Design a Thoughtful UX for Your Connected Device With Early Prototype Testing

By Helen King
July 22, 2022

User testing your digital product before it hits the market is a no-brainer. It’s a practical and effective way to identify key issues and opportunities before you put it in your customer’s hands.

But conducting early testing of your IoT device along with its companion app is tough. How do you design a thoughtful user experience when the device is still in production? 

Using high-fidelity prototypes for testing are certainly ideal, but getting one for your physical product can take too long. You just want to keep moving. So you’ll save user testing for the validation phase.

But consider this: conducting user testing in the product definition phase has more benefits than you think. And you don’t need to wait for a high-fidelity prototype to do it. 

A low-fidelity prototype of your physical product will do the trick — and ensure a higher likelihood of adoption and retention with your customers when your product hits the market. Not only that, but early prototype testing will close user experience gaps and save your product team wasted effort on a UX that doesn’t fit. 

No high-fidelity prototype? No problem.

UX Can Make or Break the Success of Your Connected Product

Your new connected device may fill a void in the market. It may be a long-awaited solution to a problem for its users that doesn’t exist in any other form. But just because it’s valuable doesn’t mean it automatically comes with a good user experience. 

A poor user experience can repel users from adopting your product. It may not fit with their current behaviors or match their expectations of how it should work, causing them to abandon the product after failed attempts at making it work for them.

And this is why early user testing during product definition is essential. 

It’s certainly not easy. Connected products have the added challenge of creating a clear and simple user experience for the device itself and its companion app. The two need to work together seamlessly to be truly valuable and enticing for the user to adopt.

When you perform prototype testing with users earlier in your process, you can find where your user experience needs work, paving the way for a smoother concept, design, and roll out.

Inspire a Stronger UX by Capturing User Behaviors and Expectations From the Get-Go

Your users may interact with your product in a totally different way than you’d expect them to. But how do you discover those behaviors, routines, and habits and adapt your UX accordingly? 

You got it: testing with prototypes. 

New connected products mean new user behaviors, effectively changing the current way people achieve a goal or complete a task by giving them something completely new to do the job. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it easy for product teams to anticipate how users will engage with the product and app when it’s in their hands for the first time.

Behavioral prototype testing is a method for understanding user behaviors by how they engage with low-fidelity prototypes. This form of testing may reveal situations when users want to go to the app versus the device to control their smart home product. It may show they prefer to use your health monitoring device while on-the-go, not just at home. How will that affect the product’s design and technology?

Learning users’ behaviors, habits, and preferences supports your team’s ability to design to these realities the first time around. Instead of going back to the drawing board after negative reviews, you can spend more time creating your next conversion-driving feature.

Integrate Behavioral Prototyping for Effective Early Usability Testing

Your product is in one hand. Its companion app is in the other. Designing a cohesive experience that marries the two is no small feat — especially when you don’t have the fully functioning device and technology. 

Your team can’t stall designing the device interface or app experience while your physical product gets made. And that’s when you turn to behavioral prototyping. 

Behavioral prototyping is all about understanding the human factors of how people interact with products — digital or physical. You can test with a mix of low-fidelity physical and high-fidelity app prototypes to simulate the user experience. Then, observe and learn how participants use and engage with each component, separately and together, to create a better overall experience.

We know this works because we’ve done it with our clientsThe device was a sophisticated health and wellness tool with a companion app. While the product was still in production, we employed simple device prototypes without any working technology to understand how users could interact with the device in different scenarios. Think 3D-printed models of the device. (Something as rudimentary as a foamcore model could work, too.)

We designed a high-fidelity app prototype to dig into key information needs and support the overall user experience of the device.

With the app prototype (high-fidelity) and non-functioning device prototype (low-fidelity), we set up in-person usability sessions. We wanted to understand how users approached the intersection of digital and physical product experiences. Because this product was new, it would be hard to predict how users would do this. So we watched and learned.

We observed critical aspects that either helped or hindered their learning curves. We also discovered the factors that influenced how they experienced and understood the product’s potential value and how it would integrate into their lifestyle.

Early Prototype Testing Delivers Deeper Insights

You don’t like to wait to learn how you can enhance your product’s utility, strengthen your user experience, or improve your device interface. 

Luckily, by applying behavioral prototyping, you don’t have to. The insights and benefits are uncovered from the beginning. 

The results garnered from your prototype testing will undoubtedly provide clear direction on how to refine the device’s companion app content, information architecture, and overall user experience for supported device usage. 

You’ll uncover new learnings that impact other aspects of the experience, too. You may find insights and implications for the physical device design that change the way it’s held in a user’s hand. Product terminology may need to be changed to make more sense to the user. And your instructional content may need to be more visual to guide the user in learning the product.

Of course, any type of testing can be daunting to conduct, especially early on in the life of your product. Let us take the testing reins and gather the data you need to inform a more insightful design.