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Insider Design Tips For Smartwatch UI’s

The release of the Apple Watch has brought much needed attention back to the smartwatch sector, which makes now a good time to share our insider design tips for smartwatch UI’s. While some designers make the mistake of using the same general set of principles no matter what they design, from websites to apps for smartphones, tablets, and now watches, here at Lounge Lizard we have learned that size does matter; especially in design.

Are there design similarities when working on apps geared for a watch versus a phone or tablet? Of course there are. But there are also quite a few very important differences that need to be considered during every stage of development if you want end users to be excited and happy with the results.

Design Tips for the Smartwatch

These tips aren’t just meant for the Apple Watch, but smartwatches of all types that use a face display for information.

  • Size Matters – This is one of the principle aspects of design that people need to understand. Obviously it is a smaller screen but what does that mean for the user? To start, that makes it harder to see and interact with. The interaction should be effortless for the user which means a very clean, uncluttered design and when you use text it needs to be easily readable from an arm’s length away. The last thing you want is a user to have to put glasses on to use an app. Also how many words can someone easily digest at that reasonable size?
  • Glance Interactions – What do you do with a watch? You glance at it for information, typically the time or date. So what is a user going to want to do with a watch? Obviously stare at it about 8 inches from their face, hunched over and tapping with their free hand. No, wait…that is exactly what they won’t want to do with it! The idea for a smartwatch is to have a certain amount of freedom from the information tether that smartphones have become. How do you do that properly? Designers need to focus on the idea of information at a glance, because quite honestly holding up your arm for long periods of time, while a nice shoulder workout, it not very comfortable. Template-based glance screens hold limited information that can be easily digested, responded to with a swipe or tap, and then the user can move on with life.
  • Tactile is Important – With smartphones, using silent or vibration mode is generally used to reduce disruption as smartphones are devices we interact with visually. However smartwatches have an advantage that makes tactile interaction just as important as visuals; we wear them. Due to that direct contact with our bodies, vibrations can actually be much more communicative than visual alerts when designed properly.
  • Understand the User – Who is your audience? We harp on this point time and time again because it is so critical to the user experience aspect of design. If you are making a fitness app, who is it geared for. If it is a cyclist, when will they be using it and how much freedom of movement will they have at that time? How can we design the primary function of an app if we don’t truly understand who the user is and how they will use what we create? Older users will probably require slightly larger text size while younger users will probably easily understand intuitive features. What will work best for your user and how can you meet their needs in this special environment?
  • Environmental Testing – We are also huge proponents of testing because there is always room for improvements, but with smartwatches, environmental testing is extremely important. By this we mean taking the app out into the real world and testing it in the target users’ environment. How easy is the app to use outside versus inside? If you are providing turn by turn directions how easy is it to use while walking, riding a bike, or driving? If you want to produce the best application possible that users will love and people we categorize as must-have, then it needs to work on paper, in the lab AND in the real world.

The bottom line is that designing for smartwatches, while similar in some aspects to designing for the web or smartphones, is really very different. Our insider design tips for smartwatch UI’s have hopefully shown where those critical differences are in regards to the users experience with an application on the device.

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