Humanizing Design

Evolving Wearables

Evolving Wearables

Most of us are constantly plugged into technology and gadgets, so it’s no surprise that wearables have experienced plenty of hype in the past few years.

But where are all those wearables today? Are they still attached to our wrist, heads and hands, or are they now in our junk drawers next to the Palm Treo and pedometer?

We did some informal research with Handsome employees and were surprised to find that only 2 people donned wearables on a regular basis. When we inquired further we uncovered some interesting insight around why wearables may have lost some their enchantment and how wearables companies can regenerate interest moving forward.

Managing Sleep and Exercise: Expectations vs. Reality

To further investigate, we asked our employees what their hopes were for their wearables and whether the devices met their expectations.

Almost everyone bought their wearables with the intention of promoting a healthier lifestyle.

Numerous created by Jawbone, Fitbit, Nike, and Apple have highlighted exercise and sleep tracking functions as key sources of value; however, have these devices delivered?

For normalizing sleep, Pavel Markovnin, Handsome’s Technology Manager, bought the Jawbone UP, also in the hope that it would provide an easier wake-up solution than a traditional alarm. The wristband worked at first, but eventually his body adapted to the vibration and started to ignore it. The inability of the device to respond to this adaptation made it useless for Pavel.

For exercise, the step and workout tracking functions were big draws. When asked what Handsome team members hoped to get out of their devices, team members responded:

  • “Create more visibility into my daily activity;”
  • “Encourage me to be healthier, make my life easier;”
  • “Play with the idea of quantified self;” and, simply put,
  • “Make me skinny.”

Despite these hopes and promises, these wearables suffered from three key areas of individual disappointment:

The gamification of exercise lost its novelty.

Conner Drew, a Product Designer at Handsome, pointed out that his Apple Watch has failed to make a persuasive call to action. “The biggest problem I have with wearables is the lack of genuine motivation. I’m presented with all of the data, but I’m not compelled to truly take action. More specific, personalized motivations like ‘Your wedding is X days away and you have Y more pounds to lose to meet your goal!’ may push someone a bit more than general activity numbers. The numbers alone did originally motivate me, but that wore off and is now pretty much ignored.”


The small screen space makes personalized messages a challenge, but below is an example design concept Conner created to illustrate the unrealized potential.

Low confidence in the data’s accuracy.

John Coursen, Handsome’s Executive Director of Business Strategy, likes his Apple Watch for the notification function, but not for the fitness tracking, which was his initial draw. “The fitness tracking aspect has not lived up to my expectations. The data generally seems to be inaccurate and thus it’s difficult to use it as a basis for adjusting behavior.”

The data is fenced in.

Several Handsome employees chose the Nike FuelBand as their activity tracker, and this device has another frustrating problem: its data is locked into the NikeFuel environment instead of working well with the rest of our mobile ecosystem. Blake Hicks, a Handsome Product Designer, commented that “Nike’s proprietary Fuel Point system wasn’t very granular, so it was hard to discern exactly what it was tracking.” It combines all accomplishments, like calories burned and steps walked, into Fuel Points. Blake, along with everyone else at Handsome who has previously purchased a FuelBand, gave up on it.

Aside from the above issues, three additional areas have hindered adoption among Handsome employees:

  • Battery life
    • Conner Drew admitted that if he left his Apple Watch at home or if it died, he would shrug it off with an “oh well” and go about his day, whereas if he did not have his iPhone he would feel stuck.
  • Hardware
    • Josh Babetski, Handsome Product Manager, went through four Nike FuelBands in a year-and-a-half before finally giving up on the device.
  • Convenience
    • On his FuelBand, Creative Director Brandon Termini said “It sucked having to charge it and I had to work more to get data. I thought it would make life easier.”

Where Do Wearables Show Promise?

A lot of the basic ideas of wearables are strong, but further elaboration is needed. The problem is that when increased function is added to one aspect, other aspects may end up compromised. For example, a fitness band that will guide you through your workouts may not have a minimal enough design for someone who only uses the notifications feature during the workday.

Can we really have it all, or do we need to choose our wearable based on the top one or two functionalities we hope to gain out of it? Further, if we only gain a couple strong functionalities, is it worth adopting the device into our lives?

The market may become increasingly segmented into two categories: the specific function users who only wear their device when applicable, and the around-the-clock users.

Specific Function


Although the gamification of activity tracking has lost its impact on many users, the entire fitness offering does not have to sit on the sideline. Instead of focusing on counting steps and flights of stairs, wearables can help enable workouts. Atlas, a company based in Austin, is tackling just this. Their wristband will guide you through workouts, make recording reps and weights effortless, and record relevant biometrics.


As uncovered through Handsome interviews, the notifications function of wearables can be a great source of value. For many, this may be the only extra functionality they need aside from what their phone can provide. I see promise for subtle wearables that can fill this void, like Ringly. This fashionable cocktail ring will send you vibrations and/or flashes of color when the people you deem important are trying to reach you.

Little Bit of Everything

This is where products like the Apple Watch and the Moto 360 show strength. The Apple and Android wearable ecosystems are growing, along with their application options. In reference to the Apple Watch’s future, Handsome’s CEO John Roescher added that, “Apple has to continue to improve it, integrate it, and support it as an essential part of living a “connected” and entertaining life. They did very well with iPod and iPhone, and as long as the Apple Watch doesn’t become stagnant, it should be fine.”

The future of wearables, although unclear, is undoubtedly going to be fascinating. Prototyping these devices is becoming easier, and our understanding of how they can add value to our lives is maturing. We look forward to investigating, designing, and building for this new world of human to device interaction.

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