“In the coming decade, wearable technology will touch nearly every aspect of our lives. It will allow us to bring the power of the Internet to everything we do.” –Marcus Weller, Ph.D.
It was a hot summer day in Spain. I had been riding my motorcycle along the beautiful, sun-drenched streets of a University campus I was visiting in Barcelona when I looked over to the right to read a street sign. Just then, a little red Smart car in front of me slammed on the brakes. I braced for impact, and then seemed to watch in slow motion as I smashed into the back of the car, totaling my bike. (As a side note, Smart cars are a lot more solid than they look.) I escaped with only minor injuries, but something deep in my psyche had been triggered.
About six months later, I had an incredibly vivid dream that I was back on the bike that day. The difference was that this time, instead of crashing I skipped reading the street sign and simply followed the GPS maps that were floating directly in front of the helmet like a hologram. It was a beautiful solution to my problem. This dream sparked what was later to become the Skully P1, the world’s most intelligent heads-up display motorcycle helmet with GPS navigation and a 180° rearview camera. We built this vertically integrated device on the belief that intuitive wearable technology design could not only make people safer, but could also enhance their experience of the world.
In the coming decade, wearable technology will touch nearly every aspect of our lives. It will allow us to bring the power of the Internet to everything we do. CB Insights reports that VC funding for wearable tech recently surpassed half a billion dollars and is rapidly accelerating. In the face of such optimism it is critical not to confuse novelty with value to the consumer. The best products in this space provide an ongoing utility beyond the novel location of the device. Wearable companies that do not live this utilitarian mantra will quickly find themselves left on the nightstand while their customers move to more useful products. Eric Migicovsky, CEO of Pebble recently noted,
“The reason you should put a wearable on your body is because it’s useful, and solves a problem.”
It’s really that simple.
Well, almost. I have had the good fortune of meeting hundreds of wearable tech founders and early adopters from across the globe during my journey with Skully. Based upon these interactions and my own lessons learned, I have compiled a top ten list of design principles underlying the products I find most compelling in the space:
1. Solves a recurring problem for the person
To be worn, the problem the wearable device purports to solve should be substantive, recurrent, and easily articulated in a sentence.
2. Starts from the human, not the machine
Wearable technology design should start from a human problem, and then evaluate several viable technology solutions. It should not start from a particular technology solution looking for places to impose its presence.
3. Requests attention, does not demand it
Because it is with you everywhere, wearable tech should honor the present moment, not distract from it. In doing so, it permits the wearer to remain in the moment, and for others around the wearer to do the same.
4. Enhances human capabilities, does not replace them
It should make the wearer better able to consume and experience the world, not replace or intervene with the wearer’s opportunity to experience it.
5. Creates a net negative number of problems
In rendering a wearable solution, it should eliminate more problems than it introduces to one’s life.
6. Enables deep and broad connectivity
It should enable broad networks of platforms. Not only should wearable devices communicate with each other, but they should also enable the broader systems and platforms upon which they are based to interface with one another.
7. Serves the software
Scale and flexibility are more readily achieved when wearable hardware both serves, and is served by the software. As the wearer’s needs adjust or their context changes, the hardware can remain static while the software platform can quickly evolve.
8. Weniger, aber breiter (Less but broader)
Wearable hardware should strive to reduce its footprint while the wearable software platforms continue to broaden and expand. This maximizes wearable technology’s impact and utility across an expansive universe of applications.
9. Capitalizes on existing behavior
To earn the privilege of being worn, wearable design should evoke a feeling of the device as a natural extension of the person. It should not require the person to adapt or force new behavior.
10. Augments the things we love, and automates the things we don’t
It should enhance our favorite experiences, making them richer and more memorable while using automation to create more time to do the things we love.
There is still much to learn as this exciting era of technology unfolds. What many understand already is that investment in new technology not founded on authentic utility is the stuff bubbles are made of. Wearable technology should at its core, enable us to transcend our problems. Emerging wearable tech leaders have an economic imperative to solve real problems if wearables are to become the omnipresent, multi-billion dollar industry many predict. If these conditions are met, a future of ubiquitous wearable technology may quite literally be upon us.
*Thank you to Andrew Schirmer and Sean White, Ph.D. for their thoughtful contributions to this article.
Marcus Weller is founder and CEO of Skully Helmets Inc., which is pioneering advanced Heads-Up Display (HUD) technology solutions for the head protection industry.