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7th September 2021

Product Testing: Should I do it myself?

Why testing your own products during the design process can be problematic 

Product testing is a hugely important part of the product development process.  

Testing types that are often needed. 

As design teams continue to push the boundaries of emerging technology this can lead to a huge number of opportunities. Successful products can have a hugely positive effect on both the customers who use them and the companies who create them. 

However, failing to test a product can be detrimental to both the profitability and usability of a product and hamper its success and sales.  The adage that you only get one chance to make a first impression is as true for new products as it is for people. 

Here are some of the pitfalls to watch out for: 

Why engineering teams can be too focussed  

Having a team of engineers working together who think in a similar way can be a great thing, but when they are all focussed on the end goal it can be easy for things to get missed. This can occur for several reasons. 

Engineers test with the same assumptions they used to design 

It’s very difficult to manually test a product which you have designed.  The “correct” operation of a device is “obvious” and ‘only an idiot would press that button now’.  The trouble is buttons are made to be pressed and edge cases will be exposed when the product is operated by unfamiliar users.  Give the product to someone without a demonstration or run through and they will probably do things you never envisaged.  It is these interactions that may not have been designed for. 

The problem is spotted but gets forgotten 

No-one likes to be the one to tell their client or their boss that their product will not launch on time.  When a problem is going to impact a deadline there can be a huge temptation to sweep it under the carpet and hope it does not cause problems later.  

The problem is prioritised, but you lack the time to do it 

Don't be chained to time

We all have To-Do lists longer than our arms. If an area of product testing is particularly tricky or will take a long time to solve it can easily be pushed down the list of priorities, particularly when there are ‘more important’ deadlines to hit.  

It could also be that the engineer assigned to the task, or even the full team, don’t have the right experience to fix the problem. Engineering is a huge area, and it is inevitable that sooner or later a technical challenge will come up which is outside your area of expertise.  

Related service: Borrow an engineer

The problem is not spotted at all 

The main reasons problems aren’t spotted are twofold. 

Firstly you may have too few people and you don’t have the time to check everything. 

Secondly your team could be so big that no one is actively assigned to check that area of the product’s design. If they are tasked with checking the user interface operations of a touch screen display unit they may only test in their native language and assume that the German, French, Swedish and Arabic interface operates in the same way.  Alternatively they might not test it because it isn’t on their assigned list. Especially when they have deadlines to hit and are already working late or at weekends.. 

Related Blog: All About Design Reviews

What is the echo chamber effect and why is it a problem for product design? 

The echo chamber effect involves like-minded people spending time together and developing a tunnel vision approach to a problem.  

When you design a product the first people whose opinions you will seek will be your team or other people that you trust. Some people will want to please you and may not tell you that there’s a problem with your idea, even if they are sceptical. 

Even focus groups and surveys can have this problem when selecting people to take part. For obvious reasons it can be a good idea to use people you trust for the initial research stage but there is then a need to branch out further to gain a broader picture of views from your target audience. 

The echo chamber effect is a hot topic at present on social media networks where it is becoming easier to hide and block any ideology that doesn’t fit in with your world view. 

In the same way it can be surprisingly easy to sit within your comfort zone by surrounding yourself with a supportive team and helpful suppliers. This may also extend to your wider circle as you interact in a bubble with in-market LinkedIn audiences or virtual networking events. These may offer a wonderful sense of community and positivity but could offer less room for constructive criticism. 

In summary what are the main dangers of opting to test your design within your own team? 

  • Testing the product like an engineer not a user. 
  • Other priorities get in the way of the fix. 
  • You are short on time to do it yourself 
  • You only test a little due to time restraints 
  • Everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job 
  • The tunnel vision of the team can mean a problem isn’t picked up 
  • A lack of awareness of the need for verification testing 

What’s the best way to get your product design tested in an unbiased, thorough way? 

Use an external agency such as an electronics design consultancy. They may also have an extra layer of domain experience in the sector you are entering the product into.  

Also the testing then becomes a project in itself for your design partner. This means it will get the focus it deserves. It is not just another item on your team’s long list of things to do. It also frees up your team members to work on the initial designs of other projects and focus on important deadlines. 

There are several advantages to getting a product tested outside your team. 

  1. There are no insider politics. A design partner will be focussed on identifying problems that could impact your project launch success so that you have a full understanding of what issues there are.  That way you can decide whether pressing on to hit a launch date or holding back to fix showstopping issues is the right approach. 
  1. The project will have a time bound element – You are not waiting for your team to find the time to do it. You can communicate clearly with your design partner to establish the date you need your test results by. 
  1. Electronics design consultants and software engineers spend a great deal of time testing tech products and will be more likely to spot problems in areas you may overlook. 
  1. Bringing a design partner on board means you can quickly work with them as you need to, rather than waiting until there is an urgent problem.  

What about after the design stage? 

For the design stage getting an experienced engineer to check the product design is advantageous. But at the production stage the chances of human error in testing, or a lack of testing at all, can risk undoing your hard work at the design stage. Look out for our upcoming articles on this subject. You can sign up to our newsletter to get tech insights straight to your inbox on a monthly basis.  

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. You can find lots more on our blog section with top tips for embedded software development and electronics design 

Ignys could be your secret weapon  

When it comes to product testing we have a team of experts who can help. We also have environmental testing chambers on-site at our premises on Nottingham Science Park.  

We know testing your own design can sometimes not only be tricky but also be time consuming and let’s face it not the most interesting of tasks! 

If you’d like a call to discuss what testing you need and some refreshingly honest advice speak to us at Ignys today. 

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Blog authorship: Ignys MD Richard Fletcher and Hannah Ingram marketing manager. Read more in meet the team.