Wearable Tech Designers sound off on wearables, fashion tech and the future of smart design.

Vanichi Magazine is a Media Partner for the Gizworld Conference LA from September 28-29, 2015. The conference will highlight wearable tech, IoT, smart home advancements and much more through panels and keynotes. To start a discussion about future fashion that will make life more lightweight, mobile and interconnected, we asked esteemed wearable technology thought leaders to sound off on wearables, fashion, luxury and the future of design.  First up in the wearable tech designers sound off is Zach Vorhies, the CEO of Zackees.

Zackees makes the world’s safest cycling apparel, the turn signal cycling glove.

“I made the glove because my neighbor was hit by a car while riding home,” Zach shares. “He barely survived but he was never the same. I didn’t want to be afraid when I ride so I created this product during my exploration of the wearable technology scene and the product just took off. Apparently I was not the only one to realize it’s importance.”
Before his role as CEO of Zackees, Zach was a successful senior software engineer at Google that brought Google Earth to the Audi Navigation system. The goal of Zackees is to make the best cycling glove in the world and do that by augmenting a cycling glove with LED’s. Zach took a few minutes to share his thoughts on the definition of wearable technology, how he views wearables versus fashion technology, privacy, the changing landscape of design and much more.

Q + A

V: Some people assert wearable technology still isn’t well defined. For you, what constitutes wearable technology? 

Z: Right now the full umbrella of wearable tech could include the cell phone; however, I think this is a bit broad. For me, I feel that wearable technology is anything that is fastened down to clothing or your body and the primary use is to do something useful.

wearable tech designers sound off_zackees

Zackees designs wearable technology cycling apparel intended to make the road safer for cyclists and motorists.

V: Some consumers have expressed disdain with style and attractiveness of wearable designs. Is there a difference between wearable tech and fashion tech? If so, what is it?

Z: The difference between fashion tech and wearable tech boils down to form versus function. If the product designer’s primary focus is providing function and utility (e.g. blood glucose monitor), then it’s probably wearable tech. However, if the primary function is to get the user laid, then it’s fashion tech.

V: Many privacy advocates fear millennials (in particular) trade privacy for products and wearables blur the lines of said privacy. How important is privacy to the overall pursuit of wearable tech?

Z: Let’s talk about the broader picture first.

Privacy and user data is a really huge conflict in the wearable space. User data is one of the most important aspect to the valuation of a company, especially given all the uncertainty and disruption around the future of advertising. Investors are looking to not just to invest in the IP of a product, but also the ability to reach existing customers and acquire new ones through the social network.

This user-data grab has a negative effect on customer acquisition. The conflict in the consumer’s mind is the persistent feeling that they are being tracked. Which is true. The NSA spying really amplified the danger in the mind of the consumer. There is much distrust for user-metrics tracking and many apps want to grab all the information that they can. The corporate data leaks that this has have been happening, like the Ashley Madison, plays into the narrative that the data really isn’t safe. If a user is paranoid at all, then they aren’t going to use a wearable device that tracks their metrics.

Privacy policies that put the customer’s mind at ease is fundamental, but locking up the data runs counter to the interests of the investors. The unfortunate trade off is that companies promise to protect the data but then turn around a few years later and change the EULA, which hurts the industry. It’s a classic case of “tragedy of the commons” and will likely require government intervention at some point in the future for the US, similar to like what is happening in Europe right now.

As far as millennials are concerned, they are acclimatized to life in the internet panopticon and so they are more forward thinking in terms of how their information is shared. However, this is not universal and apps like Snap Chat prove that there is a strong market for services and products that protect the user’s content.

I think the main take away is that as long as user-data is used for marketing purposes, people are going to be very comfortable with that. If the government comes in so that they can have total access to the internet panopticon then the tech industry should expect disruption from user adoption and and an increase hostile (anti-competitive?) laws in other countries.

V: How do you think wearable tech and designer tech will change the luxury market?

Z: I think that electronics and durable luxury goods are anti-theatrical to each other in the consumer’s mind. We think of electronics as quickly deprecating over the time span of a three years, while luxury goods are expected to hold their value. For example, the electronics slows down, the battery doesn’t hold much of a charge and within a few years the device is pretty much useless or insecure as the manufacturer sunsets the device as they push upgrades to the user. With that mindset, I think there are really strong challenges for getting the luxury consumer to think of electronics as a luxury item.

V: Consumers have been willing to pay more for intricate, artisan design. As 3D printing, open source, and other design technologies become more accessible and ubiquitous, the playing field of design will change. How will designers continue to set their work apart from others?

Z: I believe that the market is going to undergo a decentralization of product design and distribution. This is really exciting if you are a consumer with disposable income or a designer that has a tenacity for marketing. Marketing really is the key difference between designers that remain unknown and those that will flourish.

The main differentiator in product experience over the next decade will rely on software and hardware development improvements. The speed of hardware iteration cycles is rapidly improving. It’s incredible and in just the last 5 years the costs of hardware iteration cycles have fallen by an order of magnitude. Additionally, the toolset available for software designers is rapidly increasing productivity as well. Massive amounts of high quality code are now available on the internet and sometimes building high level software feels more like putting Legos together rather than hard core programming. This opens up the field to more developers as they move up the value chain of software development.

V: What is one of your favorite applications of wearable tech thus far?

Z: Right now there is a huge influx of fashion technology made by the amateur scene and you can find a lot of it displayed at burning man. I like these types of wearables because they are expressive in nature and when you see someone wearing a great looking piece you want to go up and talk to them. There’s something beautiful about the intersection of creativity and intelligence in the fashion technology scene. It’s a very personal type of expression and because it’s an art form, the amount of variability is uncountable, so you are always being surprised. The fashion world is about to undergo a complete revolution and things are going to become very exciting over the next three years as this new art form emerges. The companies to look out for include Adafruit, Sparkfun and Instructables which are really pushing the envelope in the prototyping space.

VANICHI NOTE: Stay tuned for more installments of this wearable tech/fashion tech conversation in the coming weeks on vanichi.com.

Want to see more wearable tech that can save lives? Click to see the Skully Helmet for motorcycles.