Design Matters: Industrial Design & Product Styling in Wearable Tech
Thursday, July 24, 2014, 4:00PM
Jacob K.Javits Convention Center
Design Matters: Industrial Design & Product Styling in Wearable Tech.
Hi, I’m Chris Grayson, and I’m going to speak to you for a moment about …
Industrial Design and …
Product Styling in smart glasses and head-worn display systems.
Many think design and styling only matter in the consumer space,
so I’m going to start with an enterprise case study to dispel that thinking.
In the previous decade I made several investments in the early HMD space, among them was MicroVision,
and when I say investor, I’m not speaking of institutional investment, rather my own stock portfolio.
MicroVision was an early player in the AR HMD video eye-wear category,
who originally developed HMDs for use by the US military.
Disclosure: Past Investor (still maintain 1 share)
In an effort to bring their technology into the private sector, MicroVision created the Nomad, to be used by
mechanics in the service centers of US Honda dealerships.
It seemed an ideal use case — mechanics could do away with large clumsy manuals by accessing a
hard-drive attached at the hip containing every manual to every Honda vehicle ever made, viewed on a
transparent display in front of one eye, completely hands free, even while lying on one’s back.
But the product was a flop. The mechanics refused to wear them. While it was not perfect and had other
problems, if your user refuses to wear your device, that is an existential failure.
The product photo shown here tries best to conceal its flaw — all of the electronics are placed in a box that
is then strapped to the user’s forehead, somewhat resembling a big rectangular rhino horn. The mechanic’s
thought they looked ridiculous, tossed them in their lockers, and that was the end of the MicroVision Nomad.
Design matters, product styling matters, even to auto-mechanics.
Today MicroVision is no longer in the HMD space, but instead pivoted their display technology to
pico-projectors where they are now a parts supplier to Sony.
Presenter’s Notes continued
Now let’s look at another device design — Kopin, a company I have also invested in, in the past — is the
maker of Golden-i, a product also aimed at the Enterprise, for similar industrial use cases.
Golden-i is a well designed device that I consider the best-of-breed in the Industrial Enterprise category.
Let’s compare the two …
Disclosure: Past Investor.
The MicroVision Nomad obstructs the user’s face, with all of its electronics packed into a bulge protruding
from the user’s forehead.
Golden-i has all of its electronics wrapping around the back of the user’s head, leaving the face unobstructed
except for a single arm that adjusts a glance-down display.
The closer you are to the face, the more people care about styling and design. Is your device attached to the
shoe lace? People don’t really care too much. On the wrist? They care more. On the head and face? People
care a lot about how a device looks, even in Enterprise applications.
… and even more so in the Consumer space …
… where Google Glass suffers from a severe image problem.
Everyone in the wearable space needs to see Google Glass succeed — even if you’re a competitor in smart
glasses. If Google Glass succeeds, it will be validation for the whole category. If they fail however, it will be
seen as an indictment, and capital sources will dry up.
Who is sick of seeing Robert Scobel in the shower?
Head worn technology has suffered the abuse of poor design in the past and recovered
(though I think this kid manages to pull this off better than Robert Scobel … poor Robert).
Google has tried some of the same marketing tactics used by many in consumer electronics:
Photograph your product being used and worn by an attractive woman, in the hopes that
some of her qualities will transfer to your gadget, in the minds of consumers.
To their credit, Google has done more than most anyone to connect with the fashion world, including their
partnership with Diane Von Furstenberg that resulted in the beautiful frames shown here.
But what’s wrong with this picture? Those frames are gorgeous, but the Google Glass device itself is exactly
the same — they’ve just glommed Google Glass onto the side of an attractive pair of eye-wear.
As an industry, if we want mass consumer adoption, we need to better integrate our technology into the
design of the accessories.
Let’s take a look and see who else is doing good industrial design and product styling in wearables,
outside of eye-wear.
Withings, Motorola, FitBit and their partnership with Tory Burch.
These are the companies to watch.
Stepping back for a bigger picture view … to realize the full potential of the wearables category, the
tech-sector and the fashion industry have to come together. There was another wearable-tech event held
here in New York City just a few weeks ago. It was called Fashion Tech Forum — it was not entirely about
wearables, it also included e-commerce, and other areas of tech relevant to fashion, but wearables was a
major part of this year’s theme. Show of hands, did anyone here attend? Is there anyone here at Wearable
Tech Expo from Fashion Tech Forum? [Editor’s note: No hands went up on either question.] Our industries
both exist inside of walled gardens where never the twain shall meet. In order to realize the full potential of
wearable tech, walls have to come down, and tech & fashion leaders need to sit at the same table.
TECH + FASHION
As we gather here, we are just footsteps away from the epicenter of the fashion industry. The New York City
Garment District is West of Broadway between 34th & 40th Streets. We are meeting right in their backyard,
yet they are not present. Did anyone invite them?
Even here at Jacob Javits, there is another larger conference taking place in the North side of the building,
you may have noticed it is a fashion industry expo. We’re all around each other, yet invisible to one another.
I want to close with a quote from Albert Einstein who once said,
“Not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that can be measured matters.”
I talk to many in our wearable tech community that believe their success will be defined by their one extra
sensor that their competitor lacks, or that they’ll finally emerge from the pack when they release their newest
algorithm. These things won’t matter at all unless users want to wear your device.
Here is the test: Would a fashionable woman wear your device solely on the merits of its aesthetics alone,
even if it contained no technology? Those who can answer yes to this question are the ones who will win.
view these slides at Chris Grayson’s blog: