Usability Testing & User Research for Safety Critical Systems
My time at General Motors gaining extensive experience in user research and usability testing
During the summer and fall of 2022, I had the incredible opportunity to work at General Motors Canadian Technical Centre (CTC), Oshawa. As the innovation hub of GM, the CTC is the heart of Advanced Technology Work (ATW) projects that shape the future of vehicles. As part of the Studio North team, I led Design Thinking at CTC. My primary focus was gaining expertise in conducting user research and usability testing. I planned and executed surveys, user interviews, and usability testing sessions, both remotely and in person. The insights from these studies informed design decisions as well as guided critical GO/NO-GO decisions for project advancements.
Creative Design Intern
2 Senior Designers
Overview of the 8 months
Things I did at GM
01 User Research
I actively created user research plans to define the research objective and core research questions and wrote interview scripts. I conducted user interviews in both remote and in-person settings.
03 Data Synthesis & Design Recommendation
By conducting qualitative and quantitative analysis of user data, I delivered actionable design recommendations and proposed areas of further exploration next phase of feature advancement.
05 Managing Studio North's Website
With a background in software development, I took up the responsibility to maintain and update the team’s website. I designed and added 20+ new web pages.
02 Usability Testing
I collaborated closely with engineers to plan and execute usability testing for in-vehicle features. This involved defining test objectives, establishing measurable metrics, and crafting user test scenarios. I moderated usability testing in the garage, test-track and open-field environments.
04 User Recruitment
Leading the user recruitment process, I ensured that each study had a balanced representation of the level of skill, age, gender, and any other relevant experience.
06 Design Huddle & Design Newsletter
Being a UX evangelist at heart, I assumed the responsibility for organizing and hosting the bi-weekly Design Huddles that were regularly attended by 100+ GM employees, including senior executives, across North America. I also authored design newsletters that were circulated to over 500 GM employees.
Highlight in Numbers
My time at GM was full of learning and my team helped me to push out of my comfort zone to grow. Below is a summary of my achievements in numbers.
User studies conducted
Design Huddles organized
Study templates created
Design Newsletters published
UX Guidebook created
Projects I worked on
All projects I worked on are under NDA, below is an overview of the project domains for which I conducted user research and usability testing.
Features to assist drivers in hitching gooseneck trailers to their truck.
Providing guidance to drivers for safely maneuvering vehicles with a trailer in tight spots.
HMI - Vehicle Dashboard
Improving visibility of vehicle dashboard in different lighting conditions.
Enhancing 360 Surround View capabilities for better visibility.
Composing crash reports for investigation.
Helping drivers of lower trim vehicles to precisely park in indoor garage.
Electric Vehicles & Autonomous Vehicles
Facilitating sharing of EV chargers among car owners.
Developing clear and effective signages for AVs.
Things I learned
01 Identify Appropriate Metrics
Not all usability metrics are important and relevant in a design. It is important to identify the most important metric and then determine how to measure it.
03 Create Realistic Test Scenarios
If the test scenarios do not match with real life, the users will not be able to provide authentic feedback. Only instruct users on what to do not how.
02 Always Run a Pilot Test
No matter how thought out a study plan is, running a pilot test session brings out gaps and areas of improvement. It helps refine the flow of questions, tweak the test scenario and iron out logistics.
04 Give Users Time to Think
When trying to dig deeper into a topic with users, sometimes the best thing is to remain silent to give them time and space to think.
The GM Experience in Photos
Embracing the safety shoes
Reflecting on the experience
We only learn when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. At GM, I found myself in many new situations that challenged me and therefore helped me grow.
01 Learning the Automobile Domain
Being completely new, familiarizing myself with the automobile industry was a steep learning curve. I had to learn many new concepts to effectively execute usability testing.
03 Breaking Out of My Introvert Shell
Leading user recruitment for all studies and hosting the Design Huddle events helped me overcome my introverted traits and open up to spontaneous conversations. This is an area I will continue working on.
02 Working with Safety Critical Systems
Vehicles are extremely powerful machines, therefore strict safety protocols must be followed while working. It often meant making changes to test plans and tweaking test scenarios to ensure user safety at all times.