If you're not designing for women, get out of the wearable tech game now

"Yeah let's ignore half the people who might buy our tech product, that will work"
Design for women or go home

Instead of ranting about the state of wearable tech for women, let's be honest. Men are more into wearables right now - it's shiny, it's techy and it's new. No surprises, there. Men read tech publications more than women and they are more likely to be early adopters.

There's a but and it goes a little something like this. But wearable tech isn't like TVs, laptops or home cinema kit. You wear it. Wearables fit into your life in different ways to regular gadgets and it has the potential to be the most personal, intimate and frequently use piece of technology you own.

Ignore women and you ignore a huge group of people who tend to track at least some aspects of their health, are increasingly comfortable with consumer tech and are typically incredibly interested in what they wear.

Read this: Meet the smartwatches that women actually want to wear

So here's a few tips for wearable tech designers, developers, Kickstarters and baby CEOs flailing around in that awkward beat after a customer or collaborator pipes up with a women friendly suggestion.

The best wearables are specific

Kate Unsworth's digital detox

This is the biggest lesson of wearable tech's early experiments, even Samsung gets it now with the Gear S2 which, while not as customisable as other smartwatches, marks a departure from the smartphone-style releases of its previous Gear watches.

Think specific. Precise and targeted features, sizes, styles. Ask how many hours or days you expect your users to wear the devices for? Where and when, in public or in private and with which other gadgets.

Be specific about why it's wearable and who would want to wear it. That includes giving women features they will use - say, period tracking on otherwise comprehensive platforms like Apple Health - as well as designing for a range of women's bodies and tastes; small wrists, medium wrists is just the beginning. Haptics, for instance, has a lot of potential in women's wearables.

Read this: A straight up guide to the Apple Watch for women

How to be specific enough? Offer a range of models, make devices modular even if that simply means replaceable lugs and straps for smartwatches and bands and chains for smart jewellery. Or take a gamble and go full modular like the upcoming Blocks watch.

Here's Intel's VP of New Devices Ayse Ildeniz, speaking earlier this year about the same do-it-all devices from familiar tech names: "It's all fitness, fitness, fitness, do everything, do everything, do everything. There is not enough specialisation and expertise around other usage models - that's what we were hoping would take off here.

"You have to cater to a wider range of people," she continued. "You need to be able to enrich somebody's life in India, make a difference to someone's life in rural China and somebody who lives in San Francisco like me."

If you don't do it, someone else will

Ringly, Gemio, Jewelbots, Altruis, Bellabeat, Mira, Linkitz. This new wave of female-friendly, and often female-lead, wearable tech companies is getting in earlier than the big tech names especially in smart jewellery and fitness tracking.

Yes, Google X had designer Isabelle Olsson to work on Glass. And Motorola specially put women on the team working on the new Moto 360 2 to design a watch body, straps and lugs that women would fawn over.

But wearable tech, as fashion designer Henry Holland says, has its "own kind of recognisable look" already and it is one that potentially alienates women. The danger is that women will look at Google Glass and Android Wear smartwatches and think - they're not for me, they're wearable tech.

Apple avoided this problem as its first smartwatch came in two sizes from launch and a range of stylish straps. Plus Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Anna Wintour wore it. And it's Apple so normal rules don't apply.

Read this: The women of wearable tech 2015

Put simply, I recently told female readers that it's safe to join the smartwatch revolution. I've got a womens Moto 360 2 on right now in a gold finish with a slim pale pink strap. On first impressions it bodes well and it's making me smile that I won't be ashamed of the watch on my wrist when I leave the office tonight.

And the female tech press agrees - Katie Collins called the Huawei Watch the most "gender neutral smartwatch design yet" and Wareable contributor Becca Caddy wrote recently for Gadgette that the light, slim and small Pebble Time Round and a nameless upcoming Honor watch mean women can "breath a sigh of relief".

Look at what women wear and work backwards

This is the idea of taking something people already wear and making it smart rather than doing what Samsung and LG did and making a smartphone you strap to your wrist.

It's pretty prevalent in wearable tech circles but we haven't seen much that puts principles into practice. But we'll get there.

The important thing here is collaboration with fashion, jewellery and accessory companies who have the heritage, the expertise and the brand power. Intel and Opening Ceremony. Visa Europe and House of Holland. Google and Luxottica. We've seen one off pieces and proof of concepts and 2016 will see firmer steps towards our garments, watches, accessories and jewellery being smart as standard, modular, upgradeable, connected.

OK, OK you can probably design for men for a bit longer

The Samsung Gear VR apps to try first

If I'm really sticking to my 'be specific' theory, there will always be gadgets designed for one group of early adopting men that will do well. VR headsets, for example, are aimed squarely at console owners willing to fork out for an expensive accessory. These early sales give Oculus and co cash to keep developing more mainstream products.

But this tactic only gets tech companies so far. The Gear VR is another example of Samsung getting it - making virtual reality super accessible welcomes women as well as men. Just look at the woman in the picture!

Maybe things are changing now but the current generation of women with the disposable income to be interested in this kind of tech weren't generally encouraged to play around with gadgets or consoles or audio equipment growing up. Some of them are still intimidated by Android but are addicted, power users of their iPhones.

Accessibility is key, then, even if just for the first hit. Most girls I know (not all) would hang back at a demo of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift with wires everywhere but something like the Gear VR is perfect for getting rid of any nervousness around a new technology that makes you look like a berk.

This also extends to VR content - it's terrific that the BBC is trialling 360 degree video with shows like Strictly Come Dancing as well as news blasts. I'm not saying that girls aren't interested in EVE: Valkyrie too, just that virtual reality - and wearable tech as a whole - is too exciting to be designed only for geeky men.


  • asimoes says:

    Great points made in this article.  Beyond fashion and what women would wear every day, all day, we are looking at what makes a fitness wearable more attractive to women that they would only wear during a run, a workout, etc.  We've seen some research that shows women stick with long-term health regimens longer than men, and if you look at running specifically, the number of women running marathons is increasing while the number of men is decreasing. 

  • camcam says:

    Does anyone know what device is used to detect and tell you when  you have stress, causing shallow breathing? (It reminds you to slow your breathing? ) i thought i saw one mentioned in parade magazine last year.

     How about a device to remind you when you are hunching or slumping?

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