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Usability testing: designing by humans for humans


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Written by Sian Cook.  

According to the UK Consumer Digital Index 2019 (CDI) approximately 11.9 million adults, 22% of the UK population, lack essential digital skills needed to benefit from the digital world (see Figure 1). A further 6 million adults (11%) cannot turn on a device, and 7.1 million adults (13%) cannot open an App (Lloyds Bank, 2019). The 2019 report also concluded that approximately 4.1 million adults (8%) are not online at all, almost half of which are under 60 years old, and people with a registered disability are 35% are less likely to have the essential digital skills necessary for daily life in the UK.

Figure 1: The five categories of Essential Digital Skills for life and work (Crown, 2018).

For those with a registered disability, 11% use assistive technologies, however 21% say that technology is unsuitable for their condition to help them go online. In a highly digitised world, and with digital becoming the new norm for public services access, digital exclusion is leading to the marginalisation of populations (Cebr, 2018) and potentially affecting quality of life. The Connected Together project, being trialled in Suffolk, is investigating this issue. 

Funded by Innovate UK, Connected Together is an 18-month project, which aims to provide digital technology and connectivity to those who need them most. By combining multiple services (social care, communities and families’ services) on a single connectivity infrastructure, Connected Together is determining how an orchestrated and personalised digital approach impacts quality of life for the individual, and assessing the effectiveness and impact of this approach on public service provision costs. ​

Figure 2: A Connected Together participant video calling a family member for the first time © Sian Cook

Method and Technology

Over the course of the trial, participants are given a tablet that enables them to be online and learn essential digital skills reflected in the Essential Digital Skills Framework (EDSF) (Department for Education, 2019). Cohort selection criteria include participants who live alone, are social care customers and have limited to no access to digital technology. Through the tablet, participants have access to online public services, online banking and shopping, video call technology to communicate with family members and social care professionals, and online information about local activities (see Figure 2). An additional app created by a technology partner is TRIBE – a community platform aimed at a user creating a request and a person in the local community fulfilling that need. Participants’ digital skills, feelings of social isolation and loneliness, and quality of life before, during and after the project are being measured through both qualitative (questionnaires) and quantitative (software metrics) methods.

Throughout the Connected Together project, the University of Suffolk has conducted extensive usability testing regarding ways to strengthen technology adoption among older adults. Usability testing involves observing a user interact with a digital product – websites, app, wireframe, software – with the intention of making the product easier to use. Usability sessions have also included capability-loss simulations (see Figure 3). These sessions involve users wearing gloves or glasses that simulate a dexterity or visual condition, with the intention of strengthening the accessibility of the technology.

Figure 3:  A user conducting a usability testing session while wearing capability-loss gloves and glasses. © Sian Cook

Usability test sessions and capability-loss simulations have been conducted with Connected Together participants and volunteer testers, whom together have helped to improve the design of the Connected Together tablet’s user interface and hardware. Software redesigns include changing the user interface to incorporate bright coloured icons with pictures (see Figure 4) and adding a border around the edge of the screen to prevent users from accidentally selecting icons while holding the tablet. Hardware changes include providing a case with a stand to enable the use of both hands to interact with the tablet; a magnetic charging cable to allow users to easily charge the device, and a thickset stylus pen to assist those with weakened grip with touchscreen interaction.

Figure 4: The image above shows the most recent user interface for the Connected Together project. This design is based on University of Suffolk research and participant feedback.

Capturing feedback from real users has helped to design a device that is usable and personable, as well as provide insights that question the usability of current technology. For example, for those living with dexterity conditions, adding a case to the tablet can significantly increase the weight of the tablet. For some participants, the device became too heavy to hold in their hands so they are supported it against their trunk to improve stability. This impacted the way they interacted with the tablet, as they were only able to use the device with one hand, and the compensated position made the tablet more difficult to access. Other findings include digital technology adoption barriers, including having a lack of digital knowledge and cybersecurity and privacy concerns. Such findings influence the type of hardware modifications that can be made to improve the accessibility of the tablet, as well as help refine the type of social care needs that may be met using this type of technology.  

The University of Suffolk’s recent contribution to the University of Cambridge’s Inclusive Design Toolkit News Bulletin further highlights the benefits of conducting capability-loss simulations with users to improve the accessibility of digital products.

Overall, usability test findings have suggested that simple adaptations made to the technology, such as colouring the on/off button, changing size of the text or providing a stand if the technology is too heavy to hold, can strengthen technology adoption. In addition to software and hardware enhancements, usability testing with Connected Together participants has provided insights into the way people interact with technology, and highlighted technology adoption barriers, such as lack of digital knowledge, and cybersecurity and privacy concerns. In conclusion, usability testing allows user feedback to be incorporated into the design of a digital product, to ensure that digital devices are designed by people, for people.



Cebr (2018). The Economic Impact of Digital Inclusion in the UK: A report for Good Things Foundation. London: Cebr.

Crown (2018). Essential Digital Skills Framework. 

Department for Education (2019) Essential Digital Skills Framework. Available at: (Accessed 26 November 2019)

Lloyds Bank (2019) UK Consumer Digital Index 2019. London: Lloyds Bank PLC.

University of Cambridge (2019). Strengthening Digital Technology Adoption Among Older Adults, Inclusive Design Toolkit;

News Bulletin Issue 5 (Autumn 2019). (Accessed 26 November 2019)



Great post. The Fogg Model outlines this really well. The simpler something is to use, the more likely we are to be motivated enough to use it. Much of tech has got over complicated by the continuing addition of new features. Getting back to basic is a great opportunity to focus on usability and access for all.

James Harding MBCS

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