Designing Brilliantly Warm
In an interview with the lead designer for Brilliantly Warm, our flagship product, we hear about her approach to creating a warming wearable with the end user in mind.
Brilliantly: What is your philosophy as a designer?
Jeanette: As a trained industrial designer I am an expert at bringing humans and machines/technologies together.
I’m a believer in form following function. But for me that's not the whole story. I believe function is only valuable if there is a need, and needs don’t get met unless there is compliance, people have to want to use your design. Too often technologists and scientists are focused on the “thing” and not the person.
Lately, I find the overlapping space between healthcare and wellness particularly compelling. In the healthcare space, people want to manage their whole being, not their insulin, heart condition or cancer separate from the rest of their health.
In my work at Loft, I have become very focused on the idea of “proactive wearables” -- wearables that go beyond the obvious to serve a real purpose for the end user. Or in healthcare terms, to drive positive patient outcomes. As the healthcare industry looks for options outside of pharmaceuticals and surgical intervention, the idea of a wearable that has prime access to your biomarkers is really enticing -- there’s a near future where wearables have the opportunity to prevent, detect, manage, and even treat symptoms.
Brilliantly: Designing that way means that you are really thinking about how a product feels and looks so you can create genuinely useful features. In many cases you're working on convincing someone to adopt a brand new behavior, which is an exciting challenge and one we’re undertaking together now with Brilliantly Warm.
Jeanette: Yes! It’s important to be subtle while meeting the user’s needs. We leverage habits and objects that people already use when designing new technologies.
You must understand that creating a wearable device means willfully undertaking a daily invasion of privacy. You’re creating a piece of technology that someone has to voluntarily place on their most intimate space, their body. Put in terms of something like real estate and location, location, location, the body is prime real estate.
A wearable cannot just focus on functionality, it has to be designed to be loved, as well as engineered to work. Too often, great ideas for wearables aren’t successful, because the team overlooks the needs of the end user, and ever worse, the end purpose.
Brilliantly: This is why when we first started talking about Brilliantly Warm, I wanted to incorporate the bra or undergarments women were already wearing and not complicate that.
Women have stuffed many things in their bras for so many different reasons from phones to keys to breast prosthetics. Brilliantly Warm, which fits into any bra, leverages something women are already doing. I think we both agreed that this behavior isn't really a huge leap even though it’s with a brand new product.
Jeanette: If you can design a sleek wearable that solves a real problem -- great! Your task now is to win the daily battle for a customer to want to wear your product, to give it their attention, and perhaps even to change their behavior based on how it makes them feel.
Working on Brilliantly Warm revealed to me that there is untapped real estate right here just ready, prime, and waiting for all kinds of wearables to take advantage of. By turning an everyday garment - wearing a bra - into an opportunity, women have an advantage to the challenge of body worn sensors and devices that tackle long-term comfort, heart monitoring, pain management, posture, etc. And you already have all the sizes and styles that you need, no need to build a host of custom straps for every purpose. You just have to make the device that will go into something that somebody already loves.
Brilliantly: It's been interesting to hear about your work on other things that are completely unrelated to Brilliantly Warm but are things that need to go on a chest and how many times men fail to consider a female user and how a bra fits or how having breasts impacts what they are trying to do.
Jeanette: Yes, we recently worked on a wearable ECG, a more robust version of a traditional halter monitor that’s worn on the chest. The team came to us complaining that their test subjects didn’t like the strap, the males particularly thought that it was itchy and uncomfortable. The very first point we made was that it was not going to work for women. There was a complete failure to fit around breasts. We pushed back and said, let’s look at this problem more strategically, the strap is a symptom of a bigger problem. The design has to be more integrated for all users.
Brilliantly: This is one of the reasons that I was so excited to work with you, you’re already thinking about those things and understand the sensitivity and nuances of how women get dressed, wanting to be comfortable and stylish and how to design around the things that we're already doing and wearing. Even really well-intentioned men don't understand how a bra fits, what it feels like, what it should feel like.
Jeanette: The design field often celebrates shiny objects with cool details that are just gratuitous. Brilliantly Warm isn’t like a tool or something that needs to call attention to itself. It is a feeling. It needs to make you feel warm, and comfortable, and better than normal. It needs to do its job and get out of the way. I take great pride in designs that accomplish this simple mission.
There are many design firms out there that treat every project like it's an opportunity to design a Ferrari. They will add five spoke, chromed out wheels on strollers and design vacuum cleaners with speed lines and swoops for no reason. These are failures and the result of a bored design team flexing in a category that has no need for it. We have a responsibility as designers to stop this behavior of overcompensating, to stop putting more garbage into the market and ultimately the environment, to do more with less.
Brilliantly: Right in the end we all want products that are beautiful, but also works super well. With Brilliantly Warm, that means it needs to be comfortable and warm and safe, but that it also needs to be something that's lovely and sexy.
Jeanette: There's a fine line. Trying to solve a problem without thinking about the whole experience and mindset of the user is very common. I’ve met a ton of clients who come to us after going through a cycle with a pure engineering firm and they end up with an overbuilt product that users hate. Engineers thrive on linear problem solving, they want a set of specifications that they can start chipping away at. We have to understand that specifications are not just about power budgets and force gauges and datasheets. We can’t forget the why’s when we ask the what’s and how’s.
I strive to always create things that are easy to use and desirable. Why will someone want to put this on their body every day? Why will they love and cherish it? This is how we define desirable and in the case of Brilliantly Warm, beautiful.
Brilliantly: Yes! I think that’s true and I only have experience with one product. When I talk about Brilliantly Warm, many people ask why I’m not building it directly into a bra or just making bras. Most people don’t consider how complicated it is to make a bras and what a personal choice style, color and fit are when picking a bra. Not to mention stocking enough size variations to be truly inclusive and accommodate the many fit issues women face seems daunting.
Can you tell me about your thought process for the way to approach solving the design problems?
Jeanette: At Loft, we approach designing solutions differently -- it’s not a numbers game or an engineering ego contest -- the process starts with consumer research -- truly listening to the needs of the end user. We don’t refer to our work with possessives. We say, the product, or the data, never our product or our data. We work in service to the users, not the other way around.
There’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in the design space -- empathy -- but I challenge my fellow designers to go one step further than empathy: to respect. Empathy on its own can start to resemble pity. But by adding respect for the end user, who they are, and their journey, we can design solutions that take them beyond feeling “back to normal” - even better than OK -- to their best self.
Even in our early conversations, you stressed discreteness as one of the most important things to your users and we talked about creating an insert that fit into any bra. Because of my work on other wearable technologies, I was immediately thinking about the power requirements and the battery which was going to be the largest component and therefore the main size driver. From a functionality perspective, I needed to balance performance with user needs and expectations.
Brilliantly: Thank goodness because I came to you with a proof of concept design that was hooked up to a giant drill battery. I was thinking about it completely agnostic of the power source. I came to you with the thing that fit in every single one of my bras and was like, "Here, how do we make it work?"
Jeanette: We had some back and forth about the shape of the insert and the line between functional and beautiful. We had to remind ourselves, we are doing something that has never been done before. It has to work first, be functional. Once we achieve that, we can tune it to bring in that desirability, and beauty that will cause users to want to wear it.
Brilliantly: It's fascinating to see how many new wearable technologies are getting developed and to imagine future uses of the technology we’re using for Brilliantly Warm in other products. For now though, I think we’re both focused on making a product that works well and looks great.
Jeanette: This really hit home for me when you gave it to new users. Their utter joy of feeling this new sensation still gives me chills. It’s so reassuring to hear after all the hard work that it really does provide a magical moment for users who are really suffering.
Seeing the real positive outcomes is what it’s all about. I described it as a warm hug when we powered up the first units. I love seeing users' reactions when they first experience it. I think calling it a warm and empowering hug is a better description. That feeling of confidence, that can't be undersold.
Brilliantly: We are so committed to this product being safe that instead of using a brand new technology, we're using a series of different things that already exist in a new way. But I imagine future versions of Brilliantly Warm where we leverage amazing new innovations like flat flexible batteries.
Jeanette: Yes, the women you’re serving have been compromised enough. Safety is paramount as is ease of use. We want to meet them where they are and not make a technology that they have to spend a lot of time learning and adopting.
Brilliantly: Totally. And I think that's probably why I feel so sensitive about it being safe is because there's so many parts of the process for women who go through this that they don't understand and they don't know what are the long-term consequences and what am I being warned about ahead of time? And what is going to be a huge surprise.
We want a woman to get it in the mail, easily learn how to use it and have it make a big difference on how they feel every day.
Jeanette: I have said for years that good design should be invisible. I want to create things that are easy to use and get the results that you want.
Brilliantly: Are there any other things about Brilliantly Warm or about design that you want to share with the Brilliantly Community?
Jeanette: Very early on we committed to making the experience of using Brilliantly Warm not feel like a thermostat or a remote control. If our goal is to make you feel more comfortable, and allow you to be present and improve your mood, rather than having the user say, "I want to be at 75 degrees" we wanted to provide a descriptive feeling that each setting evokes. We made a conscious decision to approach the user experience from more of a mental health state rather than a physicality.
Brilliantly: I think what you just said speaks to the entire sensibility of what we're trying to do with Brilliantly overall. Brilliantly Warm is a metaphor for the whole initiative; we want to give women the products, services and tools that just makes them feel better day in and day out. I want to make things that are easy to use, share content that's actionable and that you know will help improve your life.
Jeanette: So thank you for bringing me in to experience it with you.
From New York, San Francisco, Boston, and now Providence, Jeanette Numbers, co-founder of Loft, LLC, is a visionary design thinker + team builder who turns strong ideas into powerful solutions with global impact.
A note on wearables from Jeanette: The age of the connected self is here and with it, the dawn of a new era for individualized, proactive healthcare. Advances in smart devices and wearables means that patients can experience more stability— what the medical field calls homeostasis. New innovations ensure people suffer less from the highs and lows of blood sugar levels, hot flashes, nausea, allergens, and side effects from other chronic conditions and long-term treatments.
Thanks to its hyper-individualized nature, wearable tech is at the forefront of this revolution. Patient monitoring biomarkers are just the beginning. The next step is for wearables to become proactive.
At Loft, we have a passion for designing wearables that go beyond sensing and tracking the rhythms of the body to provide interventions when necessary. We work with partners to develop devices that deliver impulse regulation and sensory stimulation. We’re imagining a world where patients can go beyond feeling just “ok” to feeling better than average. And it’s not far away...