Designing On the Edge: Wearable Tech

How many times a day do you notice someone’s wearable technology hanging from their wrist? It’s becoming a new standard to monitor our input and output, stairs climbed and calories burned. For some of us, it’s simply about curiosity: How far did I walk around the streets of Manhattan today? Or, I’m exhausted from trekking around campus … Oh, four miles would explain my depletion … 


Here, on the design side of things, we’re always interested in how technology interacts with the world. Is it a trend? How useful is the design, or is it fleeting, gratuitous? In his HOW Interactive Design Conference Chicago talk, Dan Hon presents the idea of the “empathy gap.” And he asks if what we’re designing is actually addressing what the user truly wants and needs. Is the device actually useful to the user? Or, is there a gap to address?


To weigh in on the wearable tech phenomenon, we got in touch with Nick Myers, Director of UX Design at Fitbit, to find out what it’s like to design for wearable devices – and what’s next in this brave new interactive landscape. “Designing for wearable devices is a brand new challenge where the design patterns haven’t been established yet,” Myers says. “[At Fitbit] we’re designing stuff that we don’t have reference for. That’s both exciting and overwhelming.”

Myers highlights the complexity of designing for wearable tech.

“Designers need to devote a lot more time to considering context and scenarios to identify the real world experiences people will have with a wearable device,” Myers explains. “Lives are messy. We need to handle the messes with elegant design.”

So how do you design with so many user needs in mind? 


“Fitbit has a broad customer population with very different needs. It’s hard to design for all of them successfully,” Myers says. “But it’s worse to compromise, too. This is such a new medium that people are experiencing, that we’re back at square one for what people are expecting. Simpler has proven time and again to be better.”

What’s it like designing on the growing edge of tech? 

“It’s great to design at a company that produces software and hardware. But they’re on drastically different life cycles. Software can be months or weeks long. Hardware can take years, needs to be planned well in advance and is still hard to predict. Businesses still vastly underestimate the importance of wearability in wearable design. If it’s not comfortable and useful, people won’t wear them.

It’s difficult to design on hardware that you can’t truly evaluate until you see it on the device. By then it might be too late to change everything up and a firmware update might be 6 months out. Designing in this space requires a lot more willingness to prototype and hack. You also need to be willing to generate a ton of ideas that you can play with and test. You need to be scrappy …”

Join Nick Myers in San Francisco for the HOW Interactive Design Conference. He’ll share his experiences at Fitbit in Spanning the World: Designing for Multiple Platforms.