Evaluating Product Design Services for Wearable Electronics
Wearable technology promises to augment one of the most sophisticated systems known to us: the human body. For the brains behind this development, perhaps the most challenging task is contending with the inimitable characteristics of the bodies of individual users. While wearable product development has made its mark in the medical community, recent studies reveal that nearly one-third of commercially available wearables are abandoned by users.
Most of these failed use cases stem from the lack of a compelling value proposition, much of which rests on effective and efficient design. This calls for revisiting the philosophy behind designing for wearables which transcends traditional engineering practices and enters the realm of physiological and psychological aspects of the user.
Wearable User Experience: The Tangible and the Intangible
Given that wearables make direct contact against the skin for long stretches of time, the hardware is as important a component of the user experience (UX) as the software. The hardware, or the tangible aspect of the UX, is largely dependent of factors like contact material, thermal management of components, and the overall haptic experience. All of these, in varying degrees, play their part in determining the device’s comfort quotient. Consider thermal management—it is a far more crucial parameter in wearable product development than in products like handheld smartphones. In general, manufacturers try to keep the skin-side temperature of these devices below the accepted 40⁰ Celsius, as anything above body temperature can make the devices extremely uncomfortable to wear. With the software side of things (the intangible aspect of the UX), the ball game is altogether different as the former determines the interaction between the user and device (UI). Designing the UI for wearable devices is where the virtual and real worlds meet. The user-device communications in wearables thus require going beyond the screen and into a tangible embodied interaction. This, in turn, involves the contextual embedding of the interface and user interaction in real space, which in this case is the body.
Form Factor and Functionality: Balancing Comfort and Efficiency
An effective form factor for wearable devices does more than just provide familiarity to its user. It accounts for the user’s gestures, body posture, and characteristics to make the device an extension of the body itself. This is where ergonomics takes center stage. To achieve peak ergonomic experience with wearable devices, manufacturers need to pay attention to phenomenology. The human body perceives, experiences, and acts accordingly, both at a mental and physical level with ergonomics at the core of this entire process. What this means in terms of wearables' product development is the need for a form factor that does not stress the contact area.
Think back to the instance of an overheating device. This, of course, is related to the efficiency of the wearable. Power management is critical for optimal thermal management. There are various methods to control the temperature of a device but the most common is altering duty cycles to manipulate heat discharge. But bringing comfort and efficiency together, especially in wearables, involves hardware and software considerations in equal parts. As far as software for wearables is concerned, significant factors include platform stabilization, operator customization, and device integration.
Wearable product development can be a tricky business considering the intricacies of human behavior and the complexities of the human body. But keeping these simple things in mind can go a long way. At the end of the day, designing for wearables is still UX design and it never hurts to go back to basic principles, which all revolve around understanding your user.