Dr Shirley Coyle on UX design trends, wearables and adapting to change

12 Sep 2019

Dr Shirley Coyle. Image: Talent Garden

Siliconrepublic.com spoke to engineer and wearables designer Shirley Coyle about the trends that UX designers need to be prepared for.

Dr Shirley Coyle is a designer, creator and engineer, who has become one of Ireland’s leading experts in wearable technologies. In just a few examples of her work, she has designed smart vests to measure breathing technique, insoles to measure foot pressure, gait and speed, and wearable chemical sensors to monitor sweat during exercise.

Coyle is also part of the faculty for the upcoming UX Design Bootcamp in Dublin’s Talent Garden, which starts on 30 October. Ahead of the course, we asked her about some of the interesting trends in wearable tech and UX design.

‘Technology is shrinking and people are moving towards things like voice control, which really changes how you need to think when you’re designing something’

What is the aim of Talent Garden’s UX Design Bootcamp?

It covers the core concepts of user design. UX design is a fairly new term and sometimes the exact definition can become a bit blurred. Basically, what UX design means is that you’re looking at the whole user experience. It’s not just about developing an app or a website, it’s looking at how you create the whole experience, right from when somebody buys a product to the customer’s journey with the product.

When we talk about it in this sense, it’s relevant to a lot of different types of platforms. It could be web or it could be mobile apps, but also things like SaaS, gaming, wearables and other emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality as well. I guess it covers all of the basic concepts of good design, showing designers how to carry out UX research and, from that research, how to develop a hypothesis and test it.

One great thing about this course is that it’s very action-based. There’s projects involved. It’s not really a course where you sit down and listen to lectures all the time. It’s a combination of lectures and practical work. There’s also great involvement from the industry and a number of different partners that the Talent Garden has brought in to provide projects and give participants real-life examples to work on.

The faculty involved are really diverse and have great experience. There’s people working in fintech, there’s people involved in innovation and medical device design, there’s people involved in storytelling from the BBC, people linked with Google and many others involved in the project.

Who can go to the UX Design Bootcamp?

It’s open to anyone. Anybody who’s looking to upskill or to keep up with the emerging trends. The people it’s probably most interesting to are people in graphic design, web developers or those on the software side of things. Product managers as well. It’s open to anybody who’s interested!

There are still plenty of people out there who only think of Fitbits or the Apple Watch when the word ‘wearables’ comes up. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but what are some of the other examples that are emerging?

Wearables have become really popular because of smart watches and Apple has kind of taken over that area. The next stage then is hearables and smart headphones. There are surprising challenges in wearables, but especially in my area.

I study fashion design and I did electronic engineering, so my real interest is in garments. There are a lot of challenges in that, with washing clothes and people throwing clothes on the floor etc. At the moment, wearables are all hard and encased. They’re in things like watches that people were already used to wearing, and things are starting to move towards belts and jewellery now, too. Those are the main areas.

I think in the future, there’s huge developments in material science and it’s actually possible to integrate electronics into textiles and garments, so you can have conductive threads or create conductive inks that can be screen printed onto fabrics to create an electric circuit on the fabric.

These would allow us to find out way more about the body than what we can measure from the wrist! For example, breathing rates, sweat and muscle activity can be monitored. This will be particularly interesting in regards to sports and health.

Speaking of which – Nike recently announced a pair of smart shoes that can be tied and untied using only a voice command. Shoes are a bit more durable than smart garments, so do you think shoes could be the next wearables trend?

Nike have been doing this for quite a while! They came out with Nike Plus a few years ago when I started to work in this area. There was a little pod you put under the insole of the shoe, then hooked it up to an iPod to measure your foot’s contact time with the ground.

It was quite basic, but there’s a lot of information you can get from something like that – it generates so much data. The first sensor they launched created that whole online community of people competing and comparing how much they were running, by sharing all of that data their wearables were collecting.

Aside from smart shoes, what are other trends that UX designers need to look out for?

Being aware of emerging technologies is important. Technology is changing so quickly and the conventional user interface of a laptop is gone to smaller screens. People were working off of tablets and now it’s phones and then the watch. The visual space people have for designing is changed now.

Technology is shrinking and people are moving towards things like voice control, which really changes how you need to think when you’re designing something. People are using gesture control in some cars now, too. You can use the navigation system or change radio station just by swiping your hand across.

There’s different ways of interacting with technology as it becomes embedded into the materials around us. The IoT is rapidly expanding. That conventional input method – into a computer, onto a touch screen – that’s changing.

People need to be adaptable and be aware of new technology. They also need to be open to new ways of thinking and new ways of designing.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic