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Visibility

The way a wearable device is designed to be worn — specifically, if it’s an accessory visible to others — carries a critical impact on the balance between function and fashion in the design process. While aesthetics play a role in the desirability of almost any product, when it comes to apparel that decorates the body, attractiveness moves up on the priority list. It has long been demonstrated that the articles people wear are a form of selfexpression, a way for individuals to show the world their identity, uniqueness, and personality. As such, for wearables to move beyond the early, tech-savvy adopters into the open arms of the mass market, designers of those wearables must consider fashion. In other words, they need to consider how the wearable looks, how it looks on people, and how it makes them feel when they’re wearing it. The latter also includes investigating how to personalize the wearable and make people feel unique when wearing it, even if many others wear the same (or similar) wearables.

The importance of fashion and beauty in wearable design is beginning to sink in. The consumer wearables industry is driving the convergence of tech and fashion, with an increasing number of technology companies collaborating with fashion and jewelry designers to build their product. At CES 2014, Intel Corporation announced that is was teaming up with cutting-edge fashion design house and retailer, Opening Ceremony, to make a bracelet that will be sold at Barneys. Similarly, Fitbit announced a collaboration with Tory Burch to design fashionable necklaces and bracelets for its activity trackers. CSR, the chip manufacturer, already launched a slick-looking Bluetooth pendant (see Figure 4-6), which was developed in collaboration with jeweler Cellini. The device has a single customizable light for receiving notifications, and can also be configured to release perfume throughout the day. Figure 4-7 shows another example, the Netatmo June bracelet, designed in collaboration with Louis Vuitton and Camille Toupet, which measures sun exposure throughout the day. In Figure 4-7, note how the advertisement follows the jewelry industry spirit.

CSR’s Bluetooth necklace, designed as an item of jewelry

Figure 4-6. CSR’s Bluetooth necklace, designed as an item of jewelry

Netatmo June, made with jewels designed by Louis Vuitton and Camille Toupet

Figure 4-7. Netatmo June, made with jewels designed by Louis Vuitton and Camille Toupet

From a product design perspective, this new fashion-function relationship suggests a few important imperatives:

? From the very early stages of the product inception, you should focus not only on the user interface design and the feature set (software side), but also put an emphasis on the wearable design itself (hardware side). This means that you’ll need to manage two core design efforts side by side: user interface (UI) design and industrial design (ID). Each effort requires dedicated attention, resources, and expertise, but at the same time they are tightly integrated and dependent on each other, functionally and visually. ID decisions in areas such as form factor, size, shape, display, ergonomics, texture, and colors directly impact the universe of possibilities (and constraints) of the UI, from layout, interaction, and flows, to art and visual language. This is especially prominent if the wearable offers an on-device display, which we discuss later in the chapter.

At the end of the day, from a consumer’s standpoint, both the UI and ID design create the overall experience. Thus, the two design groups need to work closely together to ensure ongoing conversation and collaboration, creating together a holistic user experience that feels like a synergy.

? When defining your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) as well as in the ongoing process of setting the product roadmap and milestones, fashion attributes should be an integral part of the prioritization process. This means that if you’re building a smartwatch, for example, you might prefer to wait with some functional features in favor of launching it with a larger variety of wristband designs that appeal to wider target audience groups. Pebble demonstrated this approach with their release of Pebble Steel, a higher-end version of its popular smartwatch. Although we’re not privy to complete information about its product considerations, it’s probably safe to assume that Pebble has a long list of features in the pipeline. Still, the company chose for its second major product milestone (a year after their initial launch) to keep the same feature set of the original Pebble and offer instead a new fashionable stainless-steel body design, which you can see alongside the black-matte finish in Figure 4-8.

Pebble Steel, a premium version of the Pebble watch, made of stainless steel, with a screen protected by

Figure 4-8. Pebble Steel, a premium version of the Pebble watch, made of stainless steel, with a screen protected by

a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass

? When characterizing your target audience(s), it’s not enough to consider just the “traditional” attributes in the digital sphere, such as demographics, skills, behavior patterns, usage habits, and so on. You also need to understand your users’ attitudes and preferences in terms of fashion, accessories, and jewelry. In that respect, just considering the gender already plays an important role. Looking at the selection of wearables today, most of them are still characterized with a very masculine design — dark colors, hard corners and edges, heavier, and more sturdy looking. This is a look and feel that appeals mostly to men. If you wish to attract the female audience, you’ll need to adopt a different design approach that corresponds with their fashion preferences. Better yet, go beyond the gender stereotypes and learn your specific audience preferences.

DISCUSSION: WHERE SHOULD THE WEARABLE BE WORN?

When considering the wearable’s industrial design and where it should be worn, you might want to consider how “saturated” with accessories (wearables or regular fashion accessories) certain body parts already are. For example, there’s only so much that people are willing to wear on their wrists at any given moment. Humans only have two arms, and most people would probably wear no more than one or maybe two items on each wrist. The wearables market is already filled with bracelets, wristbands, and wristwatches that offer a variety of functionalities. Introducing yet another bracelet — even if it offers a new functionality — would need to directly compete on the same limited body space that is already occupied by a large set of existing wearables and fashion bracelets.

One way to deal with this challenge is to consider a different body location (if possible), which is exactly what Flyfit did (http://www.myflyfit.com/). The company offers an ankle tracker (see Figure 4-9) for fitness, cycling, and swimming.

Flyfit’s ankle wearable

Figure 4-9. Flyfit’s ankle wearable

As technology progresses, the flexibility in terms of body placement will probably grow, which will open up additional opportunities for body parts to which wearables can be attached.

Another approach is to offer a modular wearable that can be attached to the body in various ways, as was the case with Misfit Shine. Figure 4-10 demonstrates how the circular tracker can be worn as a wristband, pocket clip-on, or shirt clip-on.

Various locations where the Misfit Shine can be worn

Figure 4-10. Various locations where the Misfit Shine can be worn

Such a wearable provides more wearing options, potentially accommodating more diverse user preferences. However, it comes with its own set of challenges.

First, you need to ensure that your wearable does indeed have flexibility: can the user attach it to the skin as well as on top of clothing? Second, even if the answer is yes, manufacturing a modular wearable that needs to fit different constellations doesn’t usually allow the same level of finesse and polish as when focusing on just a single accessory, head to toe. Third, offering a variety of wearing options along with multiple accessories takes something away from the straightforward simplicity of “just wearing it.”

In any case, whether you provide a modular wearable, or one that can only be worn on a specific body part, you need to consider people’s different body sizes and types. There are several ways to address this issue. Fitbit delivers its product with two wristband sizes: small and large. Nike+ FuelBand offer several wristband sizes that the consumer chooses during the purchase process. Jawbone designed its UP wristband in a flexible one-size-fits-all way. Users can wear the Misfit Shine by using “clip-ons” that are size-agnostic. Whichever strategy you choose to adopt, make sure your design accommodates the human heterogeneity.

 
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