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The Design Issue

Gadi Amit Designs Wearable Computers You Might Actually Wear

Wearable computing is widely hailed as the next big thing in consumer technology, and a broad range of devices are already in use. Gadi Amit, the president and principal designer of NewDealDesign, builds computers worn by fitness enthusiasts, babies, and even dogs. He explains the challenges that come with this work.

What is unique about designing wearables?
The variability is astounding. We have an office of 30 to 35 people, and with a simple measurement like the circumference of the wrist, we have a variability of 100 percent. The largest wrist is twice as large as the smallest wrist. The other element which is very difficult is that the technology pieces are still quite cumbersome. Batteries come in boxy shapes, screens come with sharp corners. Wielding these elements is an art.

Is it more difficult to design wearables that appeal to women?
We’re dealing a lot with gender issues. We’re dealing a lot with self-image. When we design wrist devices like Fitbit, the width of the strip is delicately set so it’s right on the borderline between being a thin, feminine watch and something males will accept. There are no rules. We’re just guessing.

Why are people offended by Google Glass?
Let’s put the issue of privacy and recording on the side—I’m not belittling that issue, but there is something else fundamental. We communicate with the eyes first; that is something very primal. Anything that obscures the eye, or any movement of the eye that shows that someone is not connecting with you, is really disturbing. It comes across as inhuman.

Is maintaining a sense of humanity the trickiest thing that designers are grappling with?
This is a movement in its infancy, and there’s a learning curve. What Google (GOOG) is doing with Glass is admirable, in that they will explore an area that wasn’t explored before. If there’s a conclusion I can draw, it’s that emotional quality is front and center. Another issue with wearables is that as they get closer to the body and smaller, they get harder to design. How do you create a reasonable user interface? Always sending data to the mobile phone has drawbacks. We need to develop a new modality that requires less data and pulls data into a very clear, concise user interface.

I’ve heard you don’t use the devices you’ve designed. Why not?
I use them, but I’m not a guy who has five wearables. I would recommend that everyone take technology as an enhancement to but not as an essential part of life.

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