Disclaimer: This project was mostly self-directed. We did share our findings with Bose UX hardware team but we were not sponsored by them.


Kelly Cao
Al Jose
Caleb Tan


January - March 2020


UX Researcher


Cognitive walkthrough
Heuristic evaluation
Qualitative Research
Affinity Mapping

About the Sleepbuds

The Bose Sleepbuds are an audio-based sleep aid. By masking environmental noise and providing users with an array of soothing ambient sound options it helps prime users for deep and interrupted sleep.

What makes them special?

The Sleepbuds are a unique product that targets sleep and one's quality of sleep through a physical product. Unlike other solutions that exclusively provide calming sounds, the Bose Sleepbuds also considers the sleeping environment.

The area of opportunity

The Bose Sleepbuds were not well received from online customer reviews. Many of the reviews point to usability issues. Therefore, we decided to do a usability study of our own and learn where the areas of opportunity were for this unique product.

Through online reviews, cognitive walkthroughs, and heuristic evaluations we identified problems in three critical steps when using the product. 1) in the onboarding, 2) in the Bluetooth pairing, and 3) in the charging interaction. We conceived our research questions, based on these three steps.

A graph showing the flow from process to research questions with rationale.

Participant Profile

Given the uniqueness of this product, we sought users who had never used the Sleepbuds as this was the most typical experience. We also selected those whom live in environments where sleep could be interrupted.

University students were a good fit as most still live communally and likely have not used this product before. Seven participants from the University of Washington were recruited for the usability study.

A graphic of the number of participants, their age range, and number who cohabitate, are affected by noise pollution, and have experience with sleepbuds.

Interviews & Surveys

Since participants were unfamiliar with the device, interviews were chosen to allow us to probe further on initial reactions, actions, or questions that surfaced. Surveys were also incredibly useful in allowing us to measure reactions across participants.

Being that we lacked the resources for an actual sleep study, and had only one pair of the Sleepbuds, scenarios were employed to help situate the user in an actual use case. A script was used to maintain interviewer consistency between participants.


Video recordings of the sessions were also captured for reference at a later time. All participant information was kept anonymous. With limited time to go through all our scenarios, we decided to pre-download the Bose app for our participants.

Data Analysis

Notes from research, pictures of Bose devices, and post it notes.

As we had a short amount of time to code a lot of data, affinity mapping was done to identify emergent themes.

A severity scale matrix with probability and severity on the axes with findings plotted in.

We were provided a severity scale as a reference by the Bose team. Adapting that severity scale, we were able to create a scale of our own based on the frequency and inconvenience observed in our testing.


01. Confusion on case

Insufficient affordance on the case lead to confusion on how to even open the case. This early obstacle fosterd negative emotion for later steps.

A graphical summary of the quantitative and quantitative points for the first finding (confusion on case).

02. Unorthodox Methods

Due to different mental models, there was a variety of actions taken to pair the device. A lack of notice about successful pairing contributed to the challenges and an inability to identify Left and Right side also further impacted the experience.

A graphical summary of the quantitative and quantitative points for the second finding (unorthodox methods to connect buds).

03. Charging & Battery

Charging and battery indicators lacked clarity for participant. The instruction manuals did not consistently provide the necessary information to help participants recover from errors.

A graphical summary of the quantitative and quantitative points for the third finding (charging and battery).

Interested in our recommendations to Bose?

What would I have done differently?

The first is pre-downloading the Bose Sleep app for participants. Despite seeing the different methods when it came to Bluetooth pairing, we might have seen this difference more frequently if the application was not pre-downloaded.

Secondly, I would have focused on one or two key interactions. Considering the length of a session and participants’ attention spans, we were not able to go into as much depth with our participants in a short amount of time.

Lastly, if granted the right resources, I would like to have participants take home the Sleepbuds with them and conduct a diary study to see if there were any improvements in sleep quality over time.

What did I learn?

When assessing the usability of products like the Bose Sleepbuds where there is a digital and physical component to usability, focusing on either the digital or physical experience independently. This was something we discovered which prompted us to scope our study to just the physical experience.