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SXSW Session – The Next Frontier of Interactive: Smart Fashion

Google Glass. Nike Fuelband. Tech innovation fused with fashion. Wearable technology:  the next frontier of interactive? Jennifer Darmour of Artefact seems to think so, where she is a user experience designer, leading research on design and software. She asks questions like: how do you seamlessly incorporate computing capabilities into clothing until the function becomes the aesthetic?  How do you integrate technology into wearable fashion so that they become expressive and powerful objects that give us deeper meaning into ourselves and the world around us?

In short, wearable technology remains disconnected. Darmour researches how hardware manufacturers, software developers, and designers can collaborate to make wearable technology more integrated and also more mainstream. With this in mind, Darmour highlights three obstacles that must first be overcome.

Problem 1: Logistics. There are still limitations to where and how we can place batteries and microchips on clothing. No one wants to wear a shirt with a bulky battery. Electricfoxy, a wearable tech design studio, has experimented with stitching electronics into the fabric seam itself. Problem 2: Data management. Biometric data produces numbers that are huge and difficult to manage. The challenge is to make this clunky data meaningful to the consumer. Problem 3: Interaction. How can we make wearable technology fit more seamlessly into our lives with minimal disruption? Darmour uses Nike Fuelband as an example. Users need to stop exercising and press a button on the bracelet during a workout in order to display different types of information. Doing so is highly disruptive and forces the user to stop what they are doing in order to interact with this technology. The goal would be to eventually to make these responses automated– where the watch would be  able to automatically detect when you’ve begun your workout, or when you want to view certain information.

Darmour also outlines three must-haves in the integration of technology and wearables. Firstly, is the aesthetic value relevant? Fashion is a part of our identity. Bicycle helmets are often bulky and cumbersome, and certainly not a way to make a fashion statement.  A design firm has designed a fashionable scarf that doubles as an inflatable mobile airbag for your head. Wearability happens when function meets form. Secondly, is the concept of periphery, which is an area that remains to be explored. With Google Glass, data is displayed directly in the center of the user’s glasses, obstructing the line of sight. What is the value of visible vs. non- visible periphery? Are there other methods of gathering useful data and displaying it to the user without it being disruptive?  Thirdly, is meaning.  For example, there are a lot of heart rate machines that give your heart rate and spit back a number.  You get a number like 69, and you don’t know what to do with it or what it even means. A design firm has created a piece of jewelry — a ring that is worn while working out. The ring monitors heart rate and processes the data to give meaningful feedback. For example, when the ring turns blue, it means that your heart rate is too too slow and that you need to increase running speed. When the ring turns red, your heart rate is too fast and you need to decrease running speed.  In this case, function becomes the aesthetic.

The wearable technology industry is still in its infancy.  As Darmour states, in order for it to become mainstream, it needs to be wearable and fashionable, as well as add value to our lives.