Building a Device Lab
Copyright © 2015 Destiny Montague & Lara Hogan

A device lab is a highly functional way to provide handsets, tablets, and other Internet-capable devices to those interested in testing their work across a variety of screens and hardware. Designers, developers, content creators, and others can use a device lab to gain a better understanding of what users experience when visiting your site from these devices. By creating a device lab, you can empower your teammates to test their own work on real physical devices in an easy and intuitive way.

When we built Etsy’s device lab, we optimized it for a large product organization made up of designers, developers, and product managers. We also had a budget for buying devices to cover more of what our members use to visit our site. We want to acknowledge this privilege, and also attest that our aim in writing this book is to help people learn how to build a device lab of any scale – from three devices to thirty. Throughout this book, we will detail how we built our own lab as an example, but we focus heavily on the fundamentals of power consumption, troubleshooting steps, and the philosophies of a good user experience, which apply to every lab. We’ve optimized this Pocket Guide for device labs built to help people test websites; this book will apply to organizations testing apps as well, but they will likely need additional tooling like automated testing on physical devices.

This book details the steps needed to build your first device lab chronologically; however, building a device lab isn’t a one- time process. The tips and processes we outline in this book are evergreen; we have so far built three iterations of Etsy’s device lab, and we’re sure there will be more in Etsy’s future as we learn more about how people use the lab and how we can improve it. As you build your lab, picture your coworkers as your end users, and make sure that you’re regularly user-testing, data gathering, and iterating on what you’ve got to make it as usable as possible for them.

Our aim with this book is to provide a Pocket Guide for you to keep as a reference, a companion manual to your device lab. We hope to save you from many of the headaches that we encountered as we continued to iterate on our own lab, and to equip you with the tools to build the best possible user experience for your device lab’s users.

Destiny Montague co-founded Etsy’s device lab while she was an engineer in Corporate IT. Her years of experience in computer software and hardware tech support equipped her to both understand the human factor and troubleshoot technical issues with the device lab. Destiny is currently a Security Engineer at Etsy, but the title on her business cards simply reads Problem Solver.

Lara Hogan is currently a Senior Engineering Manager at Etsy, and co-founded Etsy’s device lab while she was running the Mobile Web engineering team. Her background in crafting user experiences on the Web equipped her to optimize the lab to reduce headaches and increase use, and also prepared her for the tasks of gathering feedback and iterating on efficacy over time.

Destiny and Lara built the device lab to help empower other engineering teams at Etsy to begin building for mobile, back in the days when product development was primarily desktop- focused. Since then, Etsy’s product teams have been shipping new features across all of Etsy’s platforms, and have been able to test their work and troubleshoot bugs rapidly, even before their work hits production. The examples in this book come from the primary device lab that Destiny and Lara built and iterated upon, and Etsy has since leveraged this expertise to scale its device lab infrastructure to support remote offices, QA teams, automated testing, and more.