Designing for a world of beacons isn’t about making current transaction-based systems more efficient: it’s about designing experiences that matter to users.
I was reminded of this by a summary of design principles for wearable devices by Marcus Weller (emphasis added):
“In the coming decade, wearable technology will touch nearly every aspect of our lives. It will allow us to bring the power of the Internet to everything we do.
CB Insights reports that VC funding for wearable tech recently surpassed half a billion dollars and is rapidly accelerating. In the face of such optimism it is critical not to confuse novelty with value to the consumer. The best products in this space provide an ongoing utility beyond the novel location of the device.”
Ten Design Principles
He outlines ten key principles for designing wearable devices. Among them:
1. Solves a recurring problem for the person
To be worn, the problem the wearable device purports to solve should be substantive, recurrent, and easily articulated in a sentence.
2. Starts from the human, not the machine
Wearable technology design should start from a human problem, and then evaluate several viable technology solutions. It should not start from a particular technology solution looking for places to impose its presence.
9. Capitalizes on existing behavior
To earn the privilege of being worn, wearable design should evoke a feeling of the device as a natural extension of the person. It should not require the person to adapt or force new behavior.
Design Thinking Versus Lean
Marcus references the Pebble watch to lay down the golden law of wearables and IoT:
“The reason you should put a wearable on your body is because it’s useful, and solves a problem.”
And it’s a good rule to avoid creating stuff just because you can, just because it’s new.
It’s also a central paradigm of Silicon Valley, of Lean Start-Ups….a focus on pain points and solving problems first.
And while I’m a fan of Lean, and I’m a fan of iterating, and I’m a big believer that this framework has helped hundreds of start-ups avoid the trap of engineering instead of solving, I also think that Silicon Valley culture has tipped too far in the direction of problem-solving at the expense of design thinking.
This culture values “solving a customer’s pain” over “designing a future”…of engineering solutions over imagining a new world. Lean has helped start-ups avoid the trap of being more enamored with code than users, more focused on creating solutions without asking whether there’s a real-world problem to solve.
But they do so at the expense of true design thinking. In its classic definition, design thinking is the imagination of a future that can not be predicted based on past data points.
It doesn’t mean ignoring data, and it doesn’t mean ignoring your end users pain. But it means being willing to toss that knowledge out the window because you’re able to imagine new markets that don’t yet exist, new value where none had accrued, and new uses of technology that have nothing to do with solving today’s problems and more to do with inventing systems and user scenarios we haven’t yet imagined.
Weller’s design principles are a powerful reminder not to become smitten with novelty: to design things not because they’re new but because your end user will still want to wear them a year or two from now. It’s very practical advice with a sound basis in Lean and in engineering first principles.
But don’t let the practical be at the expense of the magica, and don’t allow a focus solely on problems to be done at the expense of imagining new systems for joy and discovery.
There will be problems enough to solve in the years ahead, pain points aplenty to build businesses around.
But when you’re at the frontier, we still need plenty of room for discovery, novelty and serendipity. The capacity for joy can still hold more power than a problem solved.
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