Though I am not an anthropologist, it seems to me that people are born with an innate affinity for tools – physical things that they can interact with that make both work and play simpler and richer. In the absence of more realistic toys, small children will use sticks in their play. Despite the amazing technology behind the XBOX Kinect and Sony’s PlayStation Move, game controllers, steering wheels, and joysticks remain popular gaming accessories.
Product developers today must consider the entire product ecosystem, from web and apps to devices and services. Hardware devices often fit into these ecosystems as enablers of the full experience, or at least as the access point to the experience. These devices are often not an overtly featured part of the experience, but the quality they convey reflects on the entire ecosystem. And when designed and executed well, they satisfy the user’s desire to interact with a physical object.
Experience designers and engineers must work closely together if these devices are going to be great. Fast Company has written about the growing prominence of “experience innovation”. In a recent article at Core77, the author makes the point that “the experience is the product”. How can product design teams best enable great experience design?
This one is (mostly) for the engineers. The up-front experience design effort is not the time to be fussy about production details. It is the time to loosen up, to say “yes”, and to explore. The code does not have to be perfect, the circuit boards can have some jumpers, and the plastic parts do not have to be tool-ready. Cheat, cheat, cheat!
Make It Real, Quickly
Rapid iteration coupled with focused user testing is often key to designing great experiences. And all the more so if the testing is done with devices that look and feel like a well-done product. Leveraging existing things is a great way to pull this off quickly. What code can be re-used? Can an existing product be disassembled and repackaged? Does it really need to be wireless at this early stage or would a small, discrete cable be OK? Questions like this can help focus the team on what is most important at this phase of the project.
Make Building Blocks, Not Dead-Ends
Teams have an opportunity to save time and get more compelling results by iterating in stages. Let’s imagine developing a new smart watch. First, get the screen working and let it communicate via a tether. Then, get the microphone and speakers working. Finally, get all the wireless communication working and eliminate the tether. At each stage, critical functionality can be evaluated technically and undergo user testing. And the stages can then build upon each other, adding breadth and value to each phase of the development program.
Flexibility, creative engineering support and focused, staged iteration can bring key value to your team’s experience design successes.