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The Future Is Glanceable, Not Wearable

The Future Is Glanceable, Not Wearable Kevin Purcer
If you read any tech predictions for 2014 earlier this year, you more than likely heard a lot about wearables. Whether it's the onslaught of fitness trackers, connected eyewear, or smart watches, people can't seem to shake a vision of the future where wearable technology is pervasive - and I can’t really argue with that notion. However, what often gets overlooked in any major trend is the why. Why are wearables such a hot topic?

Let’s explore that question by first assuming that human beings are inherently lazy creatures when it comes to certain tasks. We have a tendency to try and automate both physical and mental activities that slow us down or are menial in nature. I like to think that this helps free up the parts of our brains that center on creativity and sensory stimulation. For example, let’s say I’m on my back deck about to enjoy a glass of bourbon, but I want to check the weather for the evening. I need to take the phone out of my pocket (which can be a struggle if I’m sitting down), slide to unlock, enter my security code and fire up a weather app. Four steps. If I had a smartwatch with the temp on the homescreen, all I’d need to do is glance at my wrist, and maybe tap the screen. I can’t help but feel ashamed to think this economy of effort is critical to my daily life, but I do - and millions of others are in the same boat.

If we can design the world to give us glanceable data with low economies of effort, we can spend more time doing the “important things” in life - like savoring the first taste of a fine Kentucky bourbon.

But this trend isn’t limited to wearables. In a world where every device can be connected, we have the opportunity to design glanceable data indicators into everything around us: flower pots that have a subtle glow when the plants need water, grocery store check-out aisle lights that change color based on estimated wait time, or even a simple battery life indicator on the TV remote. These aren’t world-changing applications -- but they are ways to reduce friction in our lives by bringing the most important data to the forefront in a glanceable manner. If you’ve been in the South you know that the Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign is the perfect example of a brand using glanceable data to help drive business.

Today, firms like Ambient Devices are creating small, shelf-mounted power meters that glow green, yellow or red based on your home’s power consumption, with a small LED display also indicating your average cost per hour. It’s a simple way to keep you in touch with your power usage so you don’t get bill shock at the end of the month - and even be a little more green in the process. In the mobile space, several apps try to give you an indication of your mobile phone data usage. Rather than trying to pack everything into one app, Dataman Next instead focuses on answering one critical question in a glanceable manner: am I going to exceed my data limit this cycle? The display is minimalistic and loads instantly as you tap the app icon. This focus on simplicity and speed puts it in a class by itself.

But what does this mean for brands and agencies? There are countless opportunities to create contextual cues and information for customers that help improve experiences with a brand. But designing information to be consumed in a glanceable manner is rarely an easy task. Prioritizing what information is the most critical in a world where marketers deem “everything is a priority” is challenging, to say the least. Designing the display of that data into spaces that are often tiny also requires a thoughtful study of interaction design to balance competing priorities and contextual use cases.  If you can thread that needle, though, the rewards are worth it.

While it’s fun to talk and dream about a future filled with wearable tech, don’t let the wrong question distract you. Instead of asking, “How are wearables going to affect our brand in the future?,” seize the opportunity that glanceable data offers right now. How can it start influencing your brand, and most important, how can you leverage it to improve your customer experience today?

Kevin Purcer is the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy and Group Interactive Director at full-service marketing agency Erwin Penland. He leads a team of some of the most capable and effective digital talents in the country, creating digital...

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