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How to Design a Wearable Device That Consumers Actually Want

Posted on September 24th, 2021 by

Wearable devices provide insight and convenience to consumers through activity tracking and biometric data that they can easily access through a wearable app. But many wearable product designers have focused too much on simply producing functional devices without emphasizing the humans that wear them enough. This tendency could be to the detriment of user experience, limit user interaction, even make consumers less likely to purchase from your company in the future. Here are three quick tips on how to design a wearable device that addresses very human issues: discomfort and inconvenience, display issues, and lack of ruggedization for real-world usage.

 

1. Learn How to Make Wearable Technology Truly Wearable

 

 

Wearable tech can be challenging for design engineers because the body moves constantly, and humans want to move without constriction. Therefore, designing wearables that are small, light, and comfortable should be a priority.

For this reason, it is a good idea to begin the design process with a human factors and ergonomics analysis. This scientific discipline seeks to understand and optimize interactions among humans and systems to improve both system performance and the well-being of humans.

Consumers are more likely to wear devices with thinner, smaller, rounded form factors that lay flush on the body, applying minimal pressure. To ensure your product will be comfortable to use, test usability factors with real users and determine how easy and comfortable it is to move while wearing your product. Don’t forget to consider people’s different body sizes and types. For example, our customer Nike offered their FuelBand in several wristband sizes that the consumer would choose during the purchase process.

Finally, remember to design for every aspect of the use-cycle, such as cleaning, bathing, showering, and leisure activities. Make an effort to be conscious of when and how humans clean their wearable devices so you can create a usable, convenient, easy-to-clean device consumers will want to use. Remember that users will not want to remove their devices during routine activities such as bathing and showering (and may not take off their wearable before swimming or entering a sauna), and accommodate for this in your product design. The more convenient it is to use your product, the more consumers will want to purchase it.

 

Watch our video series about designing reliable consumer electronics devices

 

 

2. Consider the Display On-Device and What it Means for User Experience

 

 

To determine the right display for your wearable, ask yourself about the level of interaction required with the wearable. Wearables with no display afford more design flexibility, are cheaper, and simpler to produce. However, no available visual communication with the wearable will limit the level and scope of human interaction with it.
Minimal output displays portray selected information critical to the wearable experience. This type of display is one-directional, so the user can view it but cannot enter any input, limiting interaction. Another option is a full display, which allows for strong interaction with the device, along with a wider feature set. Determining which type of display is most appropriate for your users is an important decision that unfortunately, may entail an aesthetics-functionality trade-off.

No matter which display you choose, you should expect and design for wearables that will endure connectivity problems. Try to integrate some core functionality in your product’s offline mode when planning for your wearable UI. At a minimum, ensure the product explains what is happening to the user by incorporating wearable alerts when there is no internet connection to avoid confusion. If you choose a wearable with no display, this could be indicated through the mobile app.

 

3. Learn How to Design a Wearable Device for the Real World

 

 

Designing devices worn on the body can be complicated because they must reliably work in variable operating environments. In other words, they must go where humans go. Humidity, submersion, harsh weather, and exposure to corrosives are all threats to wearable PCBAs. Don’t make the mistake of simply ensuring a device can pass reliability tests in the lab but not designing for the real world. Typically, consumers use Ingress Protection (IP) standards to guide their purchasing decisions, so achieving a certain level of water resistance is necessary.

 

Download our IP checklist

 

Conventionally, product designers have used seals to do this, but this method may not focus as much on user experience as it should. Humans frequently move, exposing these devices to vibration, which can dislodge seals and leave wearables unprotected from corrosion.

Another option is to use conformal coatings such as acrylics, silicones, epoxies, and urethanes, for wearable moisture resistance and corrosion protection. These polymeric films are applied directly to circuitry, serving as a barrier layer against many environmental threats. However, wearables have minimized form factors and require these coatings to entail the application of thick layers, which may prove to be too bulky and heavy, causing discomfort and inconvenience.

These legacy methods are often appropriate and do have their place. However, if you are placing more emphasis on users to improve your product experience, it might be worth it to consider Parylene conformal coatings. HZO’s Parylene can provide protection that meets or exceeds the corrosion protection of other conformal coatings at 50% thickness.

 

Download HZO’s Parylene datasheet

 

The chart below describes Parylene thickness and the corresponding standards and IP protection levels they meet:

 

Table 1: Parylene Thickness, Relevant Standards, and IP Protection Levels
Thickness(μm) Relevant Standards IP Protection Level
0.1 to 5 UT Type in IPC-CC-830C IPX3/IPX4
5 to 12.5 UT Type in IPC-CC-830C IPX4/IPX7
12.5 to 25 IPC-CC-830B IPX7/IPX8

 

Parylene Conformal Coatings for Wearables From HZO

 

As a proven method trusted for decades in mission-critical applications, Parylene eases many design headaches and addresses the user-focused issues above. As it provides robust protection at a fraction of the mass of legacy methods, you can make ruggedized wearables that are also truly wearable. Parylene’s superior chemical resistance properties allow your users to safely clean their products throughout the entire product life cycle. Additionally, using Parylene instead of seals can make it easy to design and produce wearables that meet finish, style, longevity, and reliability expectations, leading to consumer purchases.

It is even possible to minimize offline disruptions because, unlike the other thick conformal coatings and seals, Parylene is applied in thin layers, facilitating RF signal transmittance.

When you work with HZO, our engineers will create a coating solution around your needs, one that easily fits into your production. From DFM services to QA, our team of experts will walk you through every step of the protection process, eliminating headaches and simplifying your process. If you are interested in discussing your project with our team, contact us today.

Mallory McGuinnessMallory McGuinness

Mallory is an electronics protection evangelist who writes content for HZO. In her free time she is reading non-fiction, and hanging out with her beta fish, King Awesome.

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