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How Visual Systems Can Improve Wearable Notifications

  |  December 19, 2013   |  Comments

Wearable technologies like Google Glass and smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear give brands new form factors to deliver experiences.

mcnealclickzdec1Many brands are excited about the opportunity that wearable technology presents. As smartphones become more common among consumers, wearables represent the next frontier in engaging brand experiences for early adopters of technology. The main problem is that wearable devices aren't currently designed for the rich interactions that brands want to create.

The benefit of wearable technology is immediacy. Devices can communicate with wearers about their environment and create or change a behavior in the moment. However, most of the current wearable technology offers limited user interactions. Instead of engaging with content on a wearable device, rich interactions are facilitated through another device like a tablet or smartphone.

Wearable technologies like Google Glass and smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear give brands new form factors to deliver experiences.

Google Glass employs most of a wearer's field of vision to display information, but most smartwatches limit the amount of information that can be viewed. The screen size of smartwatches makes them unsuitable for delivering long, text-heavy messages in apps. Since people don't have time or the ability to read lots of copy while they're on the go, messaging is reduced to simple notifications that prompt users to explore details using secondary devices.

An important design consideration for wearables is understanding how to deliver as much information as possible to users before they transition their attention to another device. Wearables' ability to capture users' attention, provide immediate visual notifications, and stimulate a response from the wearer requires a different approach than text-heavy communications.

The physical constraints of devices such as smartwatches offer brands an opportunity to use a rich visual language to quickly communicate to users ideas that would otherwise require scrolling through lots of text.

Branded apps should use notifications as an opportunity to reinforce wearers' brand associations through recognizable visual cues. Rather than relying on text-based messaging, a visual system that incorporates signature colors, shapes, patterns, and iconography allows brands to embed deeper meaning in notifications on wearables. Icons shouldn't just serve as a visual shorthand for text labels that wearers already see. The icons should be part of the visual language that brands use to communicate with consumers across devices and touch points, online and offline.

Brands without a visual system that maintains consistency across devices and other touchpoints are missing an opportunity to reinforce positive associations with wearers. Visual systems embody a language of their own -they can combine with meaningful icons in a branded context to evoke strong emotional responses in wearers as they engage with apps and experiences.

Rather than using the default color schemes of operating systems on wearable devices, signature colors from a brand's color palette can offer a boost to icons and messaging in notifications. As noted on the ColorMatters blog: "Research has reinforced that 60 percent of the time people will decide if they are attracted or not to a message based on color alone."

Brands with highly recognizable colors establish strong associations in people's minds. Tiffany & Co's signature turquoise or Orange telecom's namesake orange are strong examples. Companies with strong color palettes should seek opportunities there to communicate specific meaning in notifications to wearers. Colors should be assigned specific meaning for wearable notifications to add additional levels of significance to standard icons.

Color isn't the only visual element that can be used to evoke positive associations in wearers and improve their receptivity to brand messaging.

Signature shapes and patterns can also trigger strong emotions in people who associate them with positive brand experiences. Consider the Coca-Cola wave - combined with color, the powerful wave pattern serves as a substitute for the actual Coca-Cola logo. The subtle physical and emotional response it evokes can encourage consumers to make a purchase, redeem rewards, or check-in at sponsored events. While few brands have a graphic motif as powerful and recognizable as Coca-Cola's, the ability to communicate meaning through strong visual cues is valuable tool for any brand.

Along with the technical challenges of designing for a new form factor, wearables elevate the importance of a distinctive visual style for brands that want to provide a compelling experience for users. Wearables are designed to stimulate the senses and provide an enhanced awareness of the environment, which make them ideal platforms for brands that want to go beyond messaging to inspiring behavior.

Through repeated interactions over time brands can employ strong visual systems to build understanding and establish a meta-level of meaning that makes wearers more receptive to messaging through notifications and delight and inspire wearers.


McNeal Maddox

McNeal Maddox is the strategy director at Siegel+Gale, based in Los Angeles. His first experience with brand development came in junior high, when, not content to remain mere consumers of comic books, he and his brother formed their own comic book company. The brand name, logo, and signature style they created were so strong that one of their books is a permanent part of the Lynn R. Hansen Underground Comics Collection of Washington State University Library's special collections archive - and they even sold a few.

Since joining Siegel+Gale, McNeal has worked for several clients including Microsoft, Dow AgroSciences, McAfee, Genworth Financial, Yahoo, United Talent Agency, Activision, and PayPal. McNeal previously served as a project manager at FoxSports.com, where he managed the design, development, and implementation of customized promotional campaigns for major advertisers. He also worked as a web developer at ING Advisors Network.

McNeal graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in graphic design, and received his MBA from the University of Southern California.

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