Recently in wearability Category

Party wearable

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Following the lead of Vivienne Westwood, Diane von Furstenberg has teamed up with Samsung to design a fashion phone. It comes with the "girl-about-town" Cityband -- an arm, wrist, or ankle wrap that keeps "your phone and lip gloss handy while you're on the move." What more could a girl want??

Francine and I were discussing Cityband-like ideas when we did our research on the comfort and function of wearables a few years ago. We told our subjects that an armband they tried on was a "party wearable" and that it could hold a key, money, mints, or other necessities (use your imagination) for a night out.

I also saw something similar -- an armband caddy to use while jogging -- a few months ago at a women's store in Pittsburgh. Because of the potential for movement on the arm, it had a fixed (though stretchy) diameter and fit really tightly around my arm. A cool thing about the Cityband is that it wraps around the arm, which, although probably making a little more bulky, means that it will comfortably fit a range of arm and ankle sizes.

And I just can't let it pass without saying that I wore a much less stylish terrycloth version of this product -- sans cell phone of course -- when I was a kid and used to hang out all summer at the local amusement park with my friends. It held a few bucks and my season pass. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that thing.)

- Seen in the November issue of Vogue.

The guidelines developed through Carnegie Mellon's Design for Wearability research state that wearable artifacts need to be designed with a humanistic form language. That is, they need to be concave on the inside surface to accommodate for the body's curves, and convex on the outside surface to deflect bumps and to stabilize the form on the body.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I get concerned about rectangular tech gadgets that are billed as "wearable" simply because they are small, strapped to some part of the body, or hung from the neck. Yet this currently seems to be a popular design/marketing strategy.

So just for fun, and to make a not-so-subtle point, I decided to strap several common rectangular objects to a friend's arm. Hopefully the idea of wearable Elvis playing cards seems as ridiculous to you as it does to me! Tic tac, anyone?

- Thanks to my faithful model Ellen!

finally wearing

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As of yesterday, I'm officially "wearing". (I heard this term used last year at ISWC by one of the borgs: "There are fewer people wearing this year." To me, it has the connotations of "packing" and seems only slightly more benign!)

I've got on the SenseWear Pro Armband from BodyMedia, a Pittsburgh-based company that designs and develops wearable body monitors. The armband records things like movement, skin temperature, galvanic skin response, etc. and is meant to be worn 24/7 minus showering/baths. I was surprised by how aware of it I was all day yesterday and by how much it bothered me. But I'm equally surprised that I've hardly noticed it today. In fact, it feels strangely warm and comforting.

The designers at BodyMedia have been involved with some other cool projects, such as Mariko Mori's Wave UFO. In the exhibit, three people would each attach a triangular-shaped device to their foreheads and then lay down in the domed Wave UFO. The forehead devices collected participants' brainwaves, which were then visually interpreted and displayed on the ceiling above them.

functional clothing design

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At ISWC I attended a tutorial entitled ìMaking Computers Wearableî. It was taught by Susan Watkins, who wrote Clothing: The Portable Environment (unfortunately out of print), and Lucy Dunne, a masters student in Apparel Design at Cornell. Susan and Lucy share an interest in functional clothing design and talked about the practical issues of integrating technology into textiles and garments. They covered topics such as weight and bulk distribution, heat and moisture dispersion, cut and fit of garments, frictional drag of fabric, the bodyís sensitivity to pressure, and other related topics.

If youíre interested in this kind of thing, you might want to subscribe to a new d-list created by Lucy and Aaron Toney from the University of South Australia. Send an email with the subject ìsubscribeî to broadcloth at hhhh dot org.

thoughts on bags

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The B-Mention line of bags from Isaburo fit closely around your torso, neck, waist, or arm. The designers seem to have found a balancing point on the very fine line between carrying and wearing these bags. I consider it an important line too, as many functional "wearables" these days involve a substantial (and usually non-ergonomic) "carry-able" component.

I question why I like the torso bag better than the ScotteVest that I mentioned in a previous post. (Though I actually wouldn't want to buy or wear either!) Both the bag and vest allow easy storage and access to items, so is it just the aesthetics of the Isaburo bag that make it more appealing to me or does it have more to do my perceived wearability of the bag? I think it's the latter, and I find it strange that a bag would afford better wearability than an actual piece of clothing.

Two other bags worth quickly mentioning...

The Isaburo Turtle bag can worn around the waist like a fanny pack or on the back like a backpack, hung from a cross-shoulder sling strap, or carried like a briefcase. Very cool that they showed concern for how bags are actually worn/carried and built in this type of versatility.

And if you're not fond of black utilitarian pseudo-fabric, check out Talene Reilly, where you can get a gorgeous pink or purple leather trim laptop bag for around $300. Just a friendly reminder that all this computer stuff doesn't have to look like computer stuff. :)

- Thanks to Helle for the Isabura images. Talene Reilly link via DailyCandy.

speaking of pockets...

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The ScotteVest (actually a jacket that converts to a vest) "allows users to discretely carry multiple electronic devices in the concealed, ergonomically designed pocket system." The jacket/vest has a patent-pending "Personal Area Network", which is just a hidden channel in the fabric through which you snake your headphone wires. (I've seen this feature in other jackets and am kind of surprised that it's patent-pending. I'm also surprised they're calling it a Personal Area Network, as this is a wireless term.)

It says that you can carry "digital cameras, portable keyboards, GPS devices, small laptop computers, two-way radios, bottled water, airplane tickets, magazines, wallets, keys, and much more". I've talked to some people who think pockets are the answer to wearable computing, but I'm not sold. First, I'm sure this jacket/vest weighs at least 73 pounds when loaded with all this gear. Second, a heavy, clunky torso is not exactly a fashion ideal for either men or women.

This product may currently fill a need for gadget heads, but it can't be the long term solution.

small = wearable?

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Today Gizmodo complained about the quality of the new digital camera from Philips. I have a different beef.

Philips bills the device as a "camera key ring" and "wearable digital camera". They have a similarly designed audio player billed as an "audio key ring" and "wearable digital audio". A note on that product page says, "Let's face it. It's all about size and it's how you wear it."

How do you "wear" a key ring? My keys get tossed into my purse or backpack and sometimes go into my pants pocket. So if things that I can put into my pocket qualify as "wearable", then we should add the following items to this category: pens, highlighters, post-it notes, tampons, credit cards, coins, matches, gum, receipts, lipstick... I could go on.

Ok, the devices each come with a necklace strap so that you can wear them around your neck, but come on, people have been wearing cameras on straps around their necks for decades. Granted, the size of the new Philips camera makes this a little easier, but I think describing it as "ready to wear" is pushing the matter.

Wearable devices need to be designed with consideration for the human body, both at rest and in motion. Small does not equal wearable.

- Thanks for the link, Kenneth!

CMU at ISWC in NYC

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Neema and I are representing Carnegie Mellon at this year's International Symposium on Wearable Computers, which is taking place in October just outside of New York City.

Neema's going to be presenting a context-aware mobile phone that was developed by a group of students in CMU's rapid prototyping class. He'll also talk about his user research on the interruptibility of mobile phone users and other aspects of the project.

I'll be presenting research I did this spring on the link between the functionality and perceived comfort of wearable devices. The gist is that subjects' comfort ratings changed depending on what we told them a wearable device did! There were also differences in comfort ratings between device locations (arm and back) and between genders.

digital bracelet

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This spring I bought a Nike watch. I love its clean design and its translucent black body with lime green accents. I also love that there's a little screen saver-esqe animation that pops up from time to time. But most of all I love how it attaches to my wrist -- two flexible arms reach around and cling to my wrist with soft plastic pads. I justified my purchase by telling myself that the design and new attachment style were important innovations for a 100-year-old wearable device.

I just found out this morning that this watch won a silver medal in the consumer products division of the 2003 Industrial Design Excellence Awards. The Presto Digital Bracelet, as it's called, has "an ergonomic fit that is defined by three points of contact with the wrist and is made of lightweight polymer to provide flexibility and expansion. ... Ergonomic fit and polymer create a watch the user forgets they are wearing." Oh yes.

wear your seat

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Oliver Peyricot has created a wearable chair. I'm not sure whether you can only wear it while sitting or if the seat is flexible so that you can also wear it while standing/moving. A rough translation of the product description from the babel fish --

"Comfort with nearest: self-service design to be related to oneself, more piece of furniture that one wears, the WYS (Wear Your Seat) settles like a seat and threads like a prosthesis. Maintained by a rigid file (with height of lumbar), it offers a comfort tender and measured to each part of the back, sitting or upright."

Peyricot also has also developed Body Props, several ergonomic forms intended to support the body while resting on the floor. His attention to human form reminds me of the Design for Wearability work done at CMU several years ago.

- seen in Clear magazine, vol III issue 3

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