Adopting the Wearables Design Mindset

Written BY

Scott McCormick

September 24, 2015

Written by Special Guest Blogger Scott McCormick, Director of Client Relations, Float Mobile Learning

It can be difficult to pinpoint the department in charge of delivering performance support solutions in Big Enterprise these days. Is it HR or IT? Does it fall on the shoulders of L&D or does Marketing drive the effort? Is it a combination of these different departments or (shudder) all of the above? Management and Legal will be sniffing around, too, once it is learned what type of information is being distributed and how. The point is, there is someone, or better yet, a group of people who are trying to determine the best way to deliver vital on-demand information to a target audience within the company. And that’s a crucial role as business processes get leaner and faster and involve fewer people to get the same amount of work done.

To add to those pressures, new technologies are appearing in the marketplace seemingly on a daily basis. Enterprises who may just be getting the hang of mobile deliverables on smartphones and tablets are now seeing a growing variety of wearables solutions that could eclipse the mobile devices and provide a more effective user experience. Some wearables hardware can seem really attractive and even provide a strong ROI argument. Challenges and options abound.

Interestingly, the starting place to solve performance support knowledge gaps is not with the technology at all. The technology should be an answer to the need. No technology, including wearables, should be utilized just for the sake of the technology, however “cool” it may be. (By the way, I realize the use cases for wearables include more than just performance support. I’ve even talked with Fitbit representatives about how companies adopt their devices for wellness. But, for the sake of this post, my thinking is directed towards deliverables that directly affect job performance.)

So, what is the starting place? For my company, Float, it is the users themselves. We strive to learn about the audience, their specific needs, and the context in which they will be using the solution. This may seem like a logical and or even obvious place to start but is surprising how often the end users are overlooked when it comes to deploying a strong product. It is one of the most common reasons we see enterprise information solutions fail. The most important stakeholder – the user – is given little or no opportunity to contribute to the design of the final deliverable.

This oversight can be easily cleared up by inviting the end user into the process as early as possible. In essence, the target audience not only participates in the final solution, but in the design of the solution, as well. This approach gives the enterprise design team the right mindset for building a solution with a high probability of success. And, in these days of tight budgets and aggressive timelines, who doesn’t want success?

One area where Float finds guidance on the right mindsets for user-centered design is in the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design by At the onset of the design and development of a wearables solution, or any performance support solution, the adoption of these mindsets will contribute to a strong final deliverable. Compare and contrast these mindsets to your process and see how you match up.

The Human-Centered Design Mindsets are:

1. Creative Confidence: The strongly held belief that you are building something that is useful and innovative for the user and that it will result in a positive outcome.
2. Make It: Early in the process, start building your idea – literally! Use paper or a whiteboard, PowerPoint or Photoshop, prototyping software – whatever your tool of choice – to build variations of your wearable and you will see opportunities and issues arise in user experience, feasibility, and content flow and other areas.
3. Learn From Failure: It is a humbling exercise to realize that there are lessons in our mistakes. But they are powerful and important lessons and they contribute to an effective product.
4. Empathy: This mindset involves getting to know the user and their world as completely as possible. What if your audience is always in a production plant that has poor lighting and inconsistent Web access? Your computer vision glasses may be awesome – and unuseable.
5. Embrace Ambiguity: Don’t stall because you don’t know all of the answers. Be open to new ideas, especially from your users, and consider them all. Don’t toss them aside because you didn’t think of them. Ambiguity fosters innovation.
6. Optimism: This helps overcome adversity, unexpected roadblocks, and naysayers. You should be moving forward with a good, strong, and useful idea – design,develop, deliver with that always top of mind.
7. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate: You won’t get it right the first time. Build your idea, share it with some users, get feedback, refine, rebuild, and share again. Repeat and repeat. You will see the product grow stronger and the users will love having ownership in the process.

The Field Guide goes into these mindsets on a deeper level and has much more information about human-centered design

Currently, Float is working on a wearable project in which we followed a user-centered design process. The custom software will be delivered across several major wearable platforms and smartphones, and will include key functions such as optical character recognition, facial detection, and identity recognition. It will also assist users with wayfinding in volatile locations by using micro-location navigation,IMU, and 3D cameras.

In order to design and develop this application, we needed to know the various needs of the end user and the environments in which the wearables and mobile devices would be used – the Empathy mindset. We started by “dreaming big” and then paring the ideas until we reached a workplan that had a high probability of success. The project is still in development as we iterate, iterate, iterate, and discover new and better ways to meet challenges and enact ideas.

Powerful and useful technology solutions come from great ideas. There are already some effective enterprise wearable technology solutions in the workplace that all started with an innovative core idea and a strong business case, and I’m excited to learn more about them at EWTS 2015 in Houston on Oct. 21-22. What mindset is successful for you and your team? What is a use case or case study experience you can share that is similar to one of the IDEO mindsets described above? Share them in the comments section.

Scott McCormick is Float Mobile Learning‘s Director of Client Relations and a founding member of Float. Scott has more than three decades of experience in training, eLearning and mLearning efforts for Fortune 500 companies. He regularly speaks on the critical strategies and the steps organizations must take when integrating mobile learning into their complete learning programs.

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