Before new apparel or equipment hits store shelves, designers want to ensure that products properly fit their target customer base. Enlisting a partner to strategize and execute a fit test is a good way to make sure products fit, work well and are ready for public consumption. Fit tests on real people, with properly analyzed data, provide practical results that can improve product sizing and design.
While the idea of a fit test may sound simple, there are many factors to consider when developing such a test; and there are many things that can go wrong if any of these factors are ignored. After performing many fit tests over many years, we have identified four keys to success.
Success rests largely on the planning stage. There is significant prep that must be completed, such as developing the fit criteria (along with the product designer), developing the test protocol, testing the protocol on practice participants, and setting up electronic data collection for the anthropometric fit test data, among other things.
If garments are being tested, they should be measured before testing begins. You want to be sure the garments are sewn correctly, within seam tolerance, and function the way the designer intended. If there are any issues with the measurements or functions of the garment, they can be corrected or noted before the fit test begins.
Fit tests have a lot of moving parts. There are often dozens of people involved – the client, the test participants, the people performing the measurements and, of course, the people collecting the fit data. With so many people involved, well-coordinated logistics are vital. Having a great coordinator or liaison within a client’s company is so helpful. They help ensure the right people show up to be fitted at the right time. When working with the military, a liaison of a higher rank is a great partner, as they have the clout needed to make sure everyone is showing up and on time.
The physical location where testing takes place is also an important part of logistics. We have measured people under dark and busy stairwells, in closets and aboard ships. We can definitively say that well-lit, temperature-controlled, open spaces are best. When funding allows, it’s nice to do a site visit prior to the day of the fit test, just to make sure there is no logistical challenge that will get in the way of quality data collection.
Measure the right body parts
Measuring the right anthropometric dimensions associated with the garment or product is critical. Sometimes it will make sense to measure the same dimensions on the body when it is in different positions, such as standing and sitting. For example, body armor – with stiff ceramic plates – needs to be worn while standing as well as while seated in a transport vehicle. Assessing the fit while standing assures critical coverage of the torso, but assessing it while seated verifies that the stiff plate doesn’t interfere with the thighs or the neck. So, for that product, we would assess the fit in both positions, but also take chest breadth, waist front length and waist back length in both positions.
Measure the right people (and enough of them)
The fit test participants should represent the intended users of the product. You would not want to test firefighter turnout coats on a group of high school students! And, in order to have confidence in the results, enough people must be tested. For a sized item, such as clothing or body armor, it is ideal to test participants in each of the intended sizes. Recruiting people who will fit each size is important. It can vary with the product, of course, but generally speaking, it is best to have at least 5-10 people try on each size. For example, if an item comes in XS, S, M, L and XL, your sample should include between 25 and 50 individuals. For unsized items, it is important to make sure that test participants include people at the extremes of the critical anthropometric dimensions to make sure that the product works well for all the intended users.
Fit tests are a necessary and worthwhile part of product and apparel design. We hope these tips, along with the right partner to develop strategy and execute your test, will ensure your next fit test is successful and leads to a product that sells, and doesn’t come back as a return!