December 9, 2019
At Novus Labs, we’ve had the privilege of seeing nearly every kind of product come through our doors. From the latest smart home products to futuristic VR headsets, we enjoy putting tech through its paces. At the end of the day, we are nerds who love to tinker and part of the fun of being a test engineer is getting to push products to the absolute brink of their capabilities. Through it all, we’ve picked up some important lessons that could be the difference between a product becoming the next big gadget phenomenon, or a flop that could have been saved with some vital testing. Below are three of the biggest mistakes we see that could be easily found avoided through testing.
Components and Suppliers Count More Than You Think
This sneaks up more than most people think. It’s absolutely crucial to have multiple suppliers and avoid custom or single-source components. This seemingly small tip can hold big trouble at bay down the line. It’s a basic matter not putting all of your eggs in a single basket. Diversifying can protect you from production and unexpected supply troubles in the future. Additionally, designers should be sure not to integrate components slated for obsolescence. Think ahead and think in the long-term. Moreover, environmental regulations such as RoHS may impact availability. If that sounds like a whole bunch of factors to consider, you’re right – it is! A good test lab will be able to help you strengthen kinks in your components chain. We see issues with components time and time again, and it comes back to bite when ignored for too long.
Software Can Make or Break Everything
You won’t find many categories more broad than software testing. That said, the issues we generally see are with user flows and interoperability. The Out of Box Experience becomes the primary concern in this sort of context. When the product is delivered to the customer, ensuring that the first interaction a customer has with it is positive is absolutely crucial. When software doesn’t integrate seamlessly, the whole experience can come crashing down. The excitement and momentum is immediately lost if a smart product can perform a basic function like connecting to Wi-Fi or find other products in its respective ecosystem. Not only does it reflect poorly on the product and company, but it can be a serious obstacle to product adoption and customer retention. Word gets around fast when something doesn’t work! Again, a good test lab is equipped to test that software into the ground. You have to go beyond hardware testing – if there are bugs to be found, it’s vital to find them.
Design Is Key, But Not in The Way You Think
This may be a no brainer, and also another seemingly broad category. There is, of course, all of the outward-facing considerations like cosmetic fit-and-finish, ergonomics, user interfaces (buttons, switches, LEDs, etc.), and status indicators. But then there’s the less common considerations that require a little more thought, like material selection. For example, it’s a bad idea to enclose a wireless device in ferrous materials, or other unshielded I/O ports in close proximity to each other that can cause interference and performance degradation. There is the artistic element of design that can get wild in all sorts of ways, but how materials work together under duress may not always be on the minds of designers. Systems should be designed to minimize the risk of intra-system interference.
There are a lot of factors to be considered when creating a product – no doubt. Rigorous testing is more than just making sure the product does what it is supposed to do. It means focusing on interoperability, seeing how the product plays with other products, and really getting into the DNA of its design. Unfortunately, these are hurdles that many in-house teams are not always equipped to tackle. The role of a test lab like ours is not to simply throw a product through a standard set of tests, give a thumbs up or down, and send the customer on their way. Ideally, we are hitting a balance of testing, communication, and design in which we work with the customer to deliver the absolute best version of their product to market.
Eric Faucette has been a Novus Labs Engineering Lead since 2011, overseeing a diverse range of projects from Amazon, Google, Microsoft and more. A graduate of both the University of Houston and Portland State University, Eric’s educational and professional career are both steeped in engineering and testing environments. With nearly a decade of testing under his belt, Eric is one of Novus’ most seasoned engineers.