Testing Wearables: The Human Experience

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Summary:
When a networked device is physically attached to us and works with us and through us, the more personal, even emotional, the interaction is. With wearables, the user becomes a part of the Internet of Things. Gerie Owen realized that consequently, a human user must be an integral part of testing wearables. Here, she details this human experience testing.

In the 2011 Boston Marathon, everyone running had a wearable attached to their clothing. In the race bib with their name and registration number, there was also an RFID, or radio-frequency identification, chip, which recorded the runner’s exact race time by detecting when the runner crossed the start and finish lines.

The first time this system was tried, there was only one glitch: not all the RFID chips registered with the readers. As a tester I found this fascinating, but the Boston situation was personal—I was in the race.

No, the failure did not create a life-threatening situation. But it did create a great deal of consternation and disappointment for runners whose race times were not recorded. For runners with an Olympic qualifying time or personal record, their elation and joy at the finish line turned to grief and anguish when they found out their times did not register and were not recorded with the Boston Athletic Association. I was one of those runners.

As a tester, I began to question not only what had and had not been tested, but also the impact of the failure on the user. I realized that what all wearables have in common is that they have a purpose or function that is coupled with human interaction, providing value by enabling the user to achieve a goal. Unless the runner ran the course and stepped on the mats, the chip in the runner’s bib would have no way of providing any value.

This analysis led me to realize that the human user must be an integral part of the testing of wearables. Furthermore, the closer a device becomes to a human, the more important the human’s role in testing becomes. When a networked device is physically attached to us and works with us and through us, the more personal, even emotional, the interaction is. With wearables, the user becomes a part of the Internet of Things. From this experience, I devised a method to test this collaboration, which I call human experience testing.

Human Experience Testing

Human experience testing focuses on testing the interaction with the wearable and on how the value is provided. It differs from usability testing in scope, depth, and approach. It involves testing in the “real world” of the user: when and where the device will be used; the interaction between the device and the users’ actions, senses, and emotions; and how that interaction will provide value.

The most effective way to design human experience tests is using human-computer interaction design principles. A persona is a model of a potential user. Personas are developed by listing all the characteristics of the user, including age, family background, level of education, occupation, socioeconomic status, physical size and condition, gender, hopes and desires, point of view, values, and life expectations.

By developing personas, we delve into the users’ personalities and characteristics and we begin to understand their expectations of the device. Then we create user value stories to test the ways in which the human—or, in the case of some wearables, animal—user will achieve value from the device.

For any particular mobile device or wearable, there may be several different personas, and there will be several user value stories for each persona. If the device will be worn by an animal—for example, the Whistle, a fitness tracker for dogs—there will be multiple personas for both the dogs and the dog owners, and there will be several user value stories attached to each set.

Test scenarios based on the personas and user value stories include testing the physical, sensory, orientation, geographical, and contextual expectations the users have for the device or wearable. The test scenarios also involve the emotional, physical, and sensory reactions, biases, and mindsets, as well as the social expectations and interactions, of the user.

User Comments

1 comment
Laszlo Szegedi's picture

A nice introduction to persona testing.

December 28, 2015 - 4:03am

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