As wearables continue to become a more integral part of the mobile environment, we believe it’s critical to understand how to design and develop for them so we built Ditto, an Apple Watch app that provides context sensitive calendar information based on the current time and your status.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Preaching simplicity is easy. Simplifying an app, however, can be quite difficult. We developed a system to prioritize content and functionality by defining goals for our app. We define goals as desired outcomes related to core business strategies or the needs of our users. Our goals for this app created a foundation to determine what content and functionality was necessary, allowing us to eliminate elements that didn’t directly affect one of our goals.
If there is one overarching theme when designing for a smartwatch it is: “Less is more.” During the user experience phase we realized that we really had to be ruthless in determining what functionality should discarded. In the end, we removed nearly half of the original business requirements in the final app.
Keep Size in Mind
The Apple Watch is small, very small. The following chart compares the Apple Watch screen to other common Apple device screen sizes.
As you can see, the watch has a small fraction of the screen real estate on other devices. With the new screen size we realized the importance of proper contrast and maximized the screen.
Increase the Contrast
The small screen size of the Apple Watch inherently increases the risk of legibility issues. Choosing colors with sufficient contrast is important. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a good reference for a sufficient amount of contrast. There are many helpful tools out that make following the guidelines easy. (try this one)
Maximize the Screen
Apple knew that they had a very small screen, so they developed a cool trick. They put a black bevel around the watch that can be incorporated into the design as margins by using a black background. We found that using this effect created a much more seamless design that integrated with the watch very smoothly.
Less is More
One thing we realized through the design process was that removing unnecessary functionality did not simplify the app enough. We needed an approach that inherently led to simpler interactions, so we used a less is more approach. The fundamentals of this approach are using the user’s context (time, location, relevant data) to provide relevant actions.
Let’s take the example of an airline app. The contextual data would be the time of the flight, the current time, the location of the user, the congestion at the airport, and any relevant delays. This information can then be used to deliver content to the user that would be relevant to them. Say for example, that the app knows the user is at the airport 2 hours before the flight. The user should have easy access to their boarding pass. Taking this example a step further, the flight is then delayed, which will cause the user to miss their connecting flight. At this point, the app should allow the user to easily book other available connections. The app appears simple because it is only displaying information relevant to the user’s current context.
Watch Apps Are Fun!
Perhaps the most important lesson we learned was how much fun watch apps are. They are a rapidly growing and emerging mobile technology that we believe will change the way users interact with their devices, ways that we can’t even currently imagine, and we’re excited to see where we can take them.