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The Making of Axon Body 3: Big Decisions on Display

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Our latest body camera, Axon Body 3, is launching soon. As we get geared up for it to hit the streets, we wanted to share some stories from our path to launch. Today's post covers the development of the camera's new display screen. Check back every couple weeks for new inside peeks from the team.

Product Manager Chyna McRae and Product Designer Julianne (Jules) Beswick were given an impossible task: Design a camera display screen that had “just enough” information to help the officer wearing the unit have a better experience, but without making it a distraction and therefore safety risk.

“The worst thing an officer can do while in the field is look down,” one agency told them. “Please don’t make this into a cellphone with a bunch of info and notifications.” At the same time, users told them they wanted more info about things like battery life, recording status or what what happening when the camera was docked.

So you can imagine why, on this particular Tuesday morning, Chyna is nervously squeezing a penguin-shaped stress ball from behind the window of a research lab. Jules sits nearby, anxiously squeezing her own stress object, only hers is a shark. Over the course of today’s observational research session, the two women will witness feedback from law enforcement officers who will be interacting with some prototypes of the new screen. If things go well, they’ll have cleared a major milestone in the overall product development cycle. [Spoiler alert: things go well.]

But the path to a simple, intuitive screen design was anything but. Over the course of many months, Chyna and Jules had had to distill internal and customer feedback that often conflicted, like whether there was enough value in the screen to justify the cost of building it. After that answer was determined to be yes, they had to zero in on what types of information belonged on it. To help guide development, they agreed to a set of principles that could act as guardrails for all of this input:

  1. Avoid distraction - this was the primary maxim when it came to officer safety. Anything we built would have to let the officer remain present and focused in the moment, with only information on the display that was important and available at a glance.
  2. Facilitate action in context - we wanted it to be crystal-clear to an officer what she needed to do to enable or disable a feature, especially when it came to things like Mute or Stealth mode.
  3. Be easy to remember - the icons used needed to be very easy to interpret so that an officer could act quickly.
  4. Be legible - with a mounted camera so close to an officer’s face most of the time, we had to make sure that the display screen was easily readable in that context.

These principles helped decide what was worthy of being on the display, and what wasn’t. For example, there was some discussion about whether there should be a clock on the display. In looking at principles 1 and 2, the team decided that because a clock was not something that would drive officer action (a call for service will take as long as it needs to take, after all), it did not belong on the display. Battery life, which would allow an officer to take action by charging and therefore continue to record valuable evidence, did make the cut.

There were many other decisions like this that the team had to confront during the course of development, and countless questions to consider. How big should it be? Should it use e-ink like an electronic reader, or be an LCD display? How bright should it be, so that it’s readable but doesn’t compromise officer safety by illuminating his face? What should it be made out of so it won’t break if dropped? How do we make sure it doesn’t drain the camera battery? All of these factors were enough to make a person wreak havoc on a foam-rubber penguin.

But that day in the lab, Chyna and Jules were reassured that all of their work to balance those considerations had led to the creation of something that will make a meaningful difference to officers as well as program administrators. The final design is a sleek, 1 x 3/8“ dimmable LCD screen with a set of 14 easy-to-interpret icons. It can tell officers whether they’re in stealth or mute mode, whether they’re being live-streamed, whether there’s an error with the camera and more. And when docked, it can tell program administrators how many videos are on the camera, how many of them have been uploaded and which officer the camera is assigned to. Here’s a glimpse:

Camera in buffering mode (‘Ready’ to record) with 95% battery life.

Camera in stealth mode (the ‘S’) and recording (the camera icon), with 95% battery life.

Axon Body 3 will soon be in the hands of customers who will see the display for the first time, alongside other improvements in imaging and audio. It’s our hope that this small piece of camera real estate will make a big impact on the device’s usability, both in the field and at the station. Chyna and Jules will be awaiting your feedback once you’ve tested it for yourself (but not anxiously; they’re pretty confident you’ll love it).

Chyna waits for the observational research sessions to begin.

No actual penguins were harmed in the making of Axon Body 3.