To most people, a headset is just one of the many gadgets they use on a daily basis. Yet it takes an impressive amount of testing and development to get that headset into your hands and make sure it works as expected.
In our “Jabra Insider” series, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the often fascinating journey a headset makes from an idea to your ear.
Our first stop is user experience: How do we make sure a headset is intuitive, easy to use, and – of course – comfortable to wear?
Do you like how your headset sits on your ear? Was it easy to figure out what all the buttons do and how to get it working? If so, you have a team of user experience (UX) experts to thank for that.
To find out more about this discipline, I spoke to two Jabra UX experts – Bettina Ridler and Bjarke Just Nonbo. Here’s what they taught me.
In a nutshell, UX is about making sure that you can – and actually want to – use the headset.
During the dark days of the early 2000s, UX didn’t really exist as a separate discipline at Jabra. Today, the UX team boasts 15 members who work with app design, headset design, wearing comfort, and front end (understanding the users’ preferences and motivations).
The team gets involved early on in the development process, well before the headset’s design is even discussed. They’re there to keep Jabra focused on the customer from the very start and help define what user needs – both functional and emotional – the headset should fulfill. Bettina Ridler draws parallels with the cat food metaphor:
It’s all about making the cat, uh, headset wearer happy. The UX team generally cares about the following:
- What you do: How do you use the headset when it’s in your hands (or ears)?
- What you feel: How comfortable is it to wear the headset?
- What you get: That intangible benefit you get from using the headset; something that simple measurements of fit and usability can’t accurately describe. As the UX team puts it: Is the headset meaningful to you?
For the remainder of today’s post, I’ll talk more about the “comfort” piece of the puzzle.
No ear is the same
This may be a controversial statement, but each ear is unique. There, I said it. Ears come in all shapes and sizes, yet a good headset must fit as many of them as possible. That’s why a team of comfort and anthropometry gurus get involved. Their goal is to get you as close as possible to feeling like you’re not actually wearing a headset, even though you are.
Here’s just a small snippet of what the comfort team does…
During the early concept stages, comfort experts will chip in with their deep knowledge of human ears (it’s less creepy than it sounds) and ongoing market trends to ensure a headset will comfortably fit the people it’s made for.
When the headset is being designed, the comfort team uses special software to simulate what wearing a particular design may look like. For example:
What you’re looking at, aside from what appear to be the three members of the Blue Man Group, is a simulation of how much pressure a headset will exert on your ears depending on how it sits and how long the headband is. These types of simulations can quickly help identify potential trouble areas and arrive at a design that works.
Using an in-house 3D printer that can combine two different materials (2K), the team can put together a pretty accurate mock-up of a headset within hours. Here’s how the Jabra Eclipse looked during this mock-up stage:
This makes it very easy to test proposals on a few individual wearers to see how securely and comfortably the mock-ups fit. If needed, the team can go back to further simulations and make additional mock-ups; it’s an iterative process.
When prototype, alpha, and beta units arrive, the comfort team tests these samples in order to validate the design. For this purpose, they use “archetypes.” What are those, exactly?
It all starts when the team makes 3D scans of literally hundreds of human heads. Here’s one of Bjarke Just Nonbo himself:
There’s more to this process than simply collecting a disturbing library of virtual human heads, of course. Using these scans, the team can very precisely measure crucial ear parameters, like so:
Once that’s done for many hundreds of ears, a computer program crunches the numbers and performs statistical analysis. For each type of wearing style – in-ear, behind-the-ear, and so on – the program identifies around nine people who best represent the whole group of several hundred. These people are the archetypes. When testing an in-ear headset, the comfort team will get the “in-ear archetypes” to wear the mock-ups or production samples:
The archetypes are then asked a few key questions:
- Fit: Can you fit the headset securely in your ear? How well does it sit?
- Comfort: Does it hurt? How comfortable does it feel initially and after prolonged wear?
- Subjective “feel”: Do you actually enjoy having the headset on?
That last part is quite tricky to measure, since UX experts have to take into account the person’s previous experiences, preferences, and even psychological factors. For instance, people might subconsciously give the headset a higher comfort score just because they think it kind of looks cool.
The above is just a small part of what the comfort team does to make sure you eventually get a headset that won’t fall out or squash your ears.
Fewer surprises, please
Even with the careful attention paid to headset comfort during these phases, certain things can throw a wrench in the process. By definition, early prototypes are quite different from the eventual final products. They’ll have a different weight, use different materials, have another surface finish and varying colors – remember those psychological factors? Then there’s the fact that real customers may choose to wear the headset in somewhat…unpredictable ways (sir, the headband is supposed to go over your head, not your neck).
For the comfort team, the trick is to consistently account for these factors and avoid nasty surprises down the line. Hey, nobody said UX was a walk in the park!
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