A Wearable Future?



With only 4 days to go we wanted to tell you a bit more about the purpose of Wearable Futures and some of our thinking behind the themes and the way we have curated the event.

Back at the beginning of September we started designing the event. It felt like the area of wearables was generating more and more hype so we spent some time reading up on the latest press and news and defining what we felt was important about the area.

We wanted Wearables Futures to bring together some very different worlds, to look at how collaborations between designers, engineers and social scientists, through new materials, devices or systems, could transform many spheres of life. We also didn’t want to lose the potential of wearables as a conduit for wonder and expression too. We wanted Wearables Futures to surface the potential of wearables, not only as devices or materials but as new protocols, symbols, languages and systems. We also wanted to make sure that the content of the event represented the expertise of Ravensbourne (design, digital & new media) who with the support of EDRF, wanted to develop such a timely and bold event.

Clara Gaggero from Vitamins Design shared with us a matrix that Vitamins Design developed in 2010 and this became a starting point for us. We wanted to ensure that the people we invited to take part were balanced out amongst the four axis of embedded /surrounding and function/expression. If we created an event that was all about the functional then we knew we’d end up with content that was dominated by health trackers, activity monitors, and all the other devices that are booming in terms of the fitness industry and quantified self movement. That didn’t feel very exciting to us.

We were influenced by the ID Studio Lab who talk about how “emotion is a central quality of human existence, and most of our behaviour, motivation, and thought is enriched with and influenced by emotions.” They have dedicated their research to understanding how products, technologies and materials can elicit a whole array of emotions that a person may experience in response to events, people, or actions of other people. They remind us that ” ignoring the emotional side of product experience would therefore be like denying that these products are designed, bought, and used by humans.” That is why we have a panel on Wearable Expression because we want to understand how wearables,wether that be sensory or emotional, can connect us to one another and be another medium for self- expression.

In the theme of self-expression we also have a panel on DIY and empowerment, discussing the potential of the wearables maker movement. If the choice of what we wear each morning is the ultimate in setting out your point of view and belief system, then the maker movement is one place where people are able to exercise their political views by using more democratic processes. Anthropologist Genevieve Bell (who we invited to speak but couldn’t make it this year) is the director of Intel’s interaction and experience research group and she talks about the the functional and symbolic, that what we wear is symbolic and it is how those two things weave together that is interesting.

And if people are looking to fashion and design to lead the way in wearables as this article suggests and indicated by Apple’s latest recruitments , then we hope this text from Frances Corner, as part of Nick Knight’s Show Studio project “political Fashion” will also ring true.

” Fashion can no longer focus on the beautiful young. An ageing population, long-term conditions, mental health, loneliness, disability, obesity and eating disorders have placed health and well-being high on society’s agenda. Factors such as design skills, new technologies and fabrics, coupled with economic opportunity* give us the resources to start developing a more inclusive industry with new audiences and consumers as well as designers, manufacturers and retailers in a more encompassing fashionable future for all.it means that fashion educators need to work with scientists, psychologists, sociologists, chemists and physicists to look at ways that the discipline and industry can take a lead answering some of the great challenges that society will be facing.”


One of the ways that wearables will weave together is through the Internet of Things. Another area where there is much interest and hype, and a good article here talks about how wearables sits within this ecosystem.

Then there are the technology advances and limitations (did you know the battery on Google Glass only last 2 hours at the moment!). The technology that is currently available in terms of embedding electronics, microprocessors, solar panels, LED’s and interactive interfaces, means that there are still many trade offs – size and weight for example. What many people designing wearables are waiting for is the proliferation of smaller, more flexible and weightless batteries to be available,  like this for example .

However, the limitations of the technology don’t necessarily address the question of sustainability. Carole Collet and the course she founded (Textile Futures now run by Caroline Till at Central Saint martin’s) are working in response to those questions of how we design for a sustainable future. Textiles Futures works with biological tools and principles and the growing field of collaborations between design and synthetic biology and bio-mimicry, where intelligence is embedded in the materials themselves or the tech itself is biodegradable, includes some of the most interesting, inventive and potentially transformative work we found in our research on future wearables. We are lucky enough to have Caroline Till chairing a panel with 4 ex-students from the Textile Futures course at our event, and although Carole Collet was unable to be there, we have done an interview with her that will be posted shortly.

The business of wearables is also something we couldn’t ignore. Thinking about economic growth, this industry is set to grow to £6 billion by 2018, so we wanted to get a grasp of what this might mean in terms for start-ups and investment in the space. We are lucky to have people like Jonas Altman and Amalia Agathou developing initiatives like Front Row IO. This is an important part of the wearables ecosystem, a place for new enterprises that are bridging the gap between fashion and tech industries and supporting them to grow in to successful and scaleable ventures. Amalia will be hosting a panel at Wearable Futures, with investors and designers taking part.

So with all these amazing discoveries in our research, we think the Wearable Futures event has a valuable role to play in asking questions about the why, when and how wearables will be a part of our lives. As the Future Everything crew state in their brilliant provocation for their 2014 conference

“The logic still goes: if a potentially game-changing technology is adopted by an enthusiastic community, disruptive change at multiple levels will ensue. We still have a tendency to fall into the deterministic trap of thinking that a new technological tool will be, on its own, powerful enough to implement a new future.”

Through The Futures 10 and the Wearables Lab, we hope people get to explore the future implications of emerging new technologies, and to shape their own ideas for wearable futures.

Cassie Robinson and Amanda Gore, Producers of Wearable Futures


Top image taken from Kosareff, S. 2005 Window to the Future, San Francisco: Chronicle Books

*Please note the SHOWstudio piece was written in 2007 and the different economic climate we have now in 2013 is why we think the maker movement has such an important role to play in wearables too. Though of course the large brands and fashion houses still have the power and resource to help inspire and scale a better future.