Five Tips for Designing Successful Wearable Technologies

This post originally appeared on Wearable World News, found here.

Source: TechCrunch

Source: TechCrunch

Wearables are proliferating. With hundreds of different types available and more popping up everyday, we’re seeing the rapid saturation of an immature market. Those wearables that prove the most value to the most people will emerge as industry leaders, leaving behind a graveyard of one-off wearables to shrivel into the past. This also places great pressure on today’s wearable designers and developers to design for utility, longevity, and mass adoption. How can emerging wearable devices vie for a spot in the already competitive wearable rat-race?

I. Don’t Discard Good Old Fashioned Market Research

It’s basic, but often overlooked. While wearables are indeed a new device type, consumers’ (and employees’) needs for convenience and contextually relevant information are not. Start-ups and developers must take the time to conduct research into potential and current users, including but not limited to…

  • Key segments, demographics, personas
  • How these audiences vary in digital behavior
  • How these audiences vary in domain-specific behavior (e.g. fitness preferences, communications preferences, navigational preferences, etc.)
  • What information throughout their experiences is critical; what information is absent; what information requires multiple steps or devices to access?

Whether through polling, surveys, phone interviews, focus groups, or even A/B testing, taking the time to collect data to inform product strategy, roadmap, and development will pay off.

I. Design for an Improving Net Promoter Score

As developers design both hardware and software, they should use one simple question as a guiding compass: How will this impact the Net Promoter Score of this product. (Reminder: Net Promoter Score, commonly called NPS, is the classic ‘On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend this product to someone else?’) The reason this pillar of decision-making is so effective is two-fold:

  • Spectacular UX: This implies that the user experience of each moment, each interaction with the device is not only smooth and intuitive, but also so contextually perfect it compels a recommendation to a friend. That’s a tall order.
  • VC Standard: Many venture capitalists and private equity firms insist on seeing an established NPS, or performing an NPS prior to investing. Tracking this simple (and low cost) but critical metric provides start-ups with a common benchmark for interested investors.

III. Aim for (Almost) Invisible

It’s counter-intuitive to design for a product that essentially should fade into the background, but in many ways this is elemental to an excellent wearable experience. Invisible in this context really means that the device itself is ‘baked in’ to the users’ environment, whether through fashion design, alert mechanism, battery life, and even features. The trick here is to create the wearable experience first, then let that guide the computing components (i.e. hardware, sensors, form factor, etc.) second.

This is also a consideration related to ‘device fatigue.’ Consumers are already completely overwhelmed with devices, from smartphones to tablets to smart TVs and beyond. The goal of a wearable, thus, is not to add to this noise, but to help filter it by providing only what is most relevant at the very moment the user chooses to engage with the device.

IV. Rethink the Role of Content

Designing for a wearable touchpoint requires re-thinking both the role of and context for content. Wearables, as a category, are unique in that they among are the smallest computing interface, and as such the information typically designed for PC, tablet, or smartphone is simply way too overwhelming. Enter the notion of the “glanceable UI,” a term coined by Misfit CEO, Sonny Vu.

Google’s latest Android Wear smartwatch uses GoogleNow to learn and predict content needs for its users.

Google’s latest Android Wear smartwatch uses GoogleNow to learn and predict content needs for its users.

A glanceable UI is an interface or device experience in which the most critical information (e.g prompt, service, data points, etc.) can be ascertained in a single glance. We’ve seen innovative examples of this in both the Shine and FitBit devices, which provide LED light indicators of the user’s progress towards his or her daily fitness goal. In this example, albeit minimal, content experience is actually built into the hardware design. Developers and designers should think about the role of content in the wearable experience in two functions:

  • Consumer-facing: What does the consumer need to know from the device itself? (i.e circumventing the need to paw into the wearable’s associated smartphone app). This might be a quick status on a health metric (e.g. # steps completed) or a dynamic contextually aware alert, such as a smartwatch sending changes to flight information or directions to the nearest bus station.
  • Enterprise-facing: Enterprise marketers leverage content to measure and drive intended interactions and experiences across multiple channels. This underscores the imperative that content is actually useful, consumable, and on-brand.

V. Leverage Continuous and Free Software Upgrades to Guide Users as the Product Evolves

One of the worst mistakes a wearable start-up (or subsidiary of a larger tech vendor) can make is to charge users for software upgrades. The beauty of connected hardware is that software is what enables its flexibility and evolution, while observing the same physical form. Remember, usability and intuitive features are vastly more influential on NPS than are a long-tail list of random “just because we can” bells and whistles.

Allowing for free software upgrades not only allows developers and designers to slowly deploy features in a focused and strategic way, but it also allows companies an element of ‘control’ or ‘guidance’ in how users experience the product. Refrain from dumping loads of complex features on new users and hone in on what’s most central to providing value. (Let market research inform prioritization of specific capabilities.)

Ultimately, Context Really IS King

Each of these best practices has one guiding principal in common: context. Because wearables are meant to become part of our physical experience—that is, worn— the extent to which they add contextual value to our noisy lives is paramount. Designers and developers must think critically about the voids in our lives when we need context most, and design experiences that enable greater real-time awareness into ourselves and the world around us. This is, after all, the great differentiator of wearable technology.


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