Industrial designers and founders of ‘SYNTAX Design Integration’, Ayal Aran & Adi Alfia ask what should instruct us when thinking about wearable technologies.
Some 4000 years ago, blue dye was a luxurious commodity. It was extracted from snails found in the Mediterranean Sea using a technology known only to a few. Apparently, someone thought producing it was worth the trouble, the time and the money (not to mention the horrible smell). They wanted to communicate ‘blue’ on clothing. These ancient manufacturers had their reasons, of course – signifying status, for one. These types of social indicators were as meaningful back then as they are today.
Our clothing and surroundings don’t only keep us warm and safe, they interact with us in so many ways, most of which go unnoticed. Be it the texture of your shirt, the height of the wall you are walking by or the reflection of light from the bracelet on your wrist. We rarely take time to consider the intensity in which we relate to the physical world. The role these relations play in shaping our conduct cannot be overstated. We all roll our sleeves up when we get hot; we may keep a distance from a wall or lean against it; a slight rattle of bracelets can attract desired attention. We are constantly sending and receiving sensorial cues.
In certain respects, digital information is but another layer of available information for us to harness. Much like printed information on labels or in prolific user manuals, all this digital info risks becoming something we rarely bother reading. It may be good to know all that information is in reach, but that becomes its core function. Simply being ‘there’. When assessing a physical product, most of the data is derived from looking at its proportions and color, judging its weight, feeling its texture and listening to the sound it produces. Yes, we buy online, but we do so with knowledge and intuitions gathered by us and our peers, using products in real life.
The Questions for Wearables
Wearables present us designers with extremely challenging questions. How much information should the user be presented with? What types of interactions are to be engaged in? What kind of experience and emotional modes we wish to facilitate? Do we simply patch our fairly new(subtle and sterile) touch-screen gestures and graphic data with three dimensional tangible objects? Or can we conceptualize a fresh set of user-machine dialogs utilizing sound, weight, touch and even scent?
This can be achieved by synthesizing culturally familiar shapes and structures with the vast opportunities of digital data, sensoring capabilities and analytic tools. referencing gestures from the enormous pool of human-to-human, human-to-animal, human-to-machine and human-to-object interactions. We believe utilizing this synthesis for significant purposes (emotional, economical, educational) is what the industry, entrepreneurs, educators and designers should aim for.
In short-fusing the old, the new, the borrowed and the blue.