Design for Wearables 101

Wdd Logo.
May 15, 2020
Design for Wearables 101.
Wearable devices are some of the hottest tech on the market today. We’re living in a world where people want access to endless information as quickly as possible. Glancing at your watch and being able to check everything from your heart rate, to your text messages can be incredibly convenient. As of 2019, the latest numbers revealed that around 1 quarter of adults used a wearable device at least once a month in the US. What’s more, the number of options available for wearable devices is increasing. It’s not just smart watches anymore, but wristbands, glasses, earphones, and smart rings. Wearable devices present a unique set of challenges when it comes to development and design. If the chances are that you’ll need to start branching into wearable apps one day soon, the following tips will help to keep you on the right path.

Design for Glanceability

Glanceability is a strange term to consider when you’re a digital designer. Most of the time, you want people to do a lot more than just glance at your content. If you’re designing a website, for instance, then you want people to keep looking at what you have to offer for at least a few minutes. However, when you’re designing for a smartwatch, you’re appealing to a selection of people who want to spend as little time interacting with tech as possible. Making your UI glanceable means reducing the interface to its most basic visual level, so that people can consume information as fast as possible. For instance, the Bring Grocery Shopping app for smartwatches converts items on your shopping list to visual icons so that you can instantly see what you need to buy. Once you’ve picked up an item, you tap it on your watch to turn it from red to green. Focus on making sure that your audience can consume any of the content on their smartwatch within a period of five seconds or less. If it takes more than 10 seconds for someone to interact with your smartwatch app, you might need to go back to the drawing board.

Keep it Simple

The principle of KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid), is pretty common in web design. No matter what kind of interface you might be designing for, it’s crucial to ensure that you’re not cluttering any visual space with information that your users don’t want or need. However, if you’re designing for smartwatch apps, then it’s even more important to keep things simple. The KISS Principle means making sure that you don’t add more actions or information to your wearables than your user needs. Think about how you can keep the interactions between the user and the device as brief as possible. For instance, if users need to reply to a message on their smartwatch, then they’re going to want to avoid wasting time typing on a tiny screen. That’s why apps like Telegram for the Android watch allow you to send canned responses and emojis instead. Design for singular, focused tasks that allow your users to get things done fast.

Reduce User Interactions

Web designers are often focused on making websites and mobile apps that make users want to click, interact and engage as frequently as possible. However, you need to take a very different approach when you’re designing for wearable apps. The most effective apps on wearable devices require as little action as possible for users. This means that you need to think about how people are going to use your app with as little effort as possible. The less time users have to fiddle around with an app, the more time they spend using it. When designing for wearable UX, utilize not only touch, but vibration and sound to get things done. You can also consider using things like voice input to schedule activities and compose messages too. In the Dark Sky Weather app for the iWatch, all you need to do is swipe from one page to another to see more information about your forecast. Notably, when keeping your wearable apps as interaction-free as possible, you’ll also need to think about the kind of wearables that you’re creating for. Different devices provide very different capabilities and experiences.

Follow the Rules of Minimalism

Users interacting with a wearable display love minimalism. That’s because minimalist designs mean that there isn’t a lot of clutter on a tiny screen for your user to contend with. If you’re minimalist in your choices, you can ensure that everything from the colors on the app, to the typography you choose, is selected for its clarity and impact. Contrast is particularly important on smaller screens, as it helps to make various elements easier to read at a glance. Make sure that you take your UI out and test it in real-world environments to examine how easy it is to read. Other points to think about include:
  • Straightforward typography: When it comes to the typeface on your wearables, a simple sans-serif selection is usually the best option. For instance, check out the kind of fonts you get on the Apple Watch app for Evernote.
  • Space between elements: White space can make or break your design strategies for small screens. If you put too much space between elements, there’s not going to be enough room for any other content. However, if you put too little space between elements, they’ll be hard to read.
  • Easy access: Any buttons, links, or other tappable functions need to be very easy to use with a wearable app. Don’t make people struggle to use your content.

Follow Platform Design Guidelines

In order to be successful with app development, you need to consider a handful of requirements. Remember, there are dozens of different companies experimenting with wearable development these days. What’s more, various tools work in very unique ways. Just because the app you build works for the iWatch, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for a watch from Samsung, and so on. Thinking about which tools you want your app to work for ahead of schedule will help you to design apps that target your users' specific desires. Remember that the end goal is always to produce a well-functioning, easy-to-use application that’s perfect for your intended audience. Remember though, while you do need to focus on a specific platform, you shouldn’t be designing your applications in isolation. It might be worth thinking about interactions with other devices too. For instance, do you want people to be able to use their smartwatch to control functions on their phone? Should your consumers be able to upload data from their phone straight to their computers? The Lifesum app works as a diet and meal planner for your Android watch, but it can also provide useful tips on how to reach your nutritional goals on your phone based on the information it takes from your watch.

Reduce Interruptions

Let’s face it, even on smartphones and tablets; constant incoming notifications can be annoying and disruptive. While we do rely on our devices to keep us informed, too many interruptions can sometimes make us abandon our tech. It’s one thing to have a mobile device buzzing in your pocket, and another entirely to have a vibration constantly pulsing against your wrist or finger. [pullquote]It’s one thing to have a mobile device buzzing in your pocket, and another entirely to have a vibration constantly pulsing against your wrist[/pullquote] Keep the number of notifications that you send to your users as low as possible. The frequency of notifications need to be kept minimal, so the device doesn’t constantly irritate the person wearing it. When you do need to notify a user, make sure that the notification is as valuable as possible. Pointlessly pushing irrelevant information to your customers will cause them to uninstall your app. If you’re not sure exactly what your customers need, you can always consider letting them configure the timing and kinds of notifications that they receive with a helpful user interface. You could even let your users choose whether they want a notification to come with a vibration, a tone, or just a screen glow. Some tools, like iTranslate, avoid notifying their users at all. That means that customers only get alerts when they choose to interact with the app.

Concentrate on Convenience

Finally, think about how you can make your wearable apps as convenient and useful as possible for your target customer. The more comfortable your users feel using your app, the more it will become a natural part of their routine. For instance, it’s rarely a good idea to design an app that’s going to eat up all of the battery life on your user’s wearable the moment that they start using it. Think about how much power your app really needs to use to remain valuable. Additionally, consider how the features on your app can genuinely solve problems for customers. It’s not just about translating messages from a smartphone to a smartwatch, so people don’t have to fumble with their phone. If you’re offering a messaging app, help people send information to friends faster with pre-configured responses, and voice recognition; If you’re giving your customers a maps app, let them instantly swipe to the right route when they’re walking, driving, or getting public transport, you could even offer handy tips on things to see as they continue on their journey.

Get Ready to Design for Wearables

Preparing for the new age of web design isn’t just about getting yourself ready for things like AI and 5G. You also need to consider how today’s users are going to be interacting with applications and interfaces on a host of different platforms. Learning the basics of designing for wearables will help you to earn more jobs, impress more clients and expand your portfolio in the years ahead. Featured image via Unsplash.

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

Read Next

20 Best New Websites, June 2024

Arranging content in an easily accessible way is the backbone of any user-friendly website. A good website will present…

Exciting New Tools for Designers, June 2024

In this month’s roundup of the best tools for web designers and developers, we’ll explore a range of new and noteworthy…

3 Essential Design Trends, June 2024

Summer is off to a fun start with some highly dramatic website design trends showing up in projects. Let's dive in!

15 Best New Fonts, May 2024

In this month’s edition, there are lots of historically-inspired typefaces, more of the growing trend for French…

How to Reduce The Carbon Footprint of Your Website

On average, a web page produces 4.61 grams of CO2 for every page view; for whole sites, that amounts to hundreds of KG…

20 Best New Websites, May 2024

Welcome to May’s compilation of the best sites on the web. This month we’re focused on color for younger humans,…

Has AI Killed User Testing?

Web designers employ user testing to evaluate a website’s functionality and overall UX (user experience). Various…

Exciting New Tools for Designers, May 2024

This year, we’ve seen a wave of groundbreaking apps and tools. AI is reshaping the industry, enhancing productivity,…

Using AI to Predict Design Trends

Design trends evolve at a blistering pace, especially in web design. On multi-month projects, you might work on a…

15 Best New Fonts, April 2024

Just like web design, type design follows trends. And while there’s always room for an exciting outsider, we tend to…

3 Essential Design Trends, May 2024

Integrated navigation elements, interactive typography, and digital overprints are three website design trends making…

How to Write World-Beating Web Content

Writing for the web is different from all other formats. We typically do not read to any real depth on the web; we…