A set of easily accessible devices is pretty important to most web developers. Having a set of different devices – from different manufacturers and running on a variety of operating systems – close to hand makes thoroughly testing your designs a breeze. If you’re looking for inspiration then the good news is that we’ve just updated our device lab. Here’s a bit of a rundown of what we did and why.
Hmmm. A device lab, eh? Why do we need one?
It’s common for developers to work sitting at a single device on their own. We rely mostly on emulators to test our own work. It’s easy to hate testing your work at the end of the project if you know you failed to test regularly and didn't take usability into account at an early stage. This is a standard approach to testing in the world of web development. Emulators are key tools in the delivery of our projects and 90% of the time the results aren't bad. But they do keep us pinned to the mouse as a form of interaction with our product. So, to improve our approach in the professional services teams here at Zengenti we wanted to build:
an approachable device lab that we could easily grab when needed
one that was available at any point in our project
a lab that looked cool, had the latest equipment, and was easy to use and to use often
in a communal space to allow others to take advantage of it
Here's a look at what we built.
It's simple, good looking, and we can drink coffee whilst checking our code.
We’ve put our lab in the company's kitchen and common area to help promote the use of our devices across teams. We have a custom-built, minimally-styled cabinet to house our kit, with built-in chargers and a couple of comfy seating areas in the vicinity to encourage people to hang around and test.
"I love coffee and sitting down too, so this is awesome." Jon Moore, developer
Our aim is to create greater visibility to ongoing project work and allow easier testing from users outside the usual dev team. Instead of devices being accessed by just developers or a specific tester, we can now easily open up new projects to anyone within the company a little bit easier and run user tests over a coffee.
Keeping the devices fresh
What devices do we have? Our devices are regularly updated to reflect the latest kit from iOS, Android, Windows, and Blackberry. We have tried to reflect latest trends first so we can keep coding practices up-to-date with the latest technology.
We also like to keep a set number of devices with older operating systems and specs to keep us on our toes.
We try to locate more expensive items second-hand through places like Gumtree or eBay. For our purposes a few chips to a screen are perfectly acceptable and we can often get well used devices at bargain prices.
A popular approach to testing is to test early and test often. The device lab helps keep our testing procedures in line with this philosophy. We can test early across multiple devices as we work by using internal dev tools and emulators, then we can run final tests on usability using the lab devices.
"I now really enjoy testing. Give me more!" Kyle Roberts, web developer
We then have a more substantial team approach to testing with all designers and developers contributing to testing and signing-off work. Tasks are distributed throughout a project through our sprints and are passed to the team through JIRA. Testers take a seat in the lab and testing results are logged in a set of shared Google docs for the project using a standard document built up from the project scope. By set routines like this, we find it easier to produce consistent results and ensure that testing results are logged.
We’ve added a multi-device testing app called GhostLab to our lab. This allows us to quickly hop onto our testing URLs from a laptop and synchronise the display to almost all of the devices in the lab.
GhostLab (or alternatives such as Adobe Edge Inspect) is particularly useful for early usability changes at design stage and can provide insights into the usability of early HTML.
"It’s great to see my work in a real environment." Adrian Nicholls, web designer
Although it takes a bit of an effort to set this up, you’ll undoubtedly find these tools invaluable once you start using them.
Get one, get one now.
If you don’t have a device lab yet, why not? I’d strongly advise getting one in your offices to aid with your work and to keep your team of developers connected to the environment they are really working in. Our team has benefitted massively from our setup. If you fancy setting up your own device lab, or have any questions, then feel free to leave a comment underneath or ask on us Twitter via @Zengenti.