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Seneca Brandi

Seneca Brandi

Akendi Alumnus

Smart Watch Design Heuristics

Interaction design can be a delicate balancing act between meeting the needs of the user and wrestling with the limitations of the technology you’re designing for.  This contrast is never more evident than when designing and developing for wearables.

In the course of performing many heuristic evaluations on various devices and applications and running various UX experiments at Akendi, we have come across many different form factors, including mobile, tablet, desktop, kiosks, and embedded devices of all kinds.  Rarely have we seen as much interest and buzz surrounding a form factor as we have with wearables and specifically smart watched.

We have come up with a set of usability heuristics to help us critically evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of smart watch designs. We’ve created a poster for you to print out and use as a reference. Download the poster here.

  1. Solve a problem

Smart watch technology design should start from a human problem, and then evaluate several viable technology solutions. It should not start from a particular technology solution looking for places to impose its presence.

  1. Glance not look

When it comes to wearables, the devices are simply too small for one to spend long stretches of time interacting with them, and for some, the hand position of holding up a watch is not as comfortable as holding up a phone (recommend keeping smart watch tasks down to 5 seconds or less).

  1. Text legibility is critical

Text legibility and clarity of information design is the key to the success of wearable devices. Imagine the frustration of looking at a watch and having to hold it up close to your face because the interface is too busy or the text is too small to read.

  1. Focus on affordance 

Does the user perceive that tapping or swiping on an object is a meaningful, useful action, with a known outcome?

Many watches are gesture based and gestures have few affordances, which can make them hard to learn. Make sure that interactions are clear or your users will feel lost and will find themselves pressing buttons and swiping haphazardly.

  1. Minimize input

Smart watches typically have limited physical input mechanisms, so it’s important to allow for different modalities of use (voice, gesture, movement, etc). Smart watch apps should also accommodate people with large fingers. Make sure tappable elements (recommend a max of 4 on the screen at one time) are large enough for any size finger (recommended minimum target size is 1cm x 1cm).

  1. Visual and tactile are equal

On smartphones, visual is primary and tactile is secondary. We use vibrate mode to reduce distraction and disruption, and rely on the rich visual displays typically only when we are directly interacting. Conversely, a smart watch may be continually displaying visual information without any user interaction.

Smart watch devices are in direct contact with the skin, tactile feedback can be even more salient and communicative than visual. As a result tactile feedback is just as important, and in some cases more important than visual display.

  1. Augment the things we love, automate the things we don’t

A wearable device should enhance our favourite experiences, making them richer and more memorable while using automation to create more time to do the things we love. Automation can be based on various mechanisms such as proximity-awareness, behavioural-awareness and pattern recognition.

Seneca Brandi is an Experience Architect at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi, member research, or user experience design, visit or email

Seneca Brandi

Seneca Brandi

Akendi Alumnus

Seneca Brandi brings over 6 years of experience in the fields of user experience research, interaction design, and usability testing to his current role at Akendi. With a Masters degree in Human Computer Interaction, he is an advocate for user research and data driven decision-making. His research experience includes both qualitative and quantitative methodologies ranging from ethnographical field research to controlled laboratory observations and testing. Seneca’s experience with a diverse set of enterprise level companies has given him extensive exposure to both large and small projects for a variety of clients, including public sector and private sector organizations such as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, CATSA, the Canadian Real Estate Association, Home Hardware, Algonquin College, the Royal Ontario Museum, Atlantic Lottery, and BlackBerry.


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