Usability Testing for Hardware / IoT


Wondering if anyone has experience doing usability testing for hardware. I’ve been charged with designing and conducting usability studies for a b2b IoT product used on construction sites. Use of the product is highly contextual so the interviews have to be conducted on-site. Are there any best practices or learning that differ from software usability studies?


@AshleaMcKay may have an opinion on this. Her background is in industrial design.


There really isn’t- and that’s a good thing!

Software, hardware, services, spaces, furniture etc are all products. They all offer experiences and they all need to be tested.

I once ran usability testing on a cardboard box - I’m not joking.

It was one evil little box.

It was a flat pack that you buy from a self-storage provider to store books in. It was doubled over in thickness due to folds and the lid was attached. When it was flat, it was the size of an A0 piece of paper. It had a number of issues:

-reference points and labels didn’t match the instructions
-the instructions were printed on the box and were concealed on the first fold
-it was impossible to tell what the finished box would look like
and more that I can’t remember right now.

Anyway, so we tested it and all we did for the task was ask participants to fold the box. We filmed it, took notes and there was a facilitator there asking the usual questions. After the task was finished (no one was able to fold the damn thing during the first test) we asked the participants some questions to finish and sent them on their merry way.

It really was no different to testing a website.

In your case, you’re going to want to pay special attention to the contextual environment that you’re dealing with. Safety is obviously the big one but you might also need to consider the possibility that your participant’s boss and or co workers will be nearby during testing (most likely for safety reasons) which can influence the way people behave.


Hi Laci, this reply is late & probably irrelevant now (I’ve been on holidays & unplugged!) but IoT in your situation would benefit from techniques such as participant observation, field studies/interviews, diary studies. You might also consider conducting a lo-fi simulation or hiring a well-equipped Usability Lab and setting up a simulation with multiple camera positions and recording. This will take time and $ so the value to the client would need to be very high!


No worries! Thanks so much for this!