Technology By Clara Lu — Date 05.16.2017

mitte®’s human-centered approach to product design and development

The hallmark of a great hardware product lies in its usability - it’s effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in the context of use.

As we are well-aware, getting users to adopt new behaviors or even modify their existing behaviors with a new, innovative technology is as tough as replacing the QWERTY keyboard with its contenders.

So how do you ensure a product-market fit? Launch a minimal viable product that your first hundred customers will love? Enter a market that is teeming with competition? And essentially..design something that users actually need?

The answer: Apply a human, or user-centered approach to product design and development. How? Through user testing. Many, many rounds of it.

At mitte®, Enikő Rozsnyói, Business Development Analyst, works on product development and innovation. Here are her insights on the Whats and Hows of placing users first.

eniko-on-placing-users-first

 

Challenges and decisions to make when applying a user-centered approach

1. Hardware vs. software

“Especially for hardware startups like mitte®, it is exceedingly difficult to release physical prototypes and access the right participants for testing. Unlike in software companies where a prototype can be released to and tested by many people at once, achieving the same here is more costly and time-consuming.

We have to overcome long iteration cycles (including sourcing, tooling and manufacturing) and costly prototyping throughout user testing rounds with the following methods.”

2. In-house vs. outsourcing

“It is always better if a start up takes research and testing into its own hands. You have more control over research methods and get first-hand information from participants via close interactions. Besides saving on the cost of hiring an agency, this also cultivates a user-centered approach throughout your entire team.”

3. Quality vs. quantity

“Our preferred user testing format was to conduct in-depth interviews instead of sending mass surveys. With large-scale surveys, costs and efforts can skyrocket and you can never be sure if the participants recruited are the right target audiences for your product.

On the other hand, in-depth interviews are effective, they provide us with first hand information about our user community, and allow us to get to know our users better – the results are more informative for our design and development processes.”

 

Steps to building a human-focused testing process

1. Test the product idea

We gathered user insights from Day One, meaning the very start where we already knew what we wanted to build and how it would look like, but still with a lot of room for the product to be improved upon.

user-centered approach to product design and development

Through these interviews during the early phases of engineering and design, we were able to validate our initial product idea for mitte®, and made it the basis to set product requirements such as the capacity of our machine’s storage tank, and including a non-plumbed-in machine alongside the plumbed-in version. Personas were also formed from these insights and were paramount in our go-to-market strategies.

2. Validate the product ecosystem

As it is impossible to make speedy iterations with a hardware product, don’t wait around for user feedback until a functional prototype is ready. We went ahead with validating elements of the hardware ecosystem.

The point of this exercise was not to test the hardware itself, but to test our hypotheses on the business and pricing model, problem statement, messaging, and so forth.

3. Proceed with low-fidelity prototypes

Once there was something that worked and looked like a prototype, we carried out user testing to test our uncertainties – Will people buy the mitte® machine? Will they be able to use it?

We used machine renderings and a cardboard box with drawn-on LED lights and buttons to observe interactions test participants had with the interface. Similarly, we prepared website mockups and app screenshots to get feedback on messaging and app features.

low fidelity prototype for user testing low fidelity prototype for user testing_2

4. Build connected hardware

When the hardware product is out in the market, having a companion mobile app working in conjunction with the machine would help with continuous data collection of actual user behavior. Once launched, it is difficult to track usage just through the hardware, while the connected software or app builds on benefits from software usage.

The metrics and data points (mostly quantitative) gathered about product usage can be used to inform further product development.

The mitte® app, besides providing users with more functionalities and control over the hardware, also serves this purpose. By collecting and providing our engineers with more information on user behaviour, retention, and churn, we will be able to improve the product line further.

user-centered approach - app testing

5. Beta testers

As we approach production stage and can easily have final machines manufactured, it will soon be time to carry out beta testing. Test participants who personify our personas will be able to use our machine for a couple of weeks.

By then, it will be too late to make major changes on the hardware. Yet small changes can still be made to the firmware and smartphone app, like tweaking the machine setup process or switching LED icon colors.

The main outcome will be to identify issues with longer term product usage, make the current product model as perfect for users as possible, and collect insights for the next product model.

These rounds of testing seem arduous and happened often. But they were worth it. We conducted tests whenever major changes were made to the product or product offer, and whenever we were uncertain about the features or business strategy.

As we move full speed ahead, we’re excited to launch our crowdfunding campaign in September 2017 and improve lives with better water. This continuous and constant iteration process will go on as we approach our launch.

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