Designing for the Internet of Wearable Things


Wearables-TileBby David Hindman, Fjord

Wearable electronics may be all the rage, but there’s no denying that widespread and long-term consumer adoption is still low. Many people try them and then quickly abandon them, or they expect something beyond their current capabilities—longer battery life, better aesthetic, less intrusive, GPS—you name it. And, because wearables require new design and user experience paradigms, some find the learning curve too steep.

So while most of us can agree that, yes, wearable electronics have arrived, there are significant hurdles keeping them from reaching “must-have” status belonging to our smartphones.

While some shortcomings are still due to technology and device capabilities such as battery life, the designers at Fjord have found there are key moments where design can truly make or break the wearable experience. Regardless of how fast, connected, durable or untethered a device may be, we think the wearable industry can create better user experiences by leveraging a few key design principles.

Here’s how…

1. Balance Public & PersonalFJORD-balance-public-and-personal

Wearables, for better or worse, are often exposed to a public audience, unlike smartphones, which can hide in the privacy of our pockets or purses. With these devices, we may find ourselves “wearing” some of the most personal aspects of ourselves: our conversations, relationships, and even health. This renders them both the most private and public devices yet. Designers must not only account for a user’s context and surroundings, but also for the angle and position of their wrist (or someplace else on the body) when making decisions about what is displayed and when. When designing for this paradox, designers should keep in mind this precarious tipping point between public and personal.

Some tactics for handling shifts between the two may include: vibrating first, recognizing subtle device position, and most importantly, shipping with considerate default settings.


2. Keep it GlanceableFJORD-keep-it-glanceable

At Fjord, we recently came across a wearable app (the name which is concealed to protect the guilty) that allowed you to view spreadsheets and line graphs on your wrist. A frustrating experience, to say the least. For wearables’ limited screen real estate, it’s crucial that designers focus on displaying only the most critical information. Designs overloaded with detailed information will require too much attention, may distract users or compete with their social context. In most scenarios, services should show one piece of bite-sized, relevant information at a time. So make it count.


3. Leverage Non-Visual UIFJORD-leverage-non-visual-ui

The numerous possibilities for interaction using more of our five senses are some of the most exciting developments in wearables today (check out Fjord’s Andy Goodman’s thinking on Zero UI). For wearables, we need to start defining best practices for communicating using vibration, touch, and sound. The ability to recognize detailed gestures also provides designers with a vast new palette for defining interactions. Gesture recognition, tapping patterns, health data and vibrational communication are some of the capabilities that will enable the future of screenless interactions.


4. Beware of the Data AvalancheFJORD-beware-of-the-data-avalanche

In a world with instant access to increasing amounts of data, we can define our services more by what we choose not to show than the other way around. In other words, show the right data at the right time. Wearable devices don’t leave much room for multi-tasking. Even on large-screen smartphones, incoming notifications and alerts are often disruptive. The goal is to create a system that elegantly stays in the background of our lives while supporting specific tasks.


5. Mind the GapsFJORD-mind-the-gaps

Like all mobile devices, wearables will experience connectivity problems. As well, we will need to figure out how to seamlessly add them to our own personal digital ecosystems. With wearables as with other devices, we will want to try to design intelligent “offline modes” as well as ensuring they complement and communicate with services that exist across all devices.

As time marches on, we will undoubtedly uncover additional principles that will help guide our wearable designs. These are just a start, and we look forward to seeing them in action in the marketplace, shaping better digital experiences for all people.

Fjord’s “Designer’s Guide for Wearables” explores each of these five principles in more detail via animation. Visit:

David Hindman is an interaction design director in the San Francisco studio of Fjord, design and innovation from Accenture Interactive. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

T8455In Beautiful Users by Ellen Lupton, discover various practices of UX design – an approach that prioritizes studying people’s behaviors and attitudes in order to develop successful products. Since Dreyfuss’s development of UX design in the mid-twentieth century, the practice of user-centered design has evolved and grown to incorporate the needs and desires of differently abled users. This guide to user experience design explores the ever-changing relationship between designers and users, and discusses a variety of design methodologies and practices, from user research to hacking, open source, and the maker culture.