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Wearables: Design For Success

Wearable technology has been exploding since the world’s oldest “smart” ring - a wearable abacus - was developed in the 17th century. No, it couldn’t send text messages, but the device was a functional counting tool.

Fast-forward to today, and wearable technology has made rapid strides. Key advancements especially over the past two decades, have triggered the disruption of entire industries.

A good case in point is Apple that may soon be calling time on the traditional watch industry. Or the union of fashion and tech giants - the once-strange bedfellows - that has culminated in some of the best looking wearables (my personal fav is the Misfit-Swarovski Activity Crystal).

What would have been pipe dreams 300 years ago are happening right now.

And it’s not just the technology that is rapidly changing. The competitive landscape of the wearables market is shifting faster than you could tap your wrist. Apple is the crown jewel, thanks to the Apple Watch, while many pure-play players struggle to keep users coming back.

But competitive advantage is transient in the ever-shifting world of wearables. Despite an upward trajectory, wearables are yet to become truly indispensable to consumers.

Consider the three things below in order to develop a wearable product that will resonate with users;

1. Design Responsibly.

Users want their wearables to be crammed with more functionality, yet become more discreet. They want their devices to do a lot more than just count steps & reps, and yet look sleek.

What does this imply for you, a clever innovator developing the next big thing?

Firstly, you must consider aesthetics and functionality to be equally valuable.

Choosing one over the other may cause your product to fall by the wayside.

Secondly, your product design must contemplate the larger impact it will have on its user’s wellbeing.

Consider this - A recent UC Irvine study found that it takes us 23 minutes to recover from a single distraction and refocus attention. A 2014 study found that people receive an average 63.5 notifications per day. And that’s only from the smartphone! A wearable may have a barrage of additional notifications.

Before you get to the Form and Function, think about how your device will help the user meet their goals without drawing them away. Can you design your device in a way that it doesn’t distract or disengage the user, yet helps them know what’s going on?

Sure, users can configure the notification settings on devices today, but the larger point is that as wearables become increasingly ubiquitous, they will have a pervasive influence on user habits and behaviour. Therefore, design responsibly to positively impact users and create real value.

2. Measure What Matters.

How do you measure the success of your wearable product?

Several resources online can help you define usage and engagement. However, can those metrics measure how your user is succeeding in meeting their end goals?

According to the tenet of ‘Responsible design’, the success of your product should be based on the impact it has on the users. Value creation is one of the 6 key challenges of wearable product development.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What matters to your user?

  • Do you have a deep understanding of your users?

  • How does your device fits their lives?

  • Can you define metrics to measure value creation from the user’s perspective?

When you start measuring what really matters, you will constantly probe new areas of value creation for users, which will in turn will lead to better engagement.

3. Truly Empower Your Users.

Embrace is a beautiful smartwatch that helps people living with epilepsy. The world’s first FDA-certified smartwatch uses clinical-grade sensors to track the wearer’s seizures and automatically alerts a caretaker.

Innovation in wearable technology has the potential to transform how we live, work and play. Yet, a Gartner survey found that users abandon their wearable devices due to a lack of usefulness.

A key reason why Embrace resonates with its users is, because it truly empowers them - with freedom and takes away the stigma. It fulfills a deeply felt human need and is meaningful, not just delightful.

The company is working on extending its research to include other neurological disorders. Imagine if your smartwatch could help you predict your mood and stress levels tomorrow. It could help detect mental conditions such as depression early, help you to modify your behavior. You could live healthier and identify your personal triggers that are based on personalized data. Clinical solutions could be designed to shift the focus from treatment to prevention and continuous care.

Before you start developing your next wearable, think about how you can design responsibly in order to empower users and help them achieve more through your product.


Outdesign Co is a product design & development company helping clients across 15+ countries turn their ideas into “World-Firsts” and award-winning products.

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