Small Wearables Require Big Thought

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Five design tips to consider when crafting your next wearable device

Wearables are maturing. Simple devices that measure steps and sleep have blazed the trail for more complex wearable interactions. Consumers now crave experiences that will deliver targeted insights about their activities and behaviors, recommending ways to improve based upon personalized data.
The simple devices took the low-hanging fruit so designing new, sophisticated wearables comes with a more intricate set of challenges. How can we ensure this is a device customers want to wear? How can we make it a part of their daily lives?  Here are some design strategies to think about when creating your wearable device:

1)     Make it a Part of the User’s Identity

Wearables are personal devices. In order for users to benefit from owning them, they need to make a commitment to integrate them into their lifestyles. Devices that aren’t worn aren’t valuable, so identifying your users’ personal goals and social influences is an important step in creating a device that will be used.

Ask yourself: is this a device users will be proud to show off to their friends? Does it fit in with their community? Thinking about ways you can encourage positive social reinforcement, whether by creating a network of users, or by creating a design that garners compliments, will go a long way to increase the wearable’s perceived value and acceptance.

2)     Design for Everyday Life

With any device, understanding your user habits is important, but wearables require even more consideration because they rely upon our actions and everyday movements. In a lot of ways, our bodies are the meter stick of what the device should be able to do. Unlike other technologies, we think of them as an extension of ourselves. For example, if I get wet, the device should be able to get wet, and so on.

Consider all possible scenarios: go over all the ways your device could get lost and think about all the ways that it could get destroyed. An unaccounted for mistake, like accidentally sending your smart watch on a trip through the washing machine, can leave users wary of your device’s capabilities and brand. Determine which situations are important for your product to withstand and design accordingly.

3)     Infuse a Distinct Personality

Wearables are essentially sensors wrapped in packaging. Because of this, they tend to be pared down experiences. There’s a beauty in that, as the design becomes less about the device’s appearance and more about the ways in which the user interacts with it. However, wearable designs can become utilitarian if the design features only focus on functionality.

To avoid this, make sure you are infusing little bits of personality into the design throughout the entire process:  It could be as simple as adding a gentle pulsing light or figuring out a unique mounting scheme, but addressing these small details in your design will give the device a higher perceived value and make it more personable to users.

4)     Consider the Device Ecosystem

Typically, wearable devices don’t exist within a vacuum. Considering their environment is crucial as many are co-dependent upon apps or outside devices. Things like form factor, or utilizing cutting-edge technology may not play as large of a role as things like ease of connectivity and platform adaptability.

Before diving into the minutiae of how the device should work, ask yourself: Will the device work on its own? Should it be able to interact with other devices? Is it compatible with multiple applications? Start from the desired interaction and work backwards. Give yourself space to consider how your device should work within a larger ecosystem and design for those possibilities from the beginning. Looking at the bigger picture drastically changes the end experience and can help you plan for your technology needs.

5)     Realize Size Isn’t Everything

It’s tempting to equate going smaller with having a more attractive product. However, the effort it takes to go smaller might be better spent refining the user experience - especially if this is the first version of the product. Attempting to go smaller may mean you’re unnecessarily constraining yourself or wasting time developing a form factor that doesn’t really address the user needs.

Given the nature of how technology progresses, smaller options will present themselves for future iterations. Avoiding the costly path to unnecessary miniaturization can give you room to expand your design effort to other important areas.

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Wearables are an exciting new market, but designing them to be successful takes careful consideration. Planning ahead and designing them to scale are important, but at the end of the day what will differentiate your product is an exceptional user experience. Keeping your customers in mind from the beginning of the design planning will ensure you create a wearable that delights.


Greg Martin is a senior industrial designer at Product Creation Studio, a product development firm based out of Seattle, Washington. His passion revolves around bringing products to life that connect people and technology. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn and via email to chat more about design.