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Last Wednesday marked the launch of the first Wearable Wednesday Vancouver – an event that originated in San Francisco and has spread to other cities around the world. Wednesday was Vancouver’s turn in the spotlight, and so with a completely sold-out-packed-to-the-gills crowd, the event focused on the “State of the Wearable Economy”. The first event was a panel consisting of Recon Instruments, MIO smartwatches, Commandwear, Vandrico, Sierra Wireless and Fatigue Science, all there to talk about the emerging wearable computing market. While many different aspects of the industry were discussed at the evening’s event, one thing in particular kept coming back up again and again: making hardware is irrelevant if you haven’t thought through the User’s end-to-end experience.

One of the panelists – Liz Dickinson (CEO of MIO smartwatches) – mentioned the fact that FitBit had to pull all of their FitBit Force healthbands off the market with a worldwide product recall. This was due to people getting skin irritation while wearing the Force. This signals that FitBit didn’t do a great job in testing/designing the Force. And that is something that end users will not forget. The thing with designing hardware is that you have to measure thrice, cut once. The wearables market is a far more costly market to get things wrong in than say, a web-based startup that can continuously release incremental updates, patches and fixes on a product. Hardware offers no such remittance on failing to get it right.

And so the role of the design team as the ‘steering comittee’ within a wearable technology focused company has never been more important. The good news is that the industry is young, and not fully-formed yet. This means that on the one hand a lot of companies will create poorly researched and poorly implemented products, and on the other hand this is a necessary stage in creating a maturing ecosystem. It’s ok to fail right now in wearable tech because there are no standards to speak of yet. Design direction in many of these companies is all over the place, unsure to commit to a direction or give it the necessary level of dedication to get things right.  Much the same situation could be argued for that ever-arriving-never-quite-there “Internet of Things”, the name given for hardware objects that connect to networks and parse data and instructions. The standards are just not there. Yet.

But standards have to start as non-standards. Just damn good ideas that happen to resonate with a lot of people over a long time. And that is what all the people making these types of wearable devices hope – to become the defacto standard – eventually. And so hearing from all the panel at Wearable Wednesday that design, user experience is paramount gives us hope that we may have witnessed a ‘future standard’ in that room, that night. They just don’t know it yet.

The next Wearable Wednesday Vancouver is in July.

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