Trang Dinh's Portfolio

Microsoft Competitive Usability Test



Behavioral Research, Usability Testing

Behavioral research around time management and a usability study of iCal, Apple's native calendar application, for a Microsoft Outlook product. 

I worked in a team of three classmates as a participant recruiter and co-researcher in this project. The purpose of this project was to learn how college students manage their time, and conduct a usability study of iCal, a competitor application. This project was part of the Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) graduate curriculum at the University of Washington. 



A few weeks into the project, our focus shifted due to development issues of the prototype. The following steps were taken since then: 

1. Stakeholder meeting to re-identify research goals
3. Usability study preparation
4. Usability study execution
5. Analysis of findings
6. Present findings to stakeholders



Microsoft dominates in most companies as the platform for planning and communicating between teams. Among college students however, Microsoft applications are barely used. Through our stakeholder meeting, we identified two goals: 

1. Learn what platforms college students use and their defining features that makes students continuously use it
2. Learn what defining features exist in iCal, a competitor application, to consider implementing in the prototype




Participants & Recruitment

We recruited 8 college students, ages 18-24 from the University of Washington with the following characteristics: 

- College student, age 18-24
- iPhone users
- [4 participants] Uses a non-digital platform to manage time
- [4 participants] Uses a digital platform to manage time
- Willing to share their personal information with us

Participants were recruited from the University of Washington Class of 2015 Facebook group. 

Testing Approach

We divided each study into three parts:

1. (30 minutes) Participants sit with a moderator and notetaker to share current methods and personal time management platform.
2. (25 minutes) Participants sit with a different moderator to perform tasks on a sample iPhone which carries the iCal application.
3. (5 minutes) Participants answer follow up questions. 

Due to limited resources, studies overlapped with two participants in the lab at the same time, but not in the same study. 


 Friday team meetings over dinner to plan our usability study. 

Friday team meetings over dinner to plan our usability study. 



The study was held at Microsoft's Seattle lab with two observation rooms and two testing rooms. Our mentors, Josh and Montine, supported us throughout the day by helping us set up, record our studies, and give constructive feedback. We each took turns being a moderator and notetaker for both parts of the study. 



It was really insightful learning about the different methods people use to manage their time. To analyze this qualitative data, we created affinity diagrams to sort our data into categories, finding patterns and commonalities across their tools. 

For the usability test, we rated participants on how successful they were in completing the task and recorded quotes and observations for each task. We also used an affinity diagram to identify key pain points. 

 The start of our affinity diagramming. Writing out the biggest observations we had in the study.

The start of our affinity diagramming. Writing out the biggest observations we had in the study.



Synthesizing data from both parts of our study, we found the following features desired by participants: 

1. Personalization - Participants want to personalize their calendar and schedules with color, labels, font type, stickers, and even notification to help prioritize their tasks and events. 
2. Accessibility & Discoverability - Participants want to access snapshots of their schedule, their tasks and their to-do lists in a quick and visually clean manner. 
3. Sense of accomplishment and success - Consider allowing users to visually check off or cross out finished tasks and events. This empowers users and gives them a sense of accomplishment. 
4. Autonomy - Participants want to feel in control of their schedule whether the schedule is objectively organized or not. Consider allowing flexibility so that users feel empowered and organized.



Our study gained valuable insights and desires of college students and their time management process. We received positive feedback from our stakeholders and their team. Our findings led to concrete design recommendations for Microsoft Outlook's product and shed light on possible future directions for the prototype.  



Before the study, we conducted a pilot and iterated our script. We quickly realized however, that the script is always changing and as a moderator, it's difficult to stay on script 100% of the time. We learned how to speak on the go to different types of participants, and received a lot of great feedback from Josh to improve our moderating skills.  

We are tremendously thankful to our mentors Josh and Montine who guided us in our research process, especially when the focus shifted due to development issues. This taught us to be flexible and creative with our research strategy.