While smartphones offer us advanced technology that fits in our pocket, the next step in the technological revolution is embedded in the tech we wear.
In many ways, this step has been taken. In 2009, Fitbit unveiled its first wearable fitness tracker. Other wearable devices soon followed – from smart glasses and smart watches to microphoned earrings.
Today, we have all kinds of smart devices, from medical wearables to jackets and insoles that keep our body temperature at optimal levels.
As with smartphones, designers sometimes struggle to get the UX for wearables just right.
Still, a combination of creativity, common sense, and trial-and-error have resulted in a few UI and UX design principles for wearable tech that are poised to propel the field forward.
Design Better Hardware
From a hardware perspective, a designer’s focus is on comfort and aesthetics. Users will be wearing the device on their bodies, so comfort (or lack thereof) is a deal breaker.
Of course, it does not hurt if the tech is “cool” and fashionable, and maybe even beautiful.
Long gone are those days when you could buy a new car in any color, as long as it was black. Today, consumers demand complete customization.
A wearable device must be designed based on where and how it is worn with consideration of how the hardware and software will interact.
While it might be evident that a smartwatch and EEG headband should not be designed the same way, there can be subtle differences between devices according to how they are used.
Write Better Software
A lot of design work for wearables will be applied to the software. When people use a device, they access it through software – either a menu or an app – so the importance of a good software UX cannot be overstated. The following are several considerations to keep in mind.
Glanceability: Unlike smartphone or laptop screens, tiny screens available on a smartwatch or fitness tracker are intended to be glanced at. They must provide users with exactly the information needed at the exact moment. Wearables that have no screen, such as alert bracelets, must convey essential information in a streamlined way.
Keep it simple: Don’t bombard people with useless information. For wearables intended for a specific function, like alert bracelets or fitness trackers, not overloading the user is easier to deliver because the device is designed only to display specific information. For wearables with broader capabilities, like smartwatches or smart glasses, the task is more complicated.
Secure it: Keep in mind that a wearable is not magically insulated from the nuisance of hackers, malware, and security breaches. Security must be designed as an integral part of the device. If you are not familiar with the term DevSecOps, now would be a good time to hop on board.
Protecting privacy in public: Wearables are often a public accessory, but the information they provide should remain private. To keep prying eyes away, designers might consider motion-sensing wearables that know which direction they are facing and respond accordingly, such as displaying more information when facing inward and dimming screens otherwise.
Wireless connectivity and different network types: There exist different wireless technologies and types of networks through which wearables may transmit data. All have their strengths and weaknesses. To make the best choice of what kind of wireless network to integrate a device, designers must consider the following questions.
- Where on the body will the device be worn?
- How much data will it need to transmit, and over what distances?
- What sort of network speeds are users likely to require?
Some of the available wireless technologies include:
- Wi-Fi: Perhaps the best-known and most widely used wireless technology, devices connected to Wi-Fi networks emit a 2.4 GHz band of electromagnetic radiation. Wi-Fi access points are also quite common, especially in large metropolitan areas, making Wi-Fi connectivity a good choice for wearables worn often and in public, and transmit moderate to large amounts of data. Wi-Fi networks are also inexpensive and easy to implement. A significant downside is that devices connected to these networks consume quite a lot of power.
- Cellular: Cellular wireless technologies like 4G LTE and the emerging 5G can quickly transmit data over long distances, making them the natural choice for wearables that send data to distant web servers.
- Mesh Networking: This is a broad category of wireless technology that does not require the use of specifically designated access points. Instead, they are peer-to-peer, meaning that data is sent from one device to another until it reaches the intended destination. As more people use wearables, connecting them through mesh networks will likely become common. One popular type of mesh networking technology is Bluetooth, which operates in the 2.4-2.48 MHz EMF range and can transmit smaller amounts of data cheaply and quickly. Another is Wi-Fi Direct, which is a peer-to-peer version of Wi-Fi that works without access points.
- Low-power Mesh: A type of mesh networking that transmits small amounts of data over short distances, it works in EMF ranges that are much lower than those of the network types described above. Since it does not have the data transmission abilities of other types of wireless networking, it is ideal for wearables that only transmit small and simple data. Types of low-power mesh networks include Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE), Zigbee, Z-Wave, and 6LoWPAN.
On the other end of every wireless connection are servers to which wearables transmit data. Online entrepreneurs already realize how important reliability is in the form of uptime, so when a server is down, data is not being transmitted, and the wearable owner is not happy. This risk means that designers should be aware of key metrics when selecting a web host. No credible web host that operates with today’s best hardware and software should ever experience less than 99% uptime. The bottom line is cheap hosting does not save you money. Instead, it costs in downtime of the device and frustration of the consumer. If you’re bringing a new product to market, you cannot risk alienating customers with poor performance.
Consider Health Features
More is involved in the question of wearables and wireless connectivity than merely user convenience, a device’s data transmission requirements, and the kind of network into which it is patched.
We are talking about possible health issues.
Even though rigorous scientific research into the long-term health effects of sustained exposure to EMF radiation remains in its infancy, multiple scientists have raised concerns over this topic.
While data on health effects is inconclusive, it may be wise for designers to err on the side of caution and create wearable tech that emits the lowest frequency radiation possible, especially if the device is to be worn near vital organs.
Creating good UX for wearables is not trivial. Wearables are both seen and used so they need to combine private and public usability. If it does not look like a smart device, but it acts like a super smart device, it is a win-win situation in consumer’s eyes.
Smart device consumers are people offer unpredictability and individuality that increase the challenge for designers, but they have one thing in common. There want to see some emotion in those devices and connect to them on an intimate level.
As technology develops, if the considerations and best practices described here are followed, the right UX for new and existing wearable devices will take hold for the long-term.
(Lead image: Depositphotos)
Want to learn more?
If you’d like to become an expert in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic, then consider to take an online UX course from the Interaction Design Foundation. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices. Good luck on your learning journey!