In this assignment, you will observe peoples’ behavior around a specific mobile application. Choose a particular application on a mobile device (it doesn’t necessarily have to be a phone!). Find two test users who do not frequently use the app (though they could have tried it before). The test users can be friends, family, coworkers, etc., but should not be other students in this class. Choose 3 tasks that can be completed using the app. Once you have identified the app, study tasks, and test users, conduct the user study. Here is a rough outline for how to conduct the study:

  1. Meet the user at a location where they might typically use the app (café, workplace, etc.). Try to avoid conducting the study in a lab setting, if possible.
  2. Explain the purpose of the study, and the app that the participant will be testing.
  3. Present the app that you will be testing to the user. Ideally you can install the app on the user’s own device, but this is not essential.
  4. In sequence, present the tasks, and ask the user to perform tasks. Ideally, the tasks should be as concrete as possible (e.g., “Load the RIT homepage in the browser” instead of “Load a web page in the browser”). The user should complete each task 3 or more times.
  5. While the user is performing the task, observe them. Do they make any errors? Are any parts of the task unclear or confusing? Are any steps inefficient? Try not to guide the user during the task, but to let them explore it at their own pace. Take notes.
  6. After the tasks are completed, you may want to ask questions to clarify what you saw during the activity.
  7. Once the tasks are completed, thank the participant.


Once you have collected your data, you will give a five minute presentation in class on the due date. You should include drawings or images to help the class understand what you observed.

Presentation guidelines

  • Your presentation must take no more than five minutes—this time limit will be strictly enforced.
  • You should rehearse your presentation several times before class.
  • Your slides should balance text to help the audience understand your observations with interesting imagery.
  • Do not read your slides to the class! This is one of the most common mistakes that novice presenters make.


This assignment is worth 7% of your final grade. Your in-class presentation should adhere to the following criteria:

  • Clear, easy to read, without grammar or spelling errors
  • Clearly describes how the observation was conducted: when and where you went, what app you tested, what tasks you had the participant do.
  • Clearly describes the participants: age, occupation, experience with mobile devices and apps; don’t use a photograph or their real name, however.
  • Describe your observations for each task: Were any tasks especially easy/difficult? What aspects of the tasks were slow, confusing, etc.? Note that if you don’t have any interesting observations after your first participant, you may need to adjust your study tasks or your chosen app. Include pictures to illustrate your points.
  • Includes interesting concrete examples, sketches/images where appropriate.
  • Describe three possible improvements that could be made to the user interface to avoid the problems the users had.
(Note: thanks to Shaun Kane for permission to use some of his material for this page.)