arrive. We asked everyone to be there no later than 6:45.

Save this note as party reminder.txt in the Documents folder.

2. After typing the note, you realize that you got a few details wrong. Please make these edits:

• In the first paragraph, change Friday to Thursday.

• Change 5:30 to 5:00.

• Move the entire sentence Jenny arranged for Jeff’s roommate to keep him away until 7:00. to the end of the second paragraph, after no later than 6:45.

When you are done, please save the file. You can use the same filename.

3. Actually, Jeff prefers to go by Geoff, and Jenny prefers Ginny. Please replace every occurence of Jeff with Goeff, and all instances of Jenny with Ginny.  When you are done, please save the file. You can use the same filename.

4. You’d like to make a copy of the note, using a different name that you can find more easilylater. Please save a copy of this note as Geoff surprise party.txt in the Documents folder.

For the purposes of this exercise, you do not need to delete the original file.

5. You decide the font in the editor is difficult to read, and you would prefer to use a different font. Please change the font to DejaVu Sans Mono, 12 point.

6. You decide the black-on-white text is too bright for your eyes, and you would prefer to use different colors. Please change the colors to the Oblivion color scheme.

Gnome Files (Nautilus)

1. Yesterday, you re-organized your files and you don’t remember where you saved the copy of one of your articles you were working on. Please search for a file named “The Hobbit”.

2. Files and folders are usually displayed as icons, but you can display them in other ways too.  Change how the file manager displays files and folders, to show them as a list.

3. You don’t have your glasses with you, so you aren’t able to read the names of the files and folders very well. Please make the text bigger, so it is easier to read.

4. Please search for a folder or a file that you recently worked on, maybe this will help you find the lost article.

So the scenario tasks were split between the Gedit application and Nautilus or GNOME Files. Upon reflection I think that the first task (writing the body of a text document and saving it) is perhaps too simple. What does it really tell us about Gedit? If we can type text and use the CTL + S, a common keyboard shortcut, then we can execute this task without really using anything specific to Gedit. I think it may set the tester up to think that Gedit is going to be the same as whatever text editor they are familiar with, which seemed to cause frustration when the testers got to task 5 and 6 and realized they didn’t know how to navigate the application. In a future test, I would remove the first task and add in a tasks that involves the Gedit menu that is more common, such as opening a new window, to get the tester used to looking in that menu area. Ultimately though, I think that aspect of the test was successful in demonstrating that users had a hard time shifting between the menu button and the Gedit menu.

As far as the Nautilus tasks, I think they are generally straightforward. I would probably change the term “file manager” in task three to a simpler term. So maybe it could read “Change how the application displays files and folders.” Even though file manager is pretty descriptive of what the application does, it might intimidate someone who only knows of Nautilus as “the place I go to look for files”.

I also think that task #4 is a bit vague. I know that it is referencing the first task, but tasks in between were distinct enough that the context could be forgotten. I would re-word this task to say something more like, “Please search for the files that you worked on yesterday.”

Even though there are tweaks I would make here and there with these scenario tasks, I truly found the usability test to be insightful. Thinking of the best activities for our usability tests is important, but as long as the goals are kept in mind, there are many arrangements of scenario tasks that will yield very interesting and unexpected results. This unpredictability and learning is the reward for the usability testing team and what makes this work so valuable.

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