Is It User-Friendly? This New Lab Will Find Out.

By Dr. Amanda Stewart
National Center for Telehealth and Technology
This past year, I’ve had the pleasure to be the government lead overseeing the development and launch of the Technology Enhancement Center, a state-of-the-art usability lab here at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. T2 focuses on creating technologic solutions for Service Members around mental health and well-being, and created this lab to make sure our products are easy for them to learn and be effective in the real world.

Courtesy T2 Photos

Most people don’t know what a usability lab is or does; I most certainly didn’t when I was first involved in its development. What I’ve come to learn is that usability testing ensures that new technology makes intuitive sense to the user and isn’t frustrating to operate. In other words, testing helps make technology easy to use. A great example is when you get a new phone or new tech toy. How many of you read the manual? Most of us don’t. We want to pick it up and start using it. If it’s hard to use or doesn’t make sense, we often get frustrated and either don’t use it again, call someone for technical help, or break down and try and read the manual. It makes you wonder why everything doesn’t go through usability testing!
The lab opened October 14th and is already running its first few studies. One of the products I work on – a new mobile app – just went through the lab for initial testing. I got to see firsthand as the usability testing process surfaced a number of user issues I would have never known about had testing not been possible. Now I know, when this app is released it will NOT be one of the apps you open, get upset with, and never use again. After all, it will already been put through its paces by service members, making it better than I could have alone.
While the lab is only currently being used by T2, it is expected that our lab will offer testing for the DoD and VA wide. What this says to me is that the military is committed to not just making products, but values collaboration with service members and veterans for their feedback on the products that are in development. This ensures that the DoD/VA is dedicated to investing wisely and developing products that the military community will appreciate and use.

Dr. Amanda Stewart is a program manager with the Innovative Technology Applications Division (ITA) at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2). In addition to managing the testing of projects run through T2’s Technology Enhancement Center (TEC), she is a key contributor to several ITA projects focused on leveraging technology to support warriors, veterans, and military families.