I have an idea for a product startup. It is a wearable device with one functionality, around which I and my friend started to think. We are pretty sure that we can develop it with only this functionality but I know with only one application of this hardware we wont be able to sell it. Here, I thought we could bring the design process to polish our product and add some more features.

Creating UX for any application can be done by a standard design process but when it comes to designing a device it doesn't seem correct to follow the same road. Designing UX for physical products and finding related articles on the internet is quite difficult.

Of course UX design is the part of the design process. As I can do the UX for software but I couldn't get my head around it for physical devices. I don't know where to start and how to start.

How should my design process for a physical device be different from designing a software interface? (Should I start building the prototype and test it afterwards? If no/yes, then how do I proceed?)

  • 2
    Hello Blyk! UX is about interaction between a human and his tools, not specifically about software tools. Sure, a UX designer who specializes in software has the most experience in creating good software, but the general principles stay the same for anything you'd design. So, I'm afraid your question is too broad: "How do I do UX for hardware" is the same as "How do I do UX for anything". You could ask what part of hardware design is different from design in general, but simply asking "what to do" is far too broad a question, we cannot teach you a profession in a single question.
    – Rumi P.
    Jan 21, 2015 at 9:52
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    Heloo Blyk! You should try to find if the idea is useful.Test your idea first. For doing this, you do not need to have the product itself but try to test your solution in the right context. Search for Wizard of OZ as technique and also search for how to ask good question as a Designer. These were going to be the first steps... The general principle of my process 1-Usefulness 2-Usability 3-Desirability and adding some specific ones according to the project. DO NOT MAKE ANY ASSUMPTION OF YOUR IDEA IS GREAT, prove it first not with friends but strangers. Friends will lie to you...
    – Abektes
    Jan 21, 2015 at 13:19
  • I still find this question terribly broad, even after the edits. We probably can help you, but not at this level. You said that you can do it for software. Now sit down and try to do the first step, as if your product were software. Does it work? If yes, great. If not, please write a new question, describing what you tried, and why it did not work. This will be answerable on this site. But if you really have no idea how to do a product design systematically, be it software, hardware or something else, you have to read a textbook, not ask on a website.
    – Rumi P.
    Jan 21, 2015 at 13:33
  • While I agree that it is somewhat broad, I believe the answer could also be at a fairly high level and still cover the topic. It's definitely better after the edit.
    – JohnGB
    Jan 21, 2015 at 15:33

5 Answers 5


"Designing UX for physical products and finding related articles on the internet is quite difficult."

It's probably because you should be searching for Human Factors articles rather than UX articles. I'm generalizing here, but you could say that Human Factors is UX with a broader scope (UX has it's roots in HF/E). HF practitioners study software and non-software interfaces, anthropometry, and ergonomics. The list of methods in HF includes many methods used in UX design.

Going through the HF program, there wasn't necessarily a distinction between methods appropriate for software and methods appropriate for physical applications. simulate your product using whatever seems appropriate - one girl in our program used clay and acrylic paint to create USB drive prototypes. You're going to move from pen and paper to low and high fidelity prototypes in the same way you would with a software application.


There wouldn't be anything different between how you design the device or how you design a website/app. Go through the same process. Build personas, get the research in order and test. But how people interact with it will more than likely be different.

How do people put the device on? Are they being active with it (running, biking, exercising)? Is it a device they have on all the time or is it a rarely worn item? Think about these things, because all aspects of the device are going to be a factor with how usable the item is. The materials, the durability, how heavy it is, etc.

The design process never changes. The stakeholders and usability is what more than likely changes.


First of all: Are you an industrial designer? If not, get one, you'll be eternally grateful you did.

With that, you'll cover close to 99% of your needs. Explain him/her the idea and he/she will be able to find the issues with it, let you know the possible workarounds, add improvements, etc.

After that, you can build prototypes on paper and/or 3D and do a first "pre physical-prototype" round of research. With these results, you'll be able to go to a physical prototype stage, probably something easy made in a 3D printer or wood or whatever. Then you'll be able to test shape, weight, size, comfort, materials, ease of use, etc

After that you will need to test usability, and this part might be more related to standard online UX

If you were thorough after all these steps, and if lucky, then you'll have a very good idea about your designed device, how it works, which need does it cover, how should it look and so on. Then (yes, you guessed right) you need to test everything again, this time on the wild

Anyways, keep in mind that the UX part in industrial research is way more heavy an extended than in online UX research since it includes many more variables. So, unless you're looking to expend years to learn what an industrial designer knows, just get an industrial designer and let her/him have the headaches


This is a different (but related) field known as Industrial Design, which deals physical objects & devices, as opposed to UI/UX Design which typically deals with software interfaces.

However, in terms of User Experience, the general principles remain. What does the user need? How does the design help them accomplish their needs? Have you done the user research to prove that this feature is indeed what users need? Is there anyway to design it better so that the user has a smoother or more efficient experience? etc.


My suggestion would be to go to paper or other UI tool and look at the design of the device in its prototyping stage and relate the functionality of the device to an interface.

Using this method it is easy to garner case studies and refine your design of the controls to achieve a usable product.

Think how long we had separate play, pause etc.. buttons on portable devices. Then Apple brought out the wheel on the iPod.

  • Then touch was introduced
    – UXerUIer
    Jan 21, 2015 at 18:16

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