GNOME Usability Test Observations (Part 1)

It’s been quite a while since my last post, so today may well be overkill – anyhow, it’s high time I documented and published results and observations from my usability test! So here goes:

The Usability Test had a total of 12 participants, distributed across various categories such as age, gender, computer experience, mobile experience and previous OS exposure. Each tester took 38 minutes on average, to complete (or omit) all scenario tasks. Here’s a graph showing the time taken by all the testers:


Test Duration

You may notice a step-up pattern for every three testers – this is because the graph is ordered by the testers’ expertise level within other groups based on age and OS exposure. Following are a few pie charts that represent the test participants’ distributions across various categories:






Mobile OS Exposure


OS Preference



I chose the testers specifically to have an even distribution across various categories as far as possible.

The testers had some interesting feedback/remarks/doubts during and after the tests! They could prove to be useful insights, some of them at least, so I’m including them below, grouped by application:


Why is there no font change option in this menu? (3B)
Is the replacement over?
What is this button for? (3B)
This scrollbar is narrow
Where are the preferences?


How to save this note?
Font change should be in the selection popover
No ticks for the notes I choose?
I like this font better!


There should be a remove from playlist option when you select a song
How do I search within the playlist?
Where can I add to a playlist? (before selecting anything)
Why is it searching everywhere?
Is there a playlist-specific search?
Right click is good to select also


What exactly does the Esc key do? It works sometimes
This blue bar and tick is confusing
Help is not very helpful
How to create a new album?
Does this set the photo as the app background or the desktop background?
When to open and when to select?

You can read my observations and view a “heat map” of the results in the next blog post, here.

OPW Week 1: Thoughts on Usability

A program should follow the ‘Law of Least Astonishment’. What is this law? It is simply that the program should always respond to the user in the way that astonishes him least.

The Tao of Programming
Geoffrey James

This is the opening quote in (my OPW mentor) Jim Hall’s capstone titled Usability Themes in Open Source Software. I think it perfectly encapsulates the concept of usability – how easy it is to learn and use something.

Usability plays a major role in the adoption and sustained use of any system, be it physical or virtual. With respect to a new system, it is vital that it be iteratively redesigned incorporating users’ feedback, since there are issues which may be non-obvious to developers who are at best, a subset of the user base (faced this up close in Project Mudra).

Usability is multi-dimensional, a cumulative result of many factors like:

1. Intuitive design: a nearly effortless understanding of the architecture and navigation of the system
2. Ease of learning: how fast a user who has never seen the user interface before can accomplish basic tasks
3. Efficiency of use: How fast an experienced user can accomplish tasks
4. Memorability: after using a system, if a user can remember enough to use it effectively in future visits
5. Error frequency and severity: how often users make errors while using the system, how serious the errors are, and how users recover from the errors
6. Subjective satisfaction: If the user likes using the system


From what I have understood, usability is a measure of how well a system allows you to do your job without getting in the way. Better usability translates to better engagement, better efficiency, better effectiveness and (if that’s the end goal) better revenues too!

Some researchers in this area make a distinction between “big U” Usability and “little u” usability – “big U” Usability is everything that goes into creating a product that works for people (Redish). “Big U” Usability encompasses tools and techniques that can be used before development, during development and after development to support your understanding of the user experience (Barnum). It includes, but is not limited to, “little u” usability (i.e. usability testing). Usability testing is what I will be focusing on during my internship.

Hello, world!

Soooo I’ve finally gotten around to blogging.

About a month ago, I was selected to participate in the Outreach Program for Women as an intern at GNOME (yay!). My project is on Usability Testing. I’m really excited about working on it – usability testing has applications in every application, and beyond! The coming months will see me taking baby steps into the world of free and open source software. :-)

One of the requirements for this internship is to blog about my project regularly. I’m a bit hesitant, seeing as I have never blogged before – but I guess it’ll be just one more in a long line of firsts in OPW! :-D This blog will be regularly updated with my progress on the project. By the way, Jim, my mentor for this project also blogs about Open Source Software and Usability. Check it out!

I also work on Project Mudra, an initiative to promote Braille Literacy. You can read more about it here or here. This blog will also have occasional updates about Project Mudra. Our facebook page is usually up-to-date. Comments and suggestions welcome. :-)

I may also write the occasional opinion piece on an issue I feel strongly about. Like why I feel cutlery is overrated or what I think the real problem with barbie is (hint: it’s much broader(!) than just her measurements).

Oh, and I’m an avid foodie too. :-D So you can expect passionate posts about a delectable tandoori chicken or that corner shop that sells the yummiest sandwiches!

That’s all for now. Hello blogging world! :-)