SYMBOLIC MESSAGING LAB STUDY
Users need to know more than if they are "good to go". More so, they need to know for how long are they good to go.
UX Designers wanted to know which status indicator design they should move forward with on a wearable product. While the indicator had two different hardware designs, it also conveyed different statuses via a color scheme. We wanted to know if the color scheme made sense to the user, and if and when a user would refer to another device with the wearable.
Gas gauges illustrate a legacy of product centric design versus human centric design and served as an analogy for this study.
This research project utilized a Wizard of Oz technique, experimental design and cognitive walkthrough in a lab setting.
Recruiting: Due to the confidentiality of the prototypes, the team is required to use internal participants only. The study recruited for a mix in gender, product brand, and frequency of use. Because mental models do not vary as drastically as opinions, a smaller n (12) was used.
Study: To account for any confounding variables, prototypes were counterbalanced prior to introducing the prototypes and having a brief overview of current product usage and behavior (based on recruiting data).
Afterward, users were told to imagine they were in a specific scenario that would display different statuses. Each status was triggered remotely by the researcher (myself).
After each triggering of a status, participants were asked to explain what they were observing. Follow up questions included 'How do you know?' or 'How might you find out?'. Pointed questions about when a user would use a third device was also posed (these questions were pointed because they fell outside the main goal of the study and time was an issue).
At the end of going through various scenarios, participants were asked to choose their preferred model and make a comparison between the two (ie why wasn't the other model chosen?).
Making sense of it all: With the information collected through interviews/ transcripts, and observations my findings were analyzed using linguistic analysis and cognitive mapping. It was determined that one of the prototypes elicited more of a cognitive load on the users, than the other. While there was a clear choice for the model that lessened the cognitive load, when comparing the two models, users hard a hard time defining why they chose one model over the other.
Since users could not explicitly describe why they preferred one model over the other, linguistic analysis was used to understand users mental model and break down their thought processes. Participants used mathematical references and unit conversion to make sense of the statuses they were observing. The more unit converting a user tried to do in their head, the more they experienced a cognitive load and would end up referring to a third device to help them.
Actionable Advice: Design consideration were outlined for UX Designers, but also evangelized to the Physical Input UX working group. Findings were presented and grouped by around the goals and hypothesis of the study. An analogy of 'miles till empty' and the gas gauge was used to help stakeholders empathize with the users. The analogy also served as a reference point to legacy designs that should be reconsidered as they were never designed with users needs at the core. Designers were encouraged to flip the paradigm and think about other physical inputs that are product-centric versus human-centric.