9 Rules for Designing Mindfully

People are obsessed with tech. More specifically, we can’t seem to part with our devices. Statistically, most of us bring our devices to the toilet and to bed. We spend more time looking at screens than we do with our families. We’re living in the era of distraction, where we seem to be serving machines more than they are serving us.

So how can designers help improve this seemingly unhealthy relationship we’ve developed with our devices? The bottom line, we need to design for human connection. Liza Kindred, a fashion tech and future of commerce expert, and the founder of Third Wave Fashion, recently took the keynote stage at IxDA’s Interaction 17 conference. She shared 9 rules for designing mindfully, and we’ve summed them up with examples.

1. Design for Human Connection

People care more about other people than they do about technology or interfaces. Kindred shared that her niece spent the first weeks of her life in the ICU. Upon discharge, Kindred picked up an Owlet Baby Monitor for her, which is a smart sock that tracks heart rate and oxygen levels in infants. This gave her niece’s parents peace of mind by allowing them to stay connected and informed of their daughter’s health, while still being able to get some sleep.

“People don’t really care about technology… when it comes down to it, we care about ourselves and our loved ones more than we do gadgets or interfaces,” said Kindred.

2. Awaken the Senses

One of the things that makes us human is that we can use technology to augment both our physical body and our senses. For the significant percentage of the population with color blindness, color correcting glasses (that look like designer sunglasses) called EnChroma were invented that empower people to see the world in full color. For those with more severe visual impairments, a small in-ear device called Horus was developed that acts as an assistant for the blind through auditory cues.

Both Horus and EnChroma are just a couple of examples Kindred shared of how technology can be used to augment a person’s senseswithout getting in the way of their experience.

3. Create Utility or Joy

Novelty for novelty’s sake can get in the way, and no one needs another useless product in their lives. “There’s importance to creating utility or creating real joy,” Kindred said.

The WellBe is the first stress therapy bracelet on the market. It’s a wearable that uses your heartbeat and an algorithm to track where and when you’re stressed out. A similar device called pplkpr (pronounced people keeper) monitors your physical and emotional response to the people around you, and makes suggestions on who you should spend more time with based on data.

“Sometimes we actually want to have hard data,” said Kindred in a humorous tone. “We have friends that we love, but sometimes they can be a little toxic.” The bracelet could very well give you the nudge or excuse you need to let go of, or spend less time with, those who stress you out.

4. Let the Tech Disappear

So much of the technology we’re building is intrusive. As Kindred stated early on, we’re more concerned with ourselves than technology, so as users we simply want it to disappear into the background.

The Eone watch uses two ball bearings to indicate the time and was originally designed for the visually impaired, since it makes it easy to read the clock face as if it were Braille. However, its sleek design was noticed by a larger audience and it’s taken off as a mainstream product. “The technology that it gives has disappeared, and people are wearing it because it looks good,” said Kindred.

“What I’ve noticed over and over when we’re designing technology, particularly wearables, is that we’re simply strapping technology onto our bodies,” said Kindred. “As it turns out, the market for people who want to look like androids is actually really small. So when you’re able to build things that look like the [Eone watch] where the technology disappears, you see much higher adoption rates.”

5. Design for Disconnect

One rule, which collectively designers aren’t great at sticking to, is designing for disconnect. It means designing “to allow people to stay in their moment, and not interrupt. To have the ability to have the judgement that’s needed to not interrupt which something that’s not necessarily important,” said Kindred. It’s for this reason Kindred appreciates wearables designed for notifications. During her talk, she pointed to a fashionable ring on her finger and declared it one of her favorite wearables.

More than just a piece of jewelry, Ringly pairs with your phone and uses a mild vibration pattern and changing 4-color light on the side to subtly notify you of anything that’s important to you. Ultimately, this means you know when you should and shouldn’t bother reaching for your phone, giving you the peace of mind to disconnect.

6. Build Extensibly

The UN estimates that there is between 20-50 million metric tons of electronic waste every year. “We’re constantly building things and I don’t think that’s responsible or being very mindful of our environment,” said Kindred.

One example of a tracker that’s keeping fashion sensibility and extensibility in mind is the Joule smart earring back. It’s a health and fitness tracker that’s universally compatible with post-style earrings.

7. Simplify, Then Simplify Again

In the words of Leonard Cohen, “the less there was of me, the happier I got.” Designers need to continuously edit for form and function. The Motorola MC10 Tattoo takes simplification to the extreme – it’s a paper thin temporary-tattoo-like wearable that boasts 18 different sensors. However, designers don’t need to build complicated hardware to simplify things. It can be as simple as asking what is truly necessary and how can you simplify things further.

8. Narrow the Digital Divide

Do we really need another app to help us with our dry cleaning? Acknowledging the privilege of the audience she was speaking to, Kindred said, “so many apps coming out are simply making our easy lives easier. There are so many people who actually need help.”

There are ways that we can make our lives easier while also having a positive impact on others in need. An example she cited was Power Felt, a material which can power devices by capturing and converting heat into energy. “This has the potential to make so many of our lives easier, but it would also make the lives easier of those who don’t have access to reliable infrastructure,” said Kindred.

9. Make Something the World Needs

We’ve all stumbled upon examples of technology for technology’s sake. Seemingly useless wearables, apps and services that take up valuable brainpower and resources to design, but don’t serve a meaningful purpose. “The world needs more stuff like the Kite Patch, which blocks a mosquitoes ability to track humans. It is one of the first technologies out there that is really helping to change the way we’re dealing with Malaria,” said Kindred.

“We should be building the technology for the world we all want to live in.”

Designing Mindfully for Purpose and Profit

There are a lot of things we could build. But before we do, we should consider our values and build things for the world we want to live in. So how do we do this? Start by taking a moment. Take a deep breath before reaching for our phones. Think about your values during the design process.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

– Arthur Asme