Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, USA

User Research Methods

Oct - Dec 2017


Literature Research | Ethnographic Studies Usability Testing | Co Design exercise | Interviewing | Cultural Probe | Illustrator




The following report outlines the testing plan and subsequent findings from conducting a Usability test on the system of preparing and organizing pill medication for a week’s schedule. The goals of the Usability test is to validate user performance measures, identify potential design concerns and usability issues to be addressed and explain why they are broken.


The system comprises of a pillbox, pill cutter and two sets of medication (white pills and black pills). All products were purchased in store at a CVS pharmacy. The white pills symbolized Oxycodene (chronic pain) with a prescription of two pills per day, ½ pills taken at four hour intervals. The black pills symbolized Tenormin Atenololn (High Blood Pressure) with a prescription of two pills per day, morning and evening.


Three participants were chosen, two males aged 30 years old and 26 years old and one female aged 22 years old, to act out the task at hand.

Two of the participants had never used a pill cutter previously, while the third participant had experience vicariously through their father.


A pilot test was conducted to represent the final test and illustrate flaws. Highlighted tasks to be observed were: utilization of the pill cutter, utilization of the pill box, Gradual emotions and feelings as the task progressed and comments on the products and their function.


The final methodology was as follows:


  1. Introduction to test and products and notified of approximate duration
  2. Paper copy of instructions for task present
  3. Asked to prepare their medicine for the week ahead
  4. This involves selecting the 2 medications
  5. The first medication (Oxycodene) involves 2 pills per day
  6. The second medication (Atenololin) involves splitting 2 pills to make 4 doses per day
  7. They must then distribute these into the weekly planner
  8. Participant was asked to think aloud during their actions
  9. Adjudicator kept silent and tried to show no reaction
  10. Upon completion of the task, the participants were asked to perform a System Usability Scale (SUS)


Each user embarked into the test and immediately re-read the instructions to confirm which pill type was for which condition. Each participant discovered the Black pills (contained in a plastic zip lock pouch) didn’t need to get cut so immediately dealt them into the pillbox, two for each day, and already half the task had been completed quickly and efficiently. One participant pointed out at this stage that the hinges were quite sticky for the first two lids but seemed capable for the remainder, all participants would continue this discussion at the end of the test. In good spirits, each participant  moved onto the White pills (contained in a safety screw top container), two participants had trouble opening the medicine container and one had to read the instructions on the lid. Each participant then removed the cotton stuffing before accessing the pills. One participant carefully placed this in the lid so it wouldn’t get dirty from the table and took two pills at a time from the container. The other two participants poured the pills onto the table and picked the pills out one by one to place it he cutter. One participant did make a comment about the table surface being sanitary and decided it was safe to proceed. It seems it was quicker and more efficient to pour the pills onto the table and pick from the pile but transversely this had a negative hygiene effect.


Upon completing the cutting, the participants moved the focus of their attention onto the pillbox. At this stage, all the pills had been placed in their separate compartments (either cut or whole). Each participant commented that although the pillbox was portable and small enough to carry around each day it would be much more efficient if they could peel off each compartment for the specific day, the pill cutter would be left at home with the medication at all times. One participant elaborated on his further by suggesting that the whole pillbox be only one compartment, refilled each day from a reservoir at home. This idea of having only one compartment for 2 different medications, to be taken at varying times throughout the day also caused inefficiency by trying to remove separate pills from under each other. For the two larger participants, comments were made about dexterity and digit size when trying to retrieve certain pills from the container, the compartments were too small and pills too awkward to handle. Finally, each participant mentioned an alarm, alert or reminder function to let them know of when to take their next course of medication. If the pill box became far from view, one participant expected she would just forget about it and let it slip her mind, which could be catastrophic.



Succeeding the Usability test, each participant was asked to complete the System Usability Scale. The System Usability Scale (SUS) provides a “quick and dirty”, reliable tool for measuring the usability.   It consists of a 10 item questionnaire with five response options for respondents; from Strongly agree to Strongly disagree.

Interpreting scoring can be complex, but based on research, a SUS score above a 68 would be considered above average and anything below 68 is below average, however the best way to interpret your results involves “normalizing” the scores to produce a percentile ranking. Participant one scored 80 (Male), participant two scored 67.5 Female) and participant 3 scored 82.5. The system scored quite high on the Usability scale with an average score of 76.6, 10 points higher than the 68 SUS threshold.

Mark Byrne © 2018