Smart Watch: A Bridge between Architecture and Occupant

As new innovations like the Apple iWatch emerge — one can’t help but explore what possibilities lie ahead as they make their way into the market. Of course, there will be a multitude of new applications that make good use of the hardware that smart watches like the iWatch use to help them interface with their human wearers.

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But what happens to all of that information that get collected? Does it simply exist to feedback to the user, or their social networks? Surely, the information collected by smart watches can be sent to a range of professionals that know how to interpret the data — like a doctor that can make sense of the information collected daily on a wearer’s health.

But what else can be done with smart watch data?

Smart Watch Triggers Environmental Preferences

As technology gets more personalized because it is, in fact, worn by a user — data can be transmitted within their surrounding environment. In other words, the smart watch can act as a bridge between user and architecture. Here are some uses:

  • Feeling hot? Smart watch sensors can tell when you are perspiring and can send a trigger to adjust room temperature. Or, the smart watch can suggest “want a nice cold glass of water?”.
  • Feeling sleepy? Smart watch sensors can understand when you have fallen asleep, and thus, can trigger lights to be turned off and temperature to be slightly lowered. Essentially, it can align your activity with your desired environmental settings for that given activity.
  • Feeling stressed? Smart watch sensors can understand when you are feeling stressed and can guide you through a meditation with environmental lighting and sounds to accompany your zen moment.

Smart Watch Augments Environmental Experience

The smart watch better connects you with yourself, your friends and yes, your environment. But what can happen when the environment speaks to you through your watch? What would it say? And how could this help you?

As a designer of the environment, you should be thinking about how your designed spaces will impact occupants that wear such smart sensory devices. For example, if within a museum the smart watch can augment what your occupant learns at each exhibit according to their learning style, their age, their current understanding of the subject or whatever other personalization would provide them with a rich museum experience.

You see, your architecture is gaining more ways in which it can “speak” to its occupants. Yes, aspects like light, materiality, acoustics and olfaction are still of prime importance — but so too, are architecture’s growing abilities to communicate real-time data through to its occupants. And data can take on many forms. The smart watch can send a vibration to its wearer, it can make a sound for them to hear, it can display an image and it can link these together as in a composition. Now, just imagine if these became linked to your architecture.

What if your occupant where looking up at an awe-inspiring view from within your architecture, and simultaneously the smart watch “touched” its wearer at just the right time? Would this enhance the experience? Would it detract from the experience? Or would this allow architecture to become more intimate, more personalized and more meaningful?

Synchronizing User Interface with Architecture

As you design your architecture, keep in mind that technology is growing in its ability to link to it, and this can be a good thing if you know how to strategically design for this. Think about what your architecture would say and do if it could “touch” its occupants. Understand that wearable technologies can work together with your designed environments — revealing new ways to communicate in real-world space, where user interface fuses with architecture.

New types of architectural “alignments” are becoming possible as smart wearable technologies continue to emerge. As an architect, it is up to you to find these unique, inspiring, beautiful, functional and meaningful new “alignments” between your environment and your occupants. Reach them through not only what they see, hear, touch, taste and smell — but speak to them through technology in new ways: not to distract, but to encourage, renew, provide safety, or increase happiness.

How Your Environment Can Help You Design Better

Your environments are an extension of you. They can mirror your emotional state, can prompt you toward your next activities, can calm you down when you need tranquility and can help you to socialize when you want interaction with other people. But how can you use the environments around you to actually help you design better? Can environments trigger behavior change that helps you to reach your goals — thus, helping you to achieve what you may not have otherwise accomplished?

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Everyday Memory that Inspires

Within the places that you frequent everyday (like your home or office), you keep items there that matter to you. These items often hold memory or aspirations that are very personal to you. If you think about it, even everyday items are within your environment because they help you to do things better. Just imagine writing with your favorite pen on a beautiful piece of paper…is that not inspirational to you? By surrounding yourself with meaningful items within your environment, you can actually better “visualize” your past successes and future accomplishments — and this will help you to work toward your goals, by taking action on them at just the right times. Be mindful of what goes into your environments because you see these items everyday, and these items can impact your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Use your surroundings to inspire you through “everyday memories” of the past and future to help uplift your inspiration, knowledge and design process.

Use Your Environment to Fuel Your Curiosity

I often help architects to be more innovative with their designs. And a great first step toward accomplishing this is to follow your curiosity and your drive toward experimentation. By using your environment to help fuel these activities, you will feel more inspired, motivated and compelled to explore your architecture from new dimensions.

For instance, what view do you have (if any) while working? Does it incorporate something beautiful and inspirational that uplifts and motivates you? Also, what items do you keep near your work area — amazing books, models, drawings, or even tools?

Environment as Incubator for Breakthrough Ideas

It is important for you to also have the “space” to work. While within the midst of a project, sometimes space becomes hard to find within your environment, but without space cleared for new ideas, new explorations and new design concepts —- how can you take on new challenges that lead toward great innovative breakthroughs?

Use your environments to fuel your curiosity, which in turn, fuels your drive toward innovation. And keep in mind that your environment is “teaching” you everyday as it reinforces what you love, do or have not changed. To make a positive change, alter or add to your environment to promote the habits, thoughts, emotions and behaviors you would like to achieve. This can affect aspects like your ability to generate new design ideas, or even the way you engage with your design process.

Your environment surrounds you. It mirrors you. It expands you. So, be sure to create a space where your ideas and designs can thrive. Wherever you are, your environment informs you — thus, you should capitalize upon this and help it help you to achieve your design aspirations.

Using Sensory Design to Compete Against Online Retail

With the dawning of online retail and the displacement or forced evolution of places like bookstores and malls, designers are beginning to use sensory design to win out (or at least stay in the running) against their online competitors. You see, such brick-and-mortar retail stores are tapping into what the senses can yield from design, to make shopping in their business a true experience. And this experience for the senses is what limits online retailers today.

As branding expert Martin Lindstrom points out:

“You can’t compete on volume, you can’t compete on prices because the online retailer will always win.” (1)

Sensory Design Retail
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Shopping as a Destination Point

Of course, shopping has already been a place where one can meet up with friends, go to see new fashions or gadgets, and even simply do a quick run to the store to get that one missing item fast. But what else can brick-and-mortar stores do as they lose business to the online retailers that offer great discounts?

In this case, shopping becomes a destination or attraction, where shoppers go for the experience, the sense of place and the people. For instance, the super market Lowes Foods is doing just that. Complete with singing shows, kinetic signage and mini-stations for tasting and talking — shopping here becomes a unique experience that the online retailer cannot match in quite the same way. (1)

Next Steps for Online Retailers

Perhaps the online retail world can create new experiences of their own, albeit, the digital kind. As Amazon further tests such technologies as drones and one-day shipping, perhaps speed, price and “digital” experience will help online retailers to feed the senses in different ways.

Yet, it will be interesting to see how the brick-and-mortar businesses carve out their evolutionary path as digital retailers gain more and more momentum. Does this mean that brick-and-mortar stores will need a “digital” face as well? And does this mean that those brick-and-mortar businesses are being forced to evolve to bring even greater value for their customers who shop in person?

Different Kinds of Personalization

One could argue that the brick-and-mortar stores are more personalized — where the employees know you by name and where they know what you buy and can make great recommendations. Yet, online retails can do this too — not face-to-face, but with perhaps a bigger selection from which to bring you what merchandise you want and need.

Thus, brick-and-mortar businesses will need to excel with sensory design in different ways than online retailers. They need to offer what the digital world cannot — and perhaps this means offering a community, a unique experience and unparalleled products coming from a memorable brand.

The online retailers do different things best. Sometimes they compete, but other times they can be complimentary. As the battle between online and brick-and-mortar businesses continues, it will be interesting to see how each will evolve. Both must use sensory design — even if capitalizing upon it in different ways.


(1) Yates, Kristina. Retail in the Digital Age: Chicken Dances and More. CNBC. July 11, 2014.