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Designing for smartwatches and wearables

Tom Evans, Head of UX and Design at Box UK gives his thoughts on the future of designing for wearables


Wearables are undoubtedly here to stay. How important will they become and how do you see them evolving over the next five years?`

With the emergence of new technologies and the staggering amount of web content, designers are finding it increasingly difficult to control the way users consume digital experiences.
However, the evolution of wearables isn’t any different to the conversations that previously gave rise to responsive design (RD). It’s just another category of device in mobile and desktop experiences that users can access content on. This is before considering technological developments such as screens that fold up like paper; as a designer, this is both liberating and a little terrifying.
Although the launch of the Apple Watch is a milestone, it only offers alerts and notifications. Wearables will become an integral part of our lives, but the fashion item will act as a digital hub that consolidates the users’ existing digital tools. Therefore, the wearable screen itself is less relevant because the focus is on the user interface for the screen it integrates with.

How can web designers take the fundamentals of responsive design and apply them to a design so that it can work on a screen such as a smartwatch?

Content and RD go hand in hand. Responsive design is driven by content and small screen size is only one of many features that designers must take into account when creating an experience for multiple devices. A large screen may provide more space for content, but might, for example, lack the touch or voice controls that a smaller device offers. Responsive design is about designing to features and capabilities, not to devices. By embracing this fundamental concept, designs can be appropriated across a huge ecosystem of current devices and those arriving in the near future.
When scaling down a web page you cannot expect to offer the same quality or experience due to different formats as it will not be sufficient. Designers must take advantage of RD that works across a range of devices by detecting the size and type of device in use and accessing information to complement the platform. The Apple Watch will enable designers to show small, discrete actions and create a template to perform single tasks.
It’s no surprise that providing coherent content experiences that scale from handheld smartphones to smartwatches will continue to be a focus throughout 2015 and beyond.

Can designers or developers use current technology such as HTML to create apps for smart devices?

Designers can use current technologies to design and develop apps for smart devices, and wearables will add another layer of convenience not found with mobiles or tablets. However, the reading experience will be minimised and will only offer the reader specific action-driven content.
Although some think it will be a distraction by constantly buzzing users’ wrists while draining the battery, it’s a great notification platform, enabling users to quickly view the subject line. We will be in a more connected, autonomous world in which wearable technology can control many aspects of our life.
Smart, connected devices offer opportunities for greater reliability and capabilities that transcend traditional product boundaries. To keep up, design needs to continue evolving to create a fitting user experience.