Wearables: 10 UX design tips for smartwatch app

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Wearables are the hottest thing after the launch of an iPhone. They have been the buzzword in the tech industry during these recent years.

According to CIO, in 2015, 39.5 million U.S. citizens used wearable devices, an increase of 57.7% over 2014. That growth will continue in 2016 and beyond.

Bernard Marr, an Author and Forbes contributor, shared recently that growth in the wearables market is expected to increase 35% by 2019.

Let’s look at why wearables became so successful and what makes people buy them.
Here is a list of features people are expected to have in the nearest future:




  • A way to bypass the subway or underground metro card checkpoints by swiping your wrist without spending time buying tickets or taking out the card
  • One-click taxi service, nearby cabs can pick up users fast and in the order they made their reservation, thus eliminating the need to fight for a cab on a street or spend time doing a reservation via mobile app
  • Smart housing. Changing the music, turning off the light, heating the water, etc just using a smartwatch, without having to move.
  • Smartwatch payments easy and without any need to have a credit card with you.
  • Personalized discounts. Entering a store you could receive additional welcoming information with current discounts.
  • Get notified when you are in a free Wi-Fi zone.
  • Short and repetitive tasks that could be used with a smartwatch instead of a smartphone, the idea is to perform key actions on a wearables, while more advanced operations could be done via mobile or a PC. It will save you a battery and time.
  • Track your health level. Receive reminders when you need to take a pill, get info about your sport activity impact on your health, etc.


Now, wearables, as other first-gen products, are limited since complex gestures cannot be used on their small screens. This makes it really hard to design memorable or easy-to-use user experiences.

However, I really like the phrase “User experience strategy is about taking the information about the user and information about the business and turning that into an approach for the user experience. It overlaps with the role of a good Business Analysis.” Even with a small screen you can provide an outstanding experience that people will share with others! Think about your users and simplify their lives, save their time and they will appreciate it! Believe me, you can do it even with such a small screen! Priorities and key features are key in this question!

  UX designers increased responsibility

Everything is going towards interaction! Very soon everything will be interconnected. Smartwatches will be interacted with other types of devices, it will allow users to take their experiences to the next level like in the case of a user entering a store and seeing a big screen with their name on it. Another possible integration would be for users who require a sales person, to interact with their device and a store employee will come to them.

But for now, these are the key things that you should keep in mind when you are designing for a wearable device:





The screen size is small and our interaction with the device is limited to a few gestures. It is critical to think about user’s current activity: walking, running, sleeping, etc. For example if you’re jogging, having a small UI that has multiple rows of text would be really hard to look at, since your watch is shaking as you run.



Second thing you must keep in mind – turn complexity into simplicity! You cannot have too many elements on a screen as users would have a hard time interacting with them. When you design an app, try to split information across multiple screens that can be viewed by swiping.
Instead of cramming everything we could think of on these smaller devices, think about what really matters to your users and what are the functions they would be willing to have. Smartwatch is more about notifications, reminders and short summaries. If you need to do more, you could access the system on a smartwatch, or a PC. There is a theory that we could replicate about 60% of PC functionality on a smartphone, and another 20% of that on a smartwatch.
Designing for a wearables, you should definitely use big UI elements, they are key here. Such strategy will ensure your app is usable by the majority of users due to its simplicity and ease-of-use.

  Storytelling enhances UX design



After the initial excitement of buying a device, you usually discover that apps really don’t solve the problems you have as you are on the move.
Now, imagine an app that reminds you of your meeting location because it can tell you are on the wrong floor. Or one that tells you the daily specials when you walk into a coffee shop and also helps you pay. These small things matter! They make our life easier and more enjoyable.



Most watch screens today are black. When it comes to working with a dark background, that means design elements need to be designed with a palette of light or bright colors, like in Flat and Material Design.



Contrast is extremely important on small screens, it makes elements easy to see from the first sight. Designs should clearly define individual elements and include plenty of separation between them.



Space can make or break the design on a small screen. Too much space and you don’t have room for any content. Too little space and elements are hard to see or read. There’s a narrow middle ground that helps provide function and usability. Think that you should use not more than 6 lines in total! The less, the better.



Only one type of typography works on these tiny screens: simple typography.
Almost all of the apps on the market include simple sans serifs with medium stroke weights. Type size is typically larger than you would guess. Think that you shouldn’t put more than 20 characters per line.



A dead watch is even sadder than a dead phone: it is just a piece of plastic with blank screen stuck to someone’s wrist, making them look silly. Design an app that way, that user wouldn’t need to use it for a long period of time, it should be instant, it should be fast.

  Top 25 UX Design Inspiration resources in 2017



Very soon we will see more interaction between our smart devices like tablets, phones, desktops and our smart watch. This means that as you design an app for mobile or tablet, you will start considering smart watches as accessories or secondary methods of inputs to these devices. Devices, that would be more for fast and instant usage. These devices will let you perform the basic and core features of your app faster, while keeping in mind the interaction between a certain action performed on device A and the reaction of that action displayed on device B. By making this interaction intuitive and exciting will mark the difference between the best user experience your clients can have or the worse one. 



I write it almost in every article, but I will keep repeating, test your ideas, test your prototype, test your app. Don’t build your product based on your thoughts, base it on your users needs.

Smart watches are definitely here to stay. It will take some time till they become advanced, with new features that will push the interaction to the next level. User experience really plays a crucial role here, don’t underestimate small screens!


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  • Ekaterina Novoseltseva

    Ekaterina Novoseltseva is an experienced CMO and Board Director. Professor in prestigious Business Schools in Barcelona. Teaching about digital business design. Right now Ekaterina is a CMO at Apiumhub - software development hub based in Barcelona and organiser of Global Software Architecture Summit. Ekaterina is proud of having done software projects for companies like Tous, Inditex, Mango, Etnia, Adidas and many others. Ekaterina was taking active part in the Apiumhub office opening in Paseo de Gracia and in helping companies like Bitpanda open their tech hubs in Barcelona.

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