The designer of the Fitbit says wearable devices need to be “nearly sensual”

January 20, 2014
January 20, 2014

For a wearable device to be successful, it needs to do much more than just work: It also has to look good on you. And not flashy-good—like Google Glass, which marks everyone wearing it as a loud-and-proud early adopter. The design must be able to fully integrate into our day-to-day lives.

Increasingly, the task of marrying form and function falls to industrial designers like Gadi Amit. As principle designer and founder of the San Francisco-based NewDealDesign, Amit has helped create a number of wearables, including Whistle, Insuline, Sproutling, and Fitbit.

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There’s a “fitbit” for everyone these days.(Whistle)

Amit firmly believes that the design work he does on wearable devices is vital to their success. “These objects are the most personable, nearly sensual or intimate objects,” he told Quartz. “They pose so many complex questions about your personality and fit to your specific human body. It’s a very delicate balance of emotional next to rational thinking.”

He says his company has met the challenge of creating such a balance by shifting from traditional industrial design team to an even split with engineers. Now, instead of tweaking a design to make it ready for large-scale production and distribution, they often present clients with entirely new prototypes, streamlining everything from the aesthetic of the device to its electrical architecture.

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The Fitbit Force replaces a slim clip-on with a sleek wristband, because wearing wearables is finally cool.(Fitbit)

A challenging question for many of their clients, Amit says, is what can fit on the device itself. “How much user interface you really need on a wearable is a big, big topic,” Amit says. “And the answer is…sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on the functionality, what’s going on between the interface of the device and the app it’s communicating with.”

But once you want more user interface, there are architectural issues like screen size, and the battery size that comes with that size increase. Any object so small will present such a Catch-22, and Amit says that having a design team work on the device from start to finish can help keep the balance. This was never more true than with Sproutling, which has been called “the Fitbit for babies” and will track the vital signs of quantified infants around the world sometime this year.

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Baby’s first wearable.(Sproutling)

Putting a device on your newborn’s wrist is much more intimate than strapping one to your own. “It’s very challenging,” Gadi says, “because the sensors are much more sophisticated and sensitive than a typical pedometer. Fitting those—or anything—into a baby size is very complicated. And then the device must not be too hard or too loose, as babies are always moving and have quite a lot of strength. People undervalue that, but they can very easily damage themselves or the product, and you have to find a balance that prevents both.”

But above all, the device needed to have a look that parents would feel comfortable introducing to their baby’s daily ensemble. “We wanted to project optimism, care, and emotion along with the sophistication of a well-designed product,” he says. “So we used a heart, attached to an ankle strap.” A strap, he says, that can be changed frequently to combat a baby’s frequent messes.

“Wearables are just at the beginning of their success,” Amit says. And he plans to keep riding the wave.

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