Next Gen Wearables for the Next Gen

Educating the next generation workforce for smart fabrics and wearable technology

Successful wearable products will require bridging the gap between design and engineering to make a technology that weaves itself into the pattern of customers' everyday lives.  At Smart Fabrics and Wearable Technology 2015, Dr. Tom Martin, Professor Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virginia Tech and Lucy Dunne, Associate Professor and Director, Apparel Design Program; Director, Wearable Technology Lab, University of Minnesota will present their experiences over the last decade of working with university students in apparel design, industrial design, and electrical and computer engineering on a wide range of wearable technology projects.  Leading into this year’s event, Martin and Dunne gave us a sneak peek at what they’ll be sharing in San Francisco.

Smithers Apex: The generation in college right now has a different  perspective of wearable technologies than the people designing,  producing and selling them right now. In your opinion how will this affect the marketplace once these younger generations enter the workforce?

This generation sees technology more as an interconnected ecosystem than previous generations have. Their perspective will affect the marketplace in that they think more in terms of wearable technology as a platform for providing a service rather than as an end-product.  The benefit derived from wearable technology will be to provide insight to customers rather than raw data, meaning instead of merely measurements.  Early adopters of wearable technology are content with the Quantified Self, because they like doing the homework to find the meaning in the measurements that our current devices provide. But if we're going to move beyond the early adopters to a larger portion of the population, we'll have to find ways to put those measurements into a form that fits with the context of people's everyday lives.

Smithers Apex: We still see a lot of technology push vs. market pull in terms of wearables. How can a human centered design education change this in the future?

Technology push can be vital for significant innovation, but the limitation of a tech-emphasis in new product development is that it can undervalue some of the more subtle implementation aspects that consumers are increasingly sensitive to. A human-centered design education will move the wearables industry to embrace and accept the emotional and social nuances of consumers rather than focusing purely on features of the technology. Further, in a human-centered approach, human nuances also begin to drive functionality. Instead of the function provided by the technology driving the form, the needs of the customer drive both the form and the function.  

Smithers Apex: Without giving away too much of your presentation, can you share how you have seen the students you engage with evolve along with the market and the variety of technologies available?

The students from both design and engineering have shown much more interest in the intersection of the two fields.  We have design students asking us for classes on programming Arduinos, and engineering students asking to be involved with the customer discovery and product brainstorming in the early stages of design. When faced with a problem like wearable technology that is so inherently interdisciplinary, it becomes clear very quickly how important all of the component disciplines are, and students become much more aware not only of what they don't know and need to seek in a collaborator, but also of what they bring to the table.

Smithers Apex: What are you looking forward to hearing about at Smart Fabrics and Wearable Technology 2015?

While we always enjoy the presentations, our favorite part of Smart Fabrics is talking with the other attendees and finding out about all the great things they are working on.

Register today to discuss this and many more topics at Smart Fabrics and Wearable Technology 2015!