Usability Study Design, Execution, and Insights

App screenshot

The Story

As part of my User Centered Design certificate coursework, my team designed and performed a usability study of a UW Medicine mobile application for sharing genetic test results. The app is designed to simplify and manage the sharing of genetic test results between care providers, patients, and whomever the patients wish to share their test results with. We produced a report with our study’s results and insights. I shared the role of study moderator with the other team members.

UX Research process

  • Initial client meeting
  • Heuristic analysis
  • Participant recruitment
  • Study design
  • Usability study
  • Presentation of report to clients

Initial client meeting

Our clients were concerned about the initial on-boarding screens in their app. They also wanted to find any place users were confused by the interface. The clients were also interested in the general opinion of users towards the concept of the application.

Heuristic analysis

My team performed a heuristic analysis to identify potential points of confusion in the application. With our clients, we identified the following focus areas:

  • Downloading and installing the application
  • Sharing test results via email
  • Sharing test results via text
  • Discussions of privacy concerns
  • Overall device/app interactions

Participant recruitment

Our clients had previous contact with a group of interested participants who had already had received actual genetic test results in another research project. We contacted these participants and organized in-person usability tests with them. We also created a general population survey to better understand the general reaction towards to concept of the app: sharing genetic test results using a mobile phone.

Study design

We designed the usability study to begin with installation of the application, including the discovery process. The participant was then given a set of tasks to perform in the application. A post-study questionnaire was also given to the participants.

A general population survey inquired about mobile technology experience, prior interest in genetic testing, and attitudinal questions around medical information privacy.

Usability study

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, our clients had obtained prior IRB approval for the study and all team members complete CITI training. We conducted in-person usability studies with participants who both had actual genetic test results and those who did not. The study was recorded using a combination of screen capture, video, and audio recording.

Sketch of interview setup
Sketch of interview setup

Presentation of report to clients

We compiled the results of the study and presented it to our clients. All recordings were also presented for future analysis by other members of their team.

Challenges in the Design

The greatest challenges in designing this study were the sensitivity of the topic and obtaining a large enough sample set. The portion of our participants who had already received test results did so in receiving treatment for various challenging medical conditions. Simply reminding them of that experience could cause emotional harm. Our study questions were therefore vetted by our clients and we were very cautious in our questioning technique.

Because we were only able to recruit a small number in the target population of those who had already had genetic testing, we sought members of the general population. It proved to be challenging to provide enough context to these participants while collecting data in a way comparable to the target population set.

Re-evaluation of Design Decisions

We originally included a rather strongly-worded warning about privacy in the study because we were to use actual genetic test results in the study. After the first in-person study with the target population, we re-worded some of our study questions regarding privacy to be less alarming.


Reflection / Retrospective

From a technical standpoint, the study went well. Our recording methodology was successful and resulted in high-fidelity recordings of participant reactions.

Our study identified several areas of poor usability in the app and we were able to make strong recommendations about how to improve it.

We established good rapport with the study participants and this allowed us to collaboratively brainstorm possible future developments for the application. We reported these to the clients as possible future design explorations.