Microsoft Band is a wrist worn fitness wearable that allows users to reach their health and fitness goals by tracking their heart rate, exercise, calorie burn, and sleep quality, and be productive with email, text, and calendar alerts on their wrist.
Role: I started on this project as a contractor and grew into the UX Design Lead
I joined the team responsible for the Band when it was a small two person studio called Microsoft Hardware Next Group. As the first designer, I was responsible for developing conceptual experiences that could evoke the promise of wearables to the corporate leadership. At the time Pebble had only recently been launched and Fitbit was only a clip on accelerometer, but we could tell that wearables were on the horizon.
Wearables were just starting to come into fruition in the winter of 2012 and Microsoft had its toe in the water on the biometric front. Using the team's previous work as a jumping off point, I helped create storyboards and concepts that crafted the experience narrative.
Image courtesy of Run Studios
I supported the production team on location during the shoot (I even had a small acting role) and produced the UI elements that I dropped into the video (using AfterEffects). The end result was successfully presented to the Leadership Team and thus, the Microsoft Band Team was formed.
The team was created, however we now had to make the rounds with the MS Leadership to ensure our survival... This allowed me to create support concepts and reedit the envisionment video to match the narrative we were telling each stakeholder.
In 2013, Microsoft had only just begun to produce their own (non-XBox) hardware and our team met a variety of hurdles on what could be accomplished with off the shelf components. As our engineering team ramped up, we had to make a series of quick decisions that proved to be consequential on the final form factor. We chose the inside of the wrist because we wanted to have discrete interactions and we knew that we would run into complications if we tried to compete on the "smartwatch" social signifier front.
Building a small computer that comfortably fits the human wrist is a hard task, having a limited budget makes it harder. Using my background at Henry Dreyfuss, I pushed hard to make sure our engineering team integrated human factors into their design. I should have pushed harder.
We were given mechanical and CPU constraints that limited what was possible. These constraints, like the limited touch input, would force us to think of creative workarounds that would still ensure that a user would never know of their existence.
The Metro Design Language had killed skeuomorphism within the company and served as the foundation for our own. We took it as a challenge to evolve the design language to better suit the wearable form factor. This involved reducing the content gutters and rethinking the badging of tiles.
Over the spring of 2013 the team grew to incorporate a few more designers, a few project managers, and a plethora of engineers. During this time I learned a ton about product development in the consumer space, laid the groundwork for our future work, and supported our leadership team with content for each political battle.
PRINCIPLES OF USE
When developing a "new" experience it is important to outline a key set of guiding principles. We strove to identify interaction problems we could solve and maybe more importantly what we would not solve.
Should the Band be its phone's second screen or should it function as a stand alone device? For the software's architecture we knew temporal notifications would be key, however we strove to have the content be easily accessible through an intuitive layout. Using the "live tile" concept as a base we aligned the content in easily scannable locations.
Being a part of the "first" version of any product is often akin to surveying an unknown land. Tight integration with all facets of development is key to being successful. On the Band, I knew everyone on the team and was paired with some great developers and PMs. Learning each team member's role, task and approach was enormously beneficial to my growth as a designer.
The Band's fast pace development was necessitated to accomplish the breadth of experiences we hoped to achieve (e.g. MeTile, Call, Text, Email, Sleep, Run, Bike, Workout, Guided Workouts, Golf, UV, Settings, Starbucks, Music, Sports, Weather, Stocks, News, Keyboard, RSVP, and 3rd party tiles.)
Fail Fast, Learn Quickly
Writing Software Specifications
"Picking up the ball and running with it" became the mantra of our small design team. To accomplish this, I broke the mold of a typical Microsoft designer and wrote several important software specifications for our development team. Specing out how the interface should feel, control functionality, etc. allowed me to further understand the demands being put on our development team and begin to foresee problems and develop "just in time" concept solutions.
Elbow to Elbow Integration
Launching of the Band came down to several key nights of sitting next to our firmware team and guiding the development in realtime. Learning how to support and when to challenge were my key learnings on how to craft the experience and survive the next review.
As a designer, participating in the feature prioritization process allowed me to understand the framework of the firmware's development. Understanding this process and the costs of development allowed me to articulate the "what and when" of how each feature should built and lay the building blocks towards my desired interactions.
the home stretch
In the months leading up to launch I continued to support our development teams, sneaking in the last couple of tweeks, and our go to market effort. To accomplish this I created a giant Plan of Record document that outlined all of the Band's interactions down to the pixel level and shared it with each team.
The Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health companion App shipped to the public in October of 2014. To be a part of a vision that becomes a reality was a truly special experience.
the Microsoft Band
Building a wearable does not mean people will actually wear it. To accomplish this you need to develop tangible experiences that prove their value in the field. Our biometric tracking was best in class at the time, but our fitness experiences were silver lining. We made sure that each of these was easy to use, understand, and most importantly see at a glance.
We put our guiding principle of "in and out in 8 (seconds)" to use in the notification stack, but we also fortuitous enough to work with MSR researchers to integrate a "tiny" wordflow keyboard, rapid speed reading feature, and Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant.
Plan ahead and don't take "no" as the final answer
If you are given the luxury of being involved in a cutting edge product, you must recognize that the technical limitations of today may not exist in a month. Planning ahead and organizing your work in "step, stretch, and leap" approach will allow you to quickly advance the project when time in the development cycle frees up.
With each of the Band's many iterations, we made significant progress.
Sweat the small stuff
With an interface the size of a stick of gum... every pixel matters. Small perceived affordances (like content visual peeks, cues, haptic alerts, etc.) need to be massaged into success. Concepts must be made in situ, confirmed through testing, and followed through development (to ensure proper implementation).
I viewed it as my responsibility to convey the importance (to my counterparts) and push for the completion of "the details".
You are not going to get it right out of the gate
Designing for consumer electronics is a fast pace environment and concepts, no matter thorough, are going to have holes. Exhaustive design critiques and internal testing are important, but releasing your baby to a series comprehensive "focused" beta programs will find holes quicker. Don't fear the reaper, allow your process to be flexible, and react to each instance by embrace this feedback and using it to fuel more progress.
Image courtesy of ifixit.com
The Team is Everything
While on the Band Team I was extremely lucky to work with some great people... People that took interest in me and my work, people that valued a design lead organization process.
Band Team: Jason Grieves (PM Lead), Devlin Bentley and his Dev Team, Tim Paek (MSR), Katherine Stewart (PM), Daphne Hsu (Design), The Microsoft Health Design Team, The Microsoft Hardware Design Team, Brian Bilodeau (Leadership) and Zulfi Alam (Leadership)