Design for Smartwatches: An Introduction

Last year Apple finally announced the Apple Watch, which is due to be released in the next couple of months. As the last major player to launch a smartwatch, wearable technology will soon become as common as the iPhone.
Just like mobile devices, wearables have specific design principles which I will be exploring over a series of posts. In this post I will start by introducing the various design concepts for creating on smaller screens.

Last year Apple finally announced the Apple Watch, which is due to be released in the next couple of months. As the last major player to launch a smartwatch, wearable technology will soon become as common as the iPhone.

Just like mobile devices, wearables have specific design principles which I will be exploring over a series of posts. In this post I will start by introducing the various design concepts for creating on smaller screens.

A smartwatch is not a small smartphone

A common mistake to make is to think of smartwatches as small smartphones, while they may be powerful devices they are ultimately very different. The major point of difference is that instead of being carried in your pocket the devices are worn.

Not only does this affect how the user interacts with the device, but it also the presents a challenge with battery life as a watch tends to always be on. As a result of these restrictions it is important that we consider our design decisions extremely carefully.

The small display is just like a larger display

tv

Suprising as it may seem smartwatches have more in common with larger screen devices such as TV’s. For example the distance between the viewer and a TV can make it hard to see finer detail, so text and images tend to take up large amounts of the screen.

The same is true of smaller screens, there tend to be less elements visible but what can be seen takes up most of the screen real estate.

Designed to enhance the experience

notifications

If you purchase a smartwatch it may seem to others like a novelty item rather than something which improves your life. When designing an app for this type of device it is essential that you solve a real life problem or interact with other apps on larger devices.

For example it is unlikely a mobile game will work well on a smartwatch, however a partner app could be designed specifically for the watch to interact with the game on a mobile phone.

Similarly when designing a map app, the directions could pop up on the watch as you walk to a specific destination rather than the map itself which is more suited to the screen of a mobile device.

The smart watch is an extension of the devices we already own to enhance our experience, it is not meant to replace these devices.

User Experience Design: Humans are not machines

wrist

When designing for a smartwatch it is important to realise that you are creating a user experience not for a machine but a human. Wearables are such personal devices, that simplicity in the design needs to be the primary focus. If we overcomplicate the user experience the device becomes unusable, so restraint and care must be taken with the design.

That wraps up this short introduction regarding design principles for smartwatches. In the near future there will be more articles about this topic so stay tuned.

Have you got a smartwatch or plan on purchasing one soon? Please comment below with your experiences.

All images  in this article have been used for editorial purposes only and are copyright their respective owners.