Take a look at your smartphone. What makes it yours? Is it a certain colour or shape to match your personality? Probably not, which is why the person sitting next to you has a nearly identical device. Now take a look at your clothes. Your style is unique, and what you've got on is probably different than the outfits of those around you.
It's interesting how in a culture where we pride ourselves on customisation and diversity, our electronics don't seem to follow the same trend. We have very few options in terms of phone colour, or sizes. There's not a specific phone for left-handed people or one that caters to women over men. Aside from a few accessories and setting customised backgrounds, they're all nearly identical.
That's not really a bad thing. Devices, like smartphones or tablets, don't really have much about them that would need to change based on the user. However, we've grown so comfortable with creating a one-size-fits all devices, that we've lulled ourselves into a problem.
Mobile technology is evolving into wearable technology. Companies everywhere are racing to create the latest in wearable electronics. Apple is making watches, Google is making glasses, and there are fitness trackers, rings and shirts that perform a number of different functions. It's pretty amazing stuff, but its shortcoming is that we've assumed they can all be designed just like our phones and tablets.
Wearable devices blend technology with fashion. They're displayed on the body and expand our senses, therefore offering a more intimate experience. As a result, these products should be optimised to fit the people using them. That means tailoring devices for people of all genders, skin colors and body types.
To take things a step further, not only should they fit us physically, but just like what we wear, they should match our personalities. Wearables, like clothing, are not just worn for functionality, but also to be aesthetically pleasing. As mentioned earlier with our smartphone example, personality isn't normally injected into technology.
This presents a significant challenge to designers. How can they go about creating wearable products that work for everyone? Well for one, it'll take a design team that breaks the mold of traditional technical norms. One of the main contributing factors behind the one-size-fits-all approach is the lack of diversity that exists among current tech designer teams. That shouldn't be too surprising. Products are often a reflection of the teams behind their creation. Seeing as how the tech industry is primarily male, it isn't hard to see why so many wearables seem to be designed as if they were for men. In addition, few design teams have fashion experts to consult on how these devices should be optimised for specific people. These teams are so worried about the technology and fitting in all the features they can, the aesthetics often take a back seat.
In order to improve on this, companies are taking action by making non-traditional hires and creating more diverse teams. In Google's case, they hired Isabelle Olsson to head Google Glass' design time. Olsson is a designer with experience in furniture and jewelry, but brought her expertise in order to widen the appeal Glass. One of Olsson's biggest moves was to create a team of designers without tech experience. She also made sure her team was split male and female, in order to have adequate representation from both sides and create a product that was more generally appealing.
It'll be interesting to see the direction wearable technology takes. Obviously the fashion and fitness industries have taken an interest, but it wouldn't be surprising to see if wearables follow the BYOD (What is BYOD?) trend and work their way into the workplace. Either way, with a growing number of people adopting new technology trends, designers need to move away from one-size-fits-all products into something people can make their own.