The Convergence of Fashion With Technology Needs Empathy

In a world where the pace of tech developments is influencing the internet of things and with that, our daily lives, one thing is empirical, nobody wants to make things harder than necessary.

Mano ten Napel
Founding Managing Editor at | mano@fashnerd.com

FashionTech Consultant, Freethinking Opportunist Hero, Aspiring to Inspire. Wearobot Groupie with a Tech for Passion. Contributed to Wired.com. Founder of WearableGuru.com Founding Managing Editor FashNerd.com

No matter the problem, keeping things simple can be considered quite an intellectual plan of attack when attempting to work out a complex problem. It is often when people have attempted to master the procedure of keeping it simple that certain areas are neglected. And in practicing this, inevitably, people end up in a really complex situation that appears difficult to resolve. Now, in a world where the pace of developments like #TheMerge of fashion with technology and the rising influence of the internet of things on our daily lives, one thing is empirical, nobody wants to make things harder than necessary.

Last year in Wired I touched upon this topic saying that Keeping Things Simple is exactly what the wearable tech industry needs. Merely doing so turns out to be a work of art. Yes, we are excited about the merge of fashion and technology and can’t wait to see what it will bring us. But as more wearable tech makers and fashion tech designers are working on fulfilling their dream in trying to make technology work for consumers, a big dark cloud seems to arise. Especially when realized that in a successful wearable tech product, two worlds, and sometimes even more, are coming together.

When these worlds are coming together, with each their own jargon, culture and personal characteristics, the individuals that represent these worlds are often not aware of the fact that communicating, whilst having a completely different field of expertise, comes with incredible challenges. Adding the difference in personal characteristics into the mix can only make things worse. In the case of the relationship between an engineer and a designer, good communication is incredibly important, but often leads to interpersonal challenges that seem impossible to overcome. I am sure this has taken place and is occurring in developing teams all over the world today.

Tech Savvy Design

Back in 2013 Accenture, a tech consultancy that has a great reputation in solving big corporate issues, tried to enhance their digital and marketing capabilities with their acquisition of Fjord. They had to merge different design insights like designer optimism vs. consultant pragmatism and many different disciplines like corporate strategy, technology and design thinking into one cohesive team. While they were aware that research is showing that 50% to 80% of mergers fail. So when Accenture asked themselves how they merged the different cultures, their answer was short: “We didn’t”.

Knowing they were able to merge ‘Accenture Interactive’, a part of their business that was culturally more similar to Fjord, you’d say it should be a walk in the park. To a certain degree this illustrates how incredibly difficult merging opposites can be, but luckily, to be successful in the wearable tech space needs some zooming in first.

ALSO READ: Fashion & DigitalHealth Collide at Internet of Things

In February 2016, a study written by Deepika Raj & Jung E Ha-Brookshire was published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education. It was called How do they create ‘Superpower’? An exploration of knowledge-creation processes and work environments in the wearable technology industry. Deepika Raj, who was leading this study, basically subdivided the development process into three layers of innovation while obtaining their data through interviewing 16 engineers and designers. In doing so, the two researchers tried to identify what successful wearable technology actually meant to each individual. Then, instead of re-inventing the wheel they applied the popular ‘Organizational Knowledge Creation’ theory to explain how firms create new knowledge and develop innovative solutions in the work environment. All the while trying to take into account the different personalities of the individuals whilst looking at the characteristics that often make it a challenge to end up with a successful wearable tech product.

The overall summary of the data interpretation
The overall summary of the data interpretation

It seems that their findings shone some light on how important it can be that engineers and designers work in a positive and nurturing environment. It has to be a humble atmosphere with the presence of empathy towards each other. It is this kind of productive environment that has the potential to lead to great ideas born by combining knowledge from different fields of expertise. There needs to be an awareness of the fact that there are different ways that can lead to combining knowledge. It is a process that needs an intellectual approach, as opposed to just locking these individuals up in a room to only let them out once a meaningful and fashionable product is delivered. There has basically been a huge need for interpersonal skills and a lot of empathy towards each other.

One respondent, a designer, in the study said: “While designing a wearable tech product is to know that the body is a factor and therefore we cannot make things square anymore“. When engineers lack a healthy level of emotional intelligence, they could be offended by the designer’s statement by interpreting it as if they are only able to develop squares and circles. While I am sure the designer and the engineer are both passionate about reaching the same goal of ending up with a meaningful and fashionable or very well designed product that adds value to the user’s life.

Large companies such as Intel®, Apple, Microsoft and Google are investing millions of dollars in innovating the technology that they would like us to wear. With good reason, since most market research points in the same direction. For example, the trend forecast made by IDtechEX predicted that the wearable technology space would grow from US $20 billion in 2015 to US $70 billion in 2025. The successful development of wearable technology relies, for the most part, on the synergy between the designer and the engineer. Thus a relatively minor investment in a wearable tech or fashion tech consultant, who could assist in creating this synergy, can really be worth the money.

technology creativity heads

Sometimes teams need some coaching to increase awareness, especially in a work environment where it is very human to forget the simplest things. In the case of tech startups, who are dealing with real deadlines, it can be a substantial challenge to always monitor if the level of communication within the team is up to par. In the case of the engineer and the designer, they almost speak a different language. The engineer is usually all about rules and laws and speaks of formulas and codes. While designers focus a lot on the narrative. Often  they are in a position where the greatest mistake could instinctively lead to beautiful design. Therefore, when it comes the inability to keep things simple, it is imperative that a synergy between the engineer and the designer exists and that the emotional and characteristic aspect within the communication that is taking place, is not discarded.

There is some good news though. As technology evolves, it shrinks. In the future when design limitations are smaller there will be a bigger probability that good communication will naturally push the engineer into the designer’s arms. Besides, the new generation will be the first to have learnt coding in school. Imagine a 9-year-old with four years’ experience of coding under her belt because she simply read FashNerd‘s articles on DinkyNerds, plus she grew up with a passion for programming and learned this in school. Now suddenly at the age of 12, inspired by Anouk Wipprecht and Iris van Herpen, she realizes, as a native coder, she would love to learn how to design her favourite dress. This upcoming generation will hopefully generate the first coders with a genuine passion for design. Therefore, designing and engineering competencies could be found in one person. But until that day, proper consultancy might be able to help out your VC’s investment.

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