All the chatter about the Apple Watch, and the Edition version in particular, has got us thinking about what makes a wearable technology a luxury product. Is it their price? They are, let’s face it, a non-essential and expensive item.
But aside from the price tag, it is interesting to explore how the defining features of luxury – material and technological quality, unique character, sophistication and exclusivity – can be applied in the world of wearables.
And even more interesting, if these products aren’t just about the physical product, but also its data and experience, what IS a luxury user experience?
User experience and interaction design have been the most democratising of design disciplines, all about bringing people into the conversation. How then, do you make it exclusive?
Traditionally luxury brands have put multi-media at the frontline of their online experiences, focusing on imagery, video and sound, rather than navigation. In doing so, they have struggled with usability, resulting in frustrated users who can’t connect, and ultimately buy, their desired products.
When it comes to interface development it means a confused and complex experience. Take Vertu. Whist they provide its consumer with the best in materials, build quality and the famous concierge service, they have often fallen short with interface design and digital experience. In the end they turned to Android – more the voice of the masses than the elite.
Is there such a thing as an aspirational interface? Bang & Olfsen’s Beosound Moment uses a touch-sensitive wooden interface to evoke the senses, but this still relies on the physical and not the digital. However, ip the wooden face over and use the touchscreen Moodwheel, which maps music with colour to create a new way of connecting with music. Cooler tones for a mellow mood play melancholic tunes while a touch of the warmer shade play up-beat music to lift you. Is luxury in the serendipity of the experience? The ability to surprise a jaded technology soul?
Apple’s shake to shuffle feature, whilst not new or exclusive, also plays on serendipity, whilst bridging the physical and digital with gestural control. This type of control, by definition, is a bit exclusive. You need to know the secret, rather than being told what you do. And then, once known, you can be seen to perform it. It offers the opportunity to bring theatre to interacting digitally.
Perhaps in the end luxury interface design is about elevating the norm into something graceful and sophisticated. Just about doing it at its best. A seamless experience of use that reflects a holistic design ethos inside and out. The type of refinement that requires an organisational commitment to design detail that is beyond the patience or focus of most mass-market organisations. Exclusive not because it excludes people, but because the companies capable of producing it are so rare.
Perhaps in the end luxury interface design is about elevating the norm into something graceful and sophisticated.
In these early days of wearable technology it will be interesting to track how luxury is evoked through the digital interaction as well as appearance. Watch this wrist.