Design Wearable Tech

Is there a design barrier holding back wearable tech? - Creative and digital experts share their insights

By Gillian West, Social media manager



wearable tech article

April 8, 2014 | 8 min read

Wearable technology is without a doubt a hot topic and here at The Drum we hear a lot about the development of wearables; where the industry is going; and what's around the corner.

In fact in our latest issue, available in The Drum Store, we posed the question - who's wearing wearable technology?

Inspired by said feature, and the fact that Google has partnered with Ray-Ban maker Luxottica and Burberry's former CEO Angela Ahrendts has moved to tech giant Apple, we spoke to some of our esteemed judges at this year's Roses Creative Awards to find out if they thought there was a design barrier halting the mainstream adoption of wearable tech.

Enlightened by insights from Roses judges RAPP ECD, Jason Andrews, and Sean Kinmont, 23red founding partner, we then took the same question to a cross section of (vocal) creative, fashion and digital industry experts to find out their thoughts, and you might just be surprised at what they had to say...

Jason Andrews, executive creative director, RAPP UK

The big issue with wearable tech is that it doesn't know what it is. Most examples are an odd hybrid of jewellery and technology with design legacies from both of those very incongruous heritages.Technology has traditionally been black and silver and just look at the prevalent colours in Nike Fuelband, whereas jewellery is shiny, with faceted gemstones - check out the bevelled finish on a Jawbone. Generally, the two parent design disciplines give rise to ugly kids. There is also the limitation of needing to connect with other technology and to a certain extent wearable is defined by the technology that preceded it, for example the USB in the Fuelband.

Sean Kinmont, founding partner – creative, 23red

Whilst design has always been a barrier with the adoption of mainstream consumer electronics, wearable creates a whole new level of complexity. These devices have focussed on delivering functional benefits and the design challenge has been around their form, small boxy interfaces where reading more than a tweet or your calendar is challenging and interaction difficult. Also as wearable become more intimate and exists outside of your pocket they need to become more aesthetic. However with telepathic brain computer interfaces on the horizon all this will change as we are able to control things using just our minds. Suddenly adaptive design takes on a whole new meaning.

Lauren Bowker, materials alchemist, The Unseen

Unfortunately I do believe there is a barrier of gimmick between technology and design within wearables, for me firstly we just need to stop calling it 'wearable technology', most 'wearable technology' you see out there is really more 'wearable computing'.Look through different eyes and you are most likely dressed in a piece of 'wearable tech' now, chemistry and materials advances are frequently achieving great success, we only have to go to Marks & Spencer's to find a skirt that doesn't need ironing or a water repellent jacket, we’re just not calling that wearable tech - it sneaked in on us however, it respectfully is just that and it's winning. 'Wearable tech' and its plastic stereotype is the buzzword of now and of course has a place in mass market, but In my eyes the definition of wearable tech is way back when the first chemical fabric, Rayon was invented.I believe if we drop the slang focus on the application and need for creating a wearable technology then educate ourselves in how the technologies that we’re adopting actually work; we can focus on designing great garments using new materials purposefully. We will then move away from the gimmick we see today and begin to design a new magical generation of fashion.There's a lot out there, right under our noses just waiting to be harnessed, take a leaf changing colour seasonally, that's some kick ass science.

Jonathan Lovatt-Young, head of service and experience design at Tribal Worldwide London

The biggest challenge in designing for wearables is the scarcity of attention. As we move beyond the passive, single-purpose Fitbits and Fuel Bands towards smart watches, glasses and other interactive platforms, it'll be less about claiming space on the wearer's wrist and more about earning a place in the wearer's routines. We only have so much attention to give and so many things to give it to. Successful apps and services will be those that stay out of the way most of the time and deliver the right things at the right time and know when to hand over to a smartphone.

Lindsay Nuttall, chief digital officer, BBH London

I think wearable tech can blow up but not until someone realises that it needs to enhance your look, tap into the inherent playfulness of fashion and make you more socially connected. I tried on Google Glass at a party and not only did I look awful, I found myself checking my email on the dance floor. It did not enhance my experience. Fashion is at it’s most fun when someone gives you a spontaneous compliment for rocking your look that day. I want an outfit that is ‘likeable’ – basically collecting digital compliments so I know which days I have nailed it. I would also like a key staple that could change through seasons and with my mood. Until we get into that territory, it’s not really doing it for me. Luxottica is a step in the right direction but technical people at the top of their game combined with creative people at the top of their game is where the magic happens. Someone call Alexander Wang, Riccardo Tisci or Mary Katrantzou.

Kevin Allen, chief strategy officer, Publicis Chemistry

Most new product launches fail, and so do 88 per cent of New Year resolutions. Wearable tech is subject to the same principle as we're really not very good at changing our behaviour, even when we want to. So it's no surprise to hear last week that more than 50 per cent of activity trackers are no longer used. Actually I think that's a pretty good success story and shows how wearable tech can get traction, by meeting three core criteria. One, add value to something we do every day; two, make it really easy to use - we can't be bothered to learn something new and three, which is where wearable tech has some way to go – make it look good. Most of us aren't turned on by geek chic.

Alasdair Lennox, creative director, Fitch EMEA

Wearable tech is here, but as with every advance some are essential to daily life and some are not. Fashion will only embrace wearable technology on a large scale, when it is relevant, beautiful, and cost effective to manufacture - then it will be truly democratic. Luxottica's deal with Google Glass to make the technology more wearable, addressing the aesthetic challenges that lie ahead for wearable tech proves that as time goes on - as long as it remains relevant - wearable tech will only become more attractive to every day consumers.

Sean Betts, head of agile client solutions, Havas Media

Design isn’t a barrier for wearable tech at the moment as it’s still the mainstay of the early adopter tech community. However, for wearable tech to achieve adoption amongst the broader population these barriers will need to be overcome. It’s an issue that most tech companies haven’t had to deal with until now but with Apple’s appointment of Angela Ahrendts and it’s rumoured conversations with Swiss watch makers, it will be interesting to see if this is a barrier they will actively address with their long rumoured entry into the wearable tech market later this year.This year's Roses Creative Awards finalists will be revealed on Thursday 10 April.
Design Wearable Tech

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RAPP is a global, data-driven creative community that builds direct, meaningful and high-value relationships between brands and people. At RAPP, with our unrivalled...

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23red is an integrated communications agency that knows how to get people to do things through brand activation. We provide clients with either specialist expertise...

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Bartle Bogle Hegarty is a Global advertising agency. Founded in 1982 by British ad men John Bartle, Nigel Bogle, and John Hegarty, BBH has offices in London, New...

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FITCH is a global design consultancy that influences the world around you by translating brand into consumer experience.

We have a strong expertise in retail...

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Havas SA is a French multinational advertising and public relations company, headquartered in Paris, France. Havas operates in more than 100 countries.

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Publicis Chemistry

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