December 17, 2013

Designing the Next Generation of Wearables as Fashion Accessories

Smart watch componentsI've been interested in wearable fitness accessories for a while. And, with Christmas coming up and my wife bugging me for gift ideas I thought a FuelBand, UP, or Fitbit would be a great gift idea. In the process of looking at what's new with these various devices, I ran across Nike's Rose Gold FuelBand and found it interesting that the visuals of someone wearing it were more fashion-oriented than fitness-oriented. With the very notable exception of Apple, function generally seems to win out over form in the technology space. Look at a few of the more prominent wearable technology products announced recently; Google Glass and the smart watches from Samsung and Pebble. Not one of those would ever be considered a fashion accessory! So that was one interesting observation, but then in the past few weeks I've run across a flurry of news on various startups working on wearables with fashion in mind. Ringly is developing a "smart" ring, Everpurse is focused on making attractive handbags that can charge phones, and LaForge has a pair of glasses that perform like Google Glass but look like actual glasses. This increased focus on design got me thinking about the added layer of complexity it brings to the product development cycle. If you set form equal to function, then you necessarily need to gather input on product concept and design ideas from outside the engineering team. Whether it's product management conducting a focus group, a designer scanning the runway at Paris Fashion Week, or comments on social media there's a challenge in making sure that "voice of the customer" makes it back to the engineering team and is easily accessible as they work on designs and prototyping.
  • Emails and other input from the field need to make their way to a central repository that the entire team can access
  • Design iterations and discussions need to be centralized and archived to ensure sign-off from all stakeholders
  • Design trade-offs and other changes need to be understood in the context of their impact on the product development schedule
So as you're building the next great wearable technology fashion accessory, keep in mind the challenges involved in pulling folks from outside the product development team into the conversation. Developing wearable technology is complicated, requiring input and integration from a variety of engineering disciplines. If you want to really hit a home run, it looks like the bar has been raised. Form needs to be taken as seriously as function in new products, and that means being able to integrate external stakeholders into the engineering process. You just can't do that effectively with email and electronic documents.