Putting it to the Test

Internal tests

As concepts are developed, team members put forth 2-5 concepts using sketches, descriptions or simple prototypes and get feedback from one another. The broader team, not just engineers and designers, are asked to use and react to prototypes so confusing aspects and ease of use issues can be identified early. Key user interface elements are prototyped and tested by a number of staff members before going further.

Prior to putting it to a test by others, the strength and functionality of a part or an assembly is tested both virtually (via CosmosExpress in SolidWorks), and by team members. Assemblies are checked for interference in SolidWorks and in an actual 3D assembly. Reviews of the manufacturability and cost implications of design choices are part of the internal assessment.

Tests for ease of use

Tests for ease of use typically take place with one or more prototypes—individuals are asked to try to do different tasks (ie, set up the tent or set lock positions). Task sets will be different for individuals with disabilities and the other Key people. Different levels of instruction may be provided, ranging from none, to verbal prompts to written instructions. They may be asked to talk aloud, telling us what they’re thinking or assuming. They are then asked to complete forms to rate the ease of use, intuitiveness, difficulty of the different setups. Results guide future development.

It’s very important to invite people to be frank—let them know that you know it’s far from perfect, and you want their honest feedback.

Testing with end users

Accessibility and usability by individuals with disabilities and others are hallmarks of BlueSky Designs’ products. As products are developed, different people are in mind—those with dexterity, range of motion, and strength issue, such as people with CP, Muscular Dystrophy and ALS, MS, Strokes and different levels of Spinal Cord Injury.

During the testing, people encompassing the full range of those you feel will be end users should be involved in different stages of development. Oftentimes, their feedback and preferences will be different than the therapists or families. Initial testing will take place in a controlled setting, but eventually it should take place in the environment in which it will be used.

Testing with key people

The second critical aspect is that it is easy for those who assist in the setup or use of the device. For example, a family member or therapist may attach a Mount’n Mover to a wheelchair. The person using a speech device attached to it may be moving or adjusting it. These two aspects are different, but both are designed to be as easy as possible.

The advantage of working with therapists is they will be able to assess it with a broad range of individuals in mind. Family members will anticipate issues and situations critical to the success or failure in everyday use. Tests include both equipment design and adequacy of instructions.

Strength and durability testing

It’s difficult to anticipate the forces, stresses and use a product will be put to—especially if it is flexible in its design and will be used by a wide range of end users. The intended use and actual use are always a bit different. As you design a product, you must think about “worst case scenarios”, possible forces or environmental factors the person and product may encounter. In addition, a reasonable calculation of usage is made in order to put the device through cycle testing.

Some physical tests can be conducted with prototypes, but others cannot be conducted until you have one or more prototypes or the real product in hand. The tests will vary significantly based on the product. For example, the tents developed were tested on actual camping trips—first by our staff, and then on a group camping trips with mixed groups of people with and without disabilities and also by families on their vacations. Nothing “tests” a tent like a thunderstorm! Not even a hose or sprinkler… And a Mount’n Mover can be fully loaded, but we didn’t anticipate a person using it as a pushup bar, for transferring. Expect the unexpected! Be ready to redesign it after it’s released… and put to Real World testing.

Next: Design for production