It’s really about time.

With everything from your car to your thermostat becoming connected, this statement is as much a testament to the anticipation building for the Apple Watch as it is a reflection of how UX designers should be thinking about the experiences they’ll be designing for these devices.

As today’s launch of the Apple Watch takes the smartwatch from a niche product strapped to the wrists of a few technofiles to a full blown mainstream product, designers will need to follow a few guiding principles if we’re to ensure broad adoption among consumers.

The Medium is the Message

Similar to how Marshall McLuhan recognized in the early days of television that “the medium is the message,” the same philosophy holds true in providing apps and services on the Apple Watch or any number of the ever proliferating always on connected devices.

We’ve always relied on the watch to keep us on track throughout our day.  The smartwatch is no different.  And thanks to the rise of Big Data the smartwatch presents us with a myriad of possibilities for how we can leverage them as notification systems to help consumers be on time for the important people and events in our daily lives.


Above:  Designer renderings for INRIX XD Traffic App on Apple Watch.  From left to right, the first image shows an earlier than normal wake up call from the watch’s alarm based on heavy traffic on your route to work; a countdown clock that helps consumers stay on track to ensure they leave for work in time and;  a third image that helps drivers know what to expect during their trip before they hit the road (see green, yellow, red indicators of traffic along the drivers route to work).

As you can see from the above, Big Data and The Internet of Things presents a whole host of possibilities for utilizing the smartwatch as a notification system for presenting personalized insight on the go.  Sure we’ve had notifications on our phones for years but when contextualized and presented in an easy to consume fashion on the watch, the result is not just something incredibly valuable and new but still familiar to the user because it’s centered around what consumers have come to expect from this type of device – an enhanced ability to track time.

The Interface is the Product

With devices like a watch or the car, the customer interface is everything.  Restrictions of the device in terms of its size or the context for how the consumer interact with it (like in the car) makes the interface as important, if not more important than the content that can be consumed using them.  Instead of form meeting function, function has to meet form factor.  It’s this fundamental philosophy that drives decisions about how we deliver our services to consumers in the car, on the phone or through a new form factor like wearables.

Navigation is a great example.  To expect drivers to use their watch to view maps with turn-by-turn directions as Apple has shown is not only unrealistic, but dangerous. Driver distraction and cognitive load are two key considerations we base our daily design decisions around. We take our drivers safety very seriously.

Instead, the smartwatch is best suited as something that complements rather than replicates our interaction with a voice guided navigation app on our phone or on screen in the car. There is a reason for the placement of the dash, the head unit and heads up displays, things are in line of sight or where you expect them to be and they are designed to keep your eyes where they belong, on the road.

Seamless Experience across Devices

The Apple Watch is not an experience unto itself. While the content may be similar, the interface and the display of information need to be different across form factors.

While automakers like Hyundai and Nissan are focusing on using the watch as either a remote start button for the car or for monitoring how you drive in terms of average speed and fuel consumption, we believe making the consumer experience seamless across devices delivers something much more powerful and valuable to the driver.

The Apple Watch was not the first nor will it be the last of the smartwatches and other wearables from consumer electronics manufacturers.  Companies like Samsung and others continue to iterate on their devices fine tuning the consumer interface and associated experiences. Expect more from us in the months ahead as we bring these concepts to reality with our own products as well as those we deliver with our partners and customers.

I’ve worn a watch daily since I learned how to tell time, sadly most of the world around me has traded theirs in for the clocks on their phones and their desktops. I’m hoping that by making these “modern timepieces” useful beyond just a fashion accessory that tells time makes them relevant again.

Guest post by:
Brent Van Wieringen
INRIX Director of User Experience and Product Design
You can follow Brent on Twitter, @brentv