A Designer's Guide to Wearables

Five principles for the wearable revolution

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Look around. There’s no denying it – wearables have arrived. But with their arrival also comes a slew of design challenges. Since the design community is often generous, we’d like to pay it forward by sharing five principles on creating great wearable design. These aren’t rigid rules; just five thoughts to help teach (and maybe entertain) you. Enjoy!

Private Vs Public
Rule One: Balance Public and Personal
Wearables pose a unique challenge to designers. They are worn publicly to express our sense of fashion and style, but at the same time they can display extremely personal data. With these new devices, we may find ourselves “wearing” some of the most personal aspects of ourselves: our conversations, relationships, and even health. Unlike our smartphones which we can conceal in the privacy of our pockets, wearables may ironically be the most intimate and public devices yet. When designing for this paradox, we should keep in mind this precarious tipping point between Public and Personal.

We Suggest
Sense which way the device is facing – display content accordingly.
Vibrate first, display second.
Give the user control but ship with considerate defaults.

Keep It Glanceable
Rule Two: Keep it Glanceable
Screen real estate (if the device even has a screen) is extremely limited, so exposing users to the smallest amount of data possible to help them achieve their goals is key. 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 information at a time. Make it count.

We Suggest
Show one thing at a time.
Keep it simple for users. Their dates will thank you.

Rule Three: Leverage Non-Visual UI

Wearable displays are a lot smaller than we are used to. However, with constraint comes opportunity. To make up for their lack of screen size and visual-based interactions, many wearables offer new and different ways to input and receive information. Gesture recognition, tapping patterns, health data and vibrational communication are all some of the capabilities that will enable the future of screenless interactions. Fist bump to tweet!

We Suggest
Consider some new inputs, like gesture, voice, health and tapping.
Notify with nuanced feedback – haptics, vibrations and sounds.

The Right Information at the Right Time
Rule Four: Beware of the Data Avalanche

Today, we have a ton of access to data and communications, so prioritizing is essential. We should focus on delivering only the most important information when the user needs it, creating experiences that support rather than overwhelm. The goal is to create a system that elegantly stays in the background of our lives while supporting specific tasks. Don’t let it snowball out of control!

We Suggest
Interact with users only at the right moments.
Let them decide how much they want to hear from you.

Mind the Gaps
Rule Five: Mind the Gaps
Wearables are the newest addition to our digital lives. And like many devices, they will experience connectivity problems. They will also face the challenge of integrating with the existing devices in our digital ecosystem. As designers, we should strive to provide useful offline modes and frictionless transitions between our increasingly numerous devices. Offline is your time to shine.

We Suggest
Always provide core functionality in offline mode.
Make transitions unnoticeable when people change devices.