Why Did Nike Stopped Making Wearables? Experience Design

Runner using wearables designed by Nike

The tech world seemed shocked when Nike announced it was getting out of the hardware side of the wearables business. After all, isn’t this supposed to be the next great category? But even before Nike’s big story, those in the industry were starting to recognize that wearables had not yet crossed the proverbial chasm. Penetration is limited and abandonment high. But the reason is simple. For wearables like Fuelband, FitBit, and Up to work, they need to change people’s behavior: behaviors that are genetically, culturally, and habitually ingrained. That’s hard. It requires truly excellent product and experience design.

In fact, it’s a much taller order than the typical design challenge. Most products don’t have to get us to overcome biological and cultural programming 100s of times a day. Doing that requires deep understanding of, and design for, human motivation. But today these devices are using a relatively limited number of approaches for trying to motivate behavior change. For example, they try to motivate change by letting you track your progress and offering small encouragements or tokens to do better. Or they let you post progress so that your friends can offer you atta-boys. The trouble is, different people are motivated differently. Some people are motivated by social pressure. Others by competition. Others by deep personal connection. Others by a sense of purpose to a cause. Most wearables today will do nothing to help change the behavior of such people.

Basically, it comes down to this: wearables are targeting a small slice of the market with a specific motivational footprint (and its arguable whether they are even doing a good job motivating these folks). To jump the chasm, wearable companies will need to think more deeply about how different people are motivated and explore a broader and deeper set of design approaches to help them change behaviors.

Targeting specific segments with differentiated offerings can make it harder to justify investments and that, I believe, is why Nike got out of the hardware side of the business. But I expect Apple will take care of that by providing a hardware platform on which app developers can experiment with a broad array of motivational approaches targeting more specific customer groups. But until there is a focus on experience design, wearables will remain a novelty.

Dan Ostrower

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Dan Ostrower