Design: The hurdles in Fashion + Tech

This past weekend I participated in the Fashion + Tech panel at the "IAC Visionary: Inspiration, Incubation, and Realization Conference" in NY.  The conversations were intriguing as Wearables are a major emerging product category in our times.

Again and again we demanded that both the design and the technology (in that order) must have long-term appeal for a product to thrive with users.  Technology cannot be used as a novelty to sell an object.  And however trendy it may seem, designers must understand that technology is not always the right solution to problem.  Technology must only be applied where it is the necessary solution and can be utilized flawlessly, and made mouth wateringly desirable.
The need for long-term user connection with a tech object is especially evident in data gathering Wearables.  This category will continue to grow as people, well beyond the sports arena, seek to take back control of their body and gain more knowledge through the Quantified Self movement.  For an item to be compelling beyond the initial purchase excitement, the design needs to enable fluid usability and seamless wearability.  And most importantly for long term adoption, the information gathered must be a) meaningful b) immediate and c) actionable to add value and knowledge to the users life. 
Meaning, “As I learn x metric, then I can change my y behavior, which results in better z outcomes, which I can see in my numbers.”  Only then does technology add deep value to the user, and therefore become valuable as an object. Otherwise QS Wearables will remain novelty item and use falls off rapidly, a waste for the consumer and major fail by the designers and companies. 

The other main consideration is that to go mainstream, technology in Wearables should almost always be a second tier consideration for the consumer, even as it is the designers’ all consuming problem to solve.  Electronics, manufacturing, usability, warranty and so on; there are no shortage of barriers to overcome in getting Wearables product to market.
But compelling design must be the driving force in the product’s desirability in the consumer world.  The garment should grabs the consumer’s attention right away as something beautifully designed with gorgeous materials, nothing sacrificed, which they want desperately.  And then she realizes that the product has technology built into it.  That there is a technology solution in the product as well as the compelling aesthetics.  The garment might solve thermal, visibility, or phone charging challenges, but the object must do so without requiring added behavior or causing her any pain points.  If so, then this technology feature will come as a second delight, further compelling her to buy and use the product.  (Clear and rapid communication at POS or on garment will be a key part of this future shift.) 

By overcoming these not insignificant barriers, Wearables can go beyond the wrist and early adopters market.  The products can true design solutions rather than something users actually sacrifice design and usability for, as is still the case in many Wearables right now.  Only then can Wearable become truly become ubiquitous.

IAC Visionary: Inspiration, Incubation, and Realization
16th Annual New York Fashion Conference
Friday – Saturday, November 14 – 15, 2014, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY