After following wearable technologies for some time now, I find myself troubled by design trends gaining favor that to me pose a fundamental barrier to success. Let’s face it—no one is putting on Google Glass to look better.
As wearable tech migrates from the accessories category (Google Glass, Nike Fuel etc.) to actual clothing like a Locked ON Proximity Sensing T-Shirt, the lack of a flexible approach to how companies design may stifle their acceptance. They suffer from MDP—monolithic design philosophy, which essentially is a singular approach to design that tends to negate any personalization. What MDP gives us are limited designs based on the concept of product as “experience.” The individual’s interaction is emotional and internal, not visual. It’s all about what you “have” and display, without regard to how it fits your individual personality or what it says about your style choice.
That may work for traditional technology products, but hardly a recipe for success when you cross the line into fashion. In order to be successful in this space, tech companies will have to break away from MDP and create a new design approach that is a marriage of fashion and technology. This means each brand is going to have to develop and own its design philosophy in a very real way. They need to be more like Apple, which has led the tech industry’s design direction for years, both inspiring and being copied. But even that doesn’t go far enough if tech is in fact going to straddle utilitarian and fashionable.
Perhaps now is the time to turn to partnerships as a way of integrating the two. Imagine, for example, if Google had collaborated with Oliver Peoples to develop Google Glass. In that case, I doubt you’d hear people referring to those wearing the product as “Glassholes.” At least, early adopters wouldn’t be rocking the digital equivalent of a mullet (tech on top, schlub everywhere else). Brands playing in the wearable tech fashion space must become more aware of the need for unique design that can become personalized, or risk becoming just another knockoff. And while the public loves fashion knockoffs, that game is all about cut-rate pricing, with only the “real” design commanding the premium price. That isn’t a survivable business model in tech.
The one thing you can count on is that wearable tech will become more and more integrated into our personal style, with consumers insisting upon adding their own touch to personalize their device. From the glittery, blinged-out charms to handcrafted sustainable and locally sourced wood iPhone cases, people want to make their mark and have products they buy reflect something unique about them.
How does a brand balance form and function? It has to start by avoiding the kind of rigidity that prevents personal interpretations of how to wear a product because it interferes with the tech. Perhaps it means cutting back on the tech. In other words, you can have ugly jeans with 10 tech features or awesome jeans with three. Maybe the first is a true techie’s preference, but guess which the majority of consumers might opt for?
While there are a lot of things that go into purchase decisions, the winner of the wearable technology space won’t be the most innovative in terms of its technical bells and whistles. The winner is apt to be the brand that embraces personal customization.