Raise's development process (Part 1: user testing)

This is the first of multiple articles about Raise’s development process. If you want a TL;DR of these articles, check this video we tweeted about our development process. For the last month we’ve been developing Raise, specifically Raise v3. We’ve built 3 working prototypes, each improved after testing our hypothesis with users. We tested with gamers, professional League of legends players, designers and coders. Although they all had some different needs and opinions, most of them were common ones. And a few of them surprised us. In any company, every prototype is built to answer their designers questions. These questions are know as hypotheses and the answers validate or deny those hypotheses. The process isn’t straightforward, you can’t just ask directly and get real answers. The best information always comes to genuine reactions so the questions must not influence the tester's answers. You must ask multiple open questions, listen to what they say, how they say it and observe them interacting with the product.  

Prototype 1 - Ergonomics

The first prototype was actually two prototypes, one functional and the other without electronics. We made the second so the testers could compare design features. These were the differences between both prototypes:
  1. Symmetrical (right side 1 key shorter)
  2. Functional
  3. Removable palm rests
  1. 60% (right side standard size)
  2. No electronics
  3. Fixed Palm rests

Left Symmetrical, right 60% (it’s called 60% because it’s has 60% the keys of a regular keyboard)

And we had 8 hypotheses to test with these prototypes.  

The 8 hypotheses that we validated with our testing:

Hypothesis #1: Symmetrical is much more beautiful
We thought this was going to be a big negative thing but actually it wasn’t even notice. Most testers didn’t notice any difference between both prototypes even when comparing them one next to the other. Conclusion 1#: No visual difference.  
Hypothesis #2: Symmetrical slightly difficult to use

Testers that have perfect touch typing technique write as fast with the keyboard split and feel more comfortable

People with perfect touch typing technique use both index to place their hands on the keyboards. We discovered that people without perfect touch typing technique (the vast majority of us) use the exterior edges of their palms to know where the keys are. By reducing one key on the right side it made most testers feel weird and not be able to type as they would do in any other keyboard. With the 60% they felt totally comfortable. Conclusion 2#: 60% is better.  
Hypothesis #3: Being able to remove the palm rests is highly valued
All testers except one said they preferred the palm rests. The surprising thing was how they said it, they were completely sure about it. And the only situation that they would remove them was to transport the keyboard. Conclusion 3#: Palm rest really liked. Removable not really valued  
Hypothesis #4. Magnetic connectors and joints are highly valued
This is what created the most “wow moments”. No one expected the magnetic cable connectors or the middle joint connectors. Some testers didn’t notice the magnets but reported a pleasant feeling while joining both keyboard sides together. Conclusion 4#: Everyone loved them  
Hypothesis #5: The palm rests make tilting unnecessary

Tilting (elevating the back part of the keyboard) is proven to be harmful for our wrists. During our testing we confirmed that is unnecessary with palm rests

No tester missed or even mentioned it once. Just as we thought, elevating the hand has a similar effect to tilting the keyboard, you reach easier the keys. Conclusion 5#: Completely unnecessary  
Hypothesis #6:. USB slot in Huble is highly valued
Some loved it, others didn’t mind it. Designers loved it because they work with digital tablets and they don’t have space for the keyboard. They still have to use keyboard keys while using the tablet so they end up having the keyboard in a weird angle. Conclusion 6#: In general was seen as a positive feature.  
Hypothesis #7:. Preferred palm rest material is foam with soft textile
We tested 4 different materials: rubber, foam with textile, neoprene and leatherette. Most people preferred foam with textile and a few rubber. Conclusion 7#: Foam with soft textile  
Hypothesis #8:. Preferred palm rest height is the same as the case height
We tested 3 different heights and most preferred the middle one that was exactly the same as the keyboard height. Conclusion 8#: Height of keyboard palm rest prefered.   With all the hypotheses validated by our testing we had a clear idea of what modifications we had to do for the next prototype. The process will be the same, build a prototype to validate our new set of hypotheses and test them with users. As you can see, testing with real users is an absolute must in order to build the correct product. The next part of the article will be ready soon.

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