is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
“Global digital product studio” Ustwo (creator of the critically lauded “Monument Valley” game) got a plum assignment from Google: design a series of digital watch faces for Android Wear. They documented their experience in this video, which I watched a few times, as I’m eager to learn more about wearable technology and the challenges of designing for it. With each viewing I felt a frustration that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but then I realized that there are almost no specifics divulged throughout the video’s 3:52 running time.
There are a lot of blank platitudes about “redefining time” and wearable technology as a new frontier (a producer claims that “Where we can go with the design and development on this platform is unlimited”), and some fleeting images of the watch faces that resulted. The studio produced about twenty designs, ranging from basic time-telling watch faces to those that integrate with data from Android phones, and you can see them at wear.ustwo.com, but little is offered about the design process, the unique challenges that they encountered, or more importantly, why these watch face designs are useful or special or even necessary. For instance, the description for one of the faces reads like so:
Who doesn’t like dominos? Now you get to watch them topple over. Forever.
It’s early yet for wearables and smart watches in particular, but I’m getting the feeling that there may be no there there. Which is to say, it’s hard not to notice a distinct lack of interesting ideas driving what we’ve seen so far. Even the watch faces that Ustwo describes as “smart” seem only nominally innovative: one represents how busy you are through visual blobs, another shows the weather, another tells you how long until your next appointment, etc. There’s nothing that seems imperative or enlightening, though to be fair the studio’s brief may have been watch faces explicitly, and the real innovation may come with more fully fledged watch apps.
One more note: it’s hard for me not to notice that Ustwo claims 198 employees across offices in New York, London and Malmö—and yet apparently they were unable to find any women to work on this project, or at least to appear on camera in this video.+