Usability Test Results: Masters of Gravity Soap Box Derby Math & Science

 Usability testing was conducted on Masters of Gravity Soap Box Derby Math & Science on September 30, 2003. Users easily determined the purpose of the CD-ROM as an educational tool for teaching math and science. One user stated “I can see where kids would like it,” and another that “hands-on exploration would really appeal to people who are visual learners.” This report will highlight some of the areas the CD-ROM can be made even more effective. Areas of focus will be: General Navigation, Visual Recognition, Activity Instructions, Activity Navigation, and Activity Level Recommendations. Areas of interest and other user comments will also be highlighted.

General Navigation

Main Menu Page: Highlight ‘Activities’ link

In a number of cases, users were immediately drawn to “Teacher’s Tools.” This link is bold in color and font and draws attention immediately. Drawing the user’s eyes to the ‘Activities’ link would highlight the major purpose of the CD-ROM. This can be achieved by enlarging the font, changing the background color, or repositioning the link. Two users were also confused by the size of the clickable area under the activities text, they thought there were multiple links associated with this large area.

Activities Page: Clearly define individual activity links

Three links on this page gave some of the users difficulty. The first is the “Energy” link, one user knew that the sandwich was clickable but did not notice the word energy. This text could benefit from being darker or highlighted in some way. The second is the “Simple Machine” link, which two users pointed out was not entirely on the screen.  Lastly, is the Main Menu link, which one user thought was the starting place for the activities and was shocked to be taken back to the garage page. This could be remedied by changing to terminology to “Return to Garage” or simply “Garage.”

Activities Page: Improve text navigation

Some users tried to click on the colored text in the instructions on this page. This can be helped by rending these words in bold typeface or giving them a rollover behavior that highlights the area of the page being discussed.

return to top

Visual Recognition

Visual hierarchy

In many cases users were found roaming around pages waiting for a hand to appear in order to find what was clickable. Even when an icon was perceived as clickable, it was not always easily understood. The sandwich was an example of this. “I know I could click on it, but I didn’t know what it was about.” Some users did not realize the sandwich said “energy” until the page was explored for several minutes. The occasional lack of visual hierarchy hampered navigation. Design elements, although visually pleasing, at many times confused users. This could be resolved with consistently emphasizing visual hierarchy throughout the program.

Visual conformation

Users need feedback, which could increase navigability and decrease frustration.

Users were found saying, “it doesn’t look like it is working,” and “I broke the program.” Lack of communication may lead to a lack of interaction. Enhanced communications might include be solved by including visual indication of load time, or indications such as beeps that communicate what cannot be clicked on.

Visual Structure

Emphasizing a structure that flows visually may lead to a much more fluid navigation and exploration. One major strength of the interface was that its non-linear approach that encourages exploration, but lack of transitional flow between exercises led to users having a lack of direction. Furthermore, knowing what to do next hampered the experience for some users. Brief rollover descriptions may be one way to foster direction. A more complete integration of visual flow into this non-linear style could be achieved through a combination of enhancing visual hierarchy, visual conformation and overall structure constructed not just offered exploration, but to channel it naturally.

return to top

Activity Introduction

Make it clearer to users that they should exit the instructions before they can do an activity

Several users encountered problems with the instructions; they did not understand that the instructions needed to be closed before they could begin the activities. Generally, they attempted to move directly into doing the activity after reading the directions, and grew frustrated when they could not work on the activity. They wondered if the program was broken or if something was "supposed to happen."

Potential solutions for this problem include changing the wording of the "Close" button to something that would indicate the user is going to begin the activity, such as "Begin Activity," "Start Activity," or just "Start." Additionally, this button could be moved to a more intuitive position, such as centered directly below the directions text. To get the user to focus more on the directions, the screen behind them could be blanked out, dimmed or made translucent to increase user focus on the directions, or they could be enlarged to cover the entire activity area.

Make the purpose of the notebook clear or move directions so that users can see them while working on an activity

Several users were confused as to the function of the information notebook in the upper-right hand corner, or were not aware of how to recall the instructions once they had closed them. One user felt that she had to "try to remember what the directions were." That same user also did not like that the instructions covered up the activity, and she could not see the portions of the activity referenced in the instructions.

Solutions here would include placing some sort of "Help" or "Directions" label on the notebook to make the purpose of the notebook clearer to the user. Additionally, moving the instructions to the location of the notebook in the upper-right hand corner might solve both this issue and the ones referenced in the first recommendation in this section. Users would be able to see the directions at all times, and would not need to close the directions to get to the activity.

Reduce the amount of text in the instructions

Several users skipped the directions or did not read all of them because they felt they were too long and, as one user said, they "wanted to get started on the activities."

This could be solved by paring down the amount of text in the instructions. Perhaps they could be reduced only to bare essentials — pointing out that users can click on an icon to explore activities on that topic and that the notebook is available if users need help. Moving the instructions, as mentioned previously, might also help; users would be able to reference them as needed during the activity and wouldn't feel like they had to read something lengthy before they could get to the activities.

 Change colored text in the instructions

One user thought that colored text in the instructions was clickable. This text should be changed to bold or italics to still make it stand out, but not carry the connotation that it might be a hyperlink.

Activity Navigation

Throughout the individual activities themselves we noticed a few things about the navigation between activity 1, 2, and 3 in any given activity. We feel it’s necessary to recommend a few alterations in the general design to make the interface more usable.

Some suggestions for improvement are as follows. Remove reference to additional activities. The subject tried to click on the “2” for the second activity from the instruction page while the instruction notebook was still active. The numbering scheme, although quite understandable once you have used the interface, is confusing when one is first starting to use it. Perhaps the buttons could be re-titled into something more immediately understandable and blatant such as “activity 1” and “activity 2”.

There were a few more observations in this area. The subjects always attempted activity one, mainly because it was right there in front of them, and rarely did they ever notice the 1 and 2 in the corner, furthermore did they have any idea that the numbers in the corner did anything. Perhaps those options could be made to stand out a bit more instead of sort of blending into the page as they do right now.

Some suggestions were to add tabs to the top of each activity page that represents activity 1, activity 2, and so forth. Oftentimes the bottom left hand corner is the last place a subject looked for further activities.

Although the subjects did read the instructions thoroughly and noticed that it does state “Click 2 for a different activity”, the subjects often said statements such as “I don’t know what the ‘2’ stands for.” If the subject was interested enough in the activity they then inquired about more activities, then searching for a way to get to another one. It was almost as if what they had read and understood from the directions were forgotten in a sheer matter of seconds.

Some suggestions were to include the actual location of the number 2 in the instructions, or to place a phrase such as “more activities” above the location of the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the activity screen.

Activity Level Problems

Friction (The Race: Off-Road): Clarify how users choose a car

Users encountered problems when attempting to choose a car. One of the users tried to pick a tire then put it on a car, not knowing the car came with the selected tire. Other users clicked on a car, then clicked “Start Race”, and were puzzled when the race did not begin. One user commented, “It says choose a car and I chose a car and started the race and nothing happened.” This problem could be remedied in a number of ways. One option would be to make it so that a car could be selected by clicking on either a tire or a car. Another possibility would be to change the text to “Choose a tire style” instead of “Choose a car.” A final option would be to make the tires look more like tires.

Simple Machines (Identify the Simple Machines): Extend the image map

One user experienced difficulties when choosing a pulley. She clicked on the pulley, but nothing happened because the image map only covered portions of the pulley. This could be fixed by extending the image map for the link to contain the entire pulley.

Simple Machines (Identify the Simple Machines): Provide clues on the activity screen

One of the users encountered several problems when trying to play this activity. First of all, she tried to click the word boxes on the right before selecting a simple machine part. Secondly, she noticed that the parts on the cars were highlighted on mouse over, but did not know to click to select one. A possible way to fix these problems could be to add text to the activity screen. The text above the cars could say “Step 1” and tell the user to click on a simple machine. Above the simple machine names, the text could read “Step 2” and tell the user to choose the appropriate simple machine name.

Simple Machines (Identify the Simple Machines): State that the pictures show two different views of the same car

One of the users was confused because it took her awhile to realize that the two cars were actually the same car, just different views. A possible solution would be to add labels saying “View 1” and “View 2”.

Collection & Analysis (Who’s Won the Most): Clarify the purpose of this exercise

This exercise confused one of the users. She asked, “Who won the most what?” She also remarked that the other activities in the section were “actual activities and number one [was] just like a list of something.” A possible way to correct this would be to include a more detailed explanation of the purpose of the exercise on the instruction screen.

General Problem: Correct instruction typos

One user noticed that instructions for several of the activities told the user to “chose” an aspect of the activity instead of “choose”. This typo appears on instruction screens within “simple machines,” “geometry,” “ratio & proportion,” and “collection & analysis.”

General Problem: Highlight the text that informs the user about a correct or incorrect answer

One user had difficulty determining if she had made the correct choice within some of the activities. This problem could be eliminated by changing “Sorry. Try again” or “Great Job! Try another?” to a brighter color or a larger font size.


We had the subjects come up with some ideas based on immediate impressions about the interface. There are three main categories: plus, which is everything positive about the interface; minus, which is everything that is bad about the interface; and interesting, which is everything that is neither plus nor minus and is just something interesting about the interface.