Don’t confuse design testing with device testing

There’s been a lot written about device testing over the last year. Jeremy instigating open device testing labs has rightly generated a lot of column inches like Smashing Magazine’s Establishing An Open Device Lab. However, I think we need to be clear just what we mean by testing.

Back in February, Stephanie Reiger wrote about her Strategies for choosing test devices. Stephanie based her strategy for choosing test devices on:

Her advice concluded with a list:

  1. iPhone 3GS, iOS 4.3.n, 320x480px (no retina display)
  2. iPhone 4, iOS 5, 320x480px (retina display)
  3. iPad, iOS 5, 1024x768px (10" tablet, no retina display)
  4. Android 2.1 — Motorola, 480x600px (popular)
  5. Android 2.3 — HTC, 480x320px (QWERTY)
  6. Android 2.3 — Huawei, 320x480px (low CPU)
  7. Android 3.0 — Samsung, 320x480 (low CPU, low dpi)
  8. Android 2.3.4 — Kindle Fire, 1024x600 px (7" tablet, proxied browsing)

Such a list could be the perfect starting point for a device testing rig, but is this what designers like me need? No, I don’t think it is, because I think there’s a very big difference between device testing and design testing.

Let me clarify that. When I’m designing, it’s incredibly important for me to quickly gain an affinity with how my design feels when I hold it in my hands.

There are many aspects to this, including:

How readable is the type when I hold the device at a normal distance?

How large should my buttons and other interactive elements be?

How much texture should I add, to prevent my design from sliding off that glossy, glass screen?

These are not device testing issues, they are design questions and there’s a huge difference between how an interface feels to use on a smartphone size display and whether the HTML, CSS and Javascript actually works on any particular make or model.

So if you’re a designer, what devices do you need? I would say typically:

A smartphone. It doesn’t have to be the latest model and you’ll likely not need several. It could just be the phone you’ve already got in your pocket.

A small tablet. I really like my Nexus 7 (7" display). Will I need a smaller iPad if one’s announced? Not for design testing. (Please don’t tell my wife that as I’ll want one just the same.) I also have a Kindle Fire 7 HD on pre-order. I’ll see if there’s any real difference in using it and if not, I’ll return it to Amazon.

A larger tablet. I have a first generation iPad and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (10" display.) Although, when I bought this I was curious about Android, I’ve subsequently realised this was a waste of money. I don’t need it and the iPad.

Whether or not we eventually need to use a device testing lab, designing with devices that we hold in our hands gives us a completely different experience than working with different canvas size windows on screen. That’s why design testing matters so much, and why we mustn’t get it confused with device testing.


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