Here at EchoUser, we have so many innovative minds that we were lucky enough to submit five ideas for next year’s SXSW. Last week we heard from Aaron Rich, EchoUser’s VP of operations and co-founder on UX as a buzzword, and now we dive a little deeper with Seiko Itakura and Yalu Ye on their submissions about wearable prototypes and timeless experiences, respectively. Both designers want to bring awareness to how we can design better, more productive experiences for people.
With the popularity of wearables growing tremendously, but no clear path to what makes one good – it’s time we discuss what the “wearable” experience really should be and to create the one that people will actually enjoy. As Seiko knows from past experience, it’s not an easy task, which is why no one has found the special sauce yet. But, she also knows there are things designers could be doing to better reach users’ goals – like prototyping.
Anytime a new category is developed, as we’re seeing with wearables, almost without exception, the first iterations are going to fail. Until a design standard is created, companies are going to struggle. But, there is a path to quicker acceptance – that’s where prototyping comes in. Really, prototyping should be an important element for all designs, but it’s especially vital for wearables because the standard isn’t there yet. Wearable as a category also intersects so many different industries – tech, fashion, fitness, productivity, security – that it’s near impossible to get it right the first time. The usability and experience has to be just right.
By creating prototypes, designers are able to test designs on users multiple times before developing the final product, saving huge amounts of time and money instead of building a product only to realize it doesn’t meet user expectations.
Over the past year, I spent a majority of my time interviewing a wide variety of wearable users to find out about their experiences with watches, glasses and fitness devices. I learned about the functions and features that people deemed most useful, and the things that didn’t necessarily work for them. Through this process, I started to design my own wearable device and recognized the importance of testing all the different variables at hand. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m the go-to wearable expert around EchoUser and know I have the knowledge to help other companies uncover how to better design their wearables as well.
While I think activity trackers are actually useful, I see a lot of problems with the design. From the research I conducted, I found that even if people loved their activity tracker, they eventually stopped wearing them – for the same reason they stopped using a regular pedometer to begin with. The initial idea of monitoring fitness and health sounds interesting but, when the data collection itself doesn’t yield results, people get bored. Additionally, this specific type of wearable is most helpful if you keep it on 24 hours a day, but when it runs out of batteries, users take it off to charge and forget about it. I think there could be a better design for re-charging these, and prototyping could definitely have an impact here.
…and no, she’s not talking about your wedding photos. What she is talking about is designing experience of products and services that lasts more than a few months. We all know the initial excitement we can have around a new iPhone app, piece of software or new device, but most of them won’t be top of mind in a year let alone five, ten or 20 years. It takes a special recipe to develop a true timeless experience. But, as Yalu points out, Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.
In our “everyone has a smartphone” world, new products, services, and apps are being introduced daily, if not hourly. But, with all of these becoming outdated so quickly – how useful and meaningful can they really be? We need to stop thinking about what the cool thing now is, and start thinking about designing experiences that will last into the future and have sustaining impact.
For example – think about the telephone. While the form and mechanism have changed since it “launched” in 1876, the core experience of communicating with people remotely has outlasted time. My goal is to show how UX design can help create meaningful experiences that not only resonate with users now, but will outlast its founder too.
While I think portable data storage devices (i.e. floppy disks, magnetic tapes, hard drives) seemed to be timeless at one point, they are starting to phase out with our technological advances. The core idea behind these devices is to store invisible data on visible, yet fragile, devices. Although very important devices in the past, they are not reliable enough to stand up against cloud storage. Think who want to carry multiple devices of data worrying about its damage, loss or heaviness? We are still looking for ways to store our invisible data, but the experience of storing it in different portable devices is or will be left behind time.