Watch out for wearables

Wearable devices are all the rage at the moment. They can track your fitness, tell you the time and make the tea. You can mutter instructions to them, gesticulate randomly in public and leave them on in the bath. If you’re lucky, there may be a new phrase “never punch a man wearing Google Glass”. But are wearables relevant to email design?

What’s a wearable?
You mean like my watch? No. Well, kind of. This magical period of manufacturer experimentation has fed us a lot of cool stuff in recent months. I’ve even seen a video of Tony Hawk riding the World’s first functional hoverboard and I wasn’t even particularly disappointed.

Wearables come in several flavours at the moment:
  • The Paired Device. A watch or armband (even a ring!) that tells you some of the details that your phone has received without the need to strenuously remove it from your pocket and look at it. Best used in dull meetings.
  • The Face Accessory. A heads-up display for your actual head, Google Glass and the like give you information direct to your eyeballs. Voice and gesture control only, a great way to maintain your personal space on public transport.

Just a step away
In a sense, wearables create another barrier or step between someone clicking and opening your email. People feeling bombarded with unwanted emails can now delete the stuff they don't like before it even makes it to their normal inbox. Apple purport to use a “handoff” system where users of the Watch judge an email based on a few lines of text-only content, then either delete it straight off the bat or use another device to actually respond to it. This means it's more important than ever to get the subject line right.

Interaction
As we already experience with people opening emails on mobile devices – some use their mobiles merely as an early warning system (sometimes known as Email Triage) and actually go back and open their email on a larger device to view it properly and click through. Given the limitations of wearables I would expect this trend to be even more prevalent in this sector.

Text only?
What will an email look like when opened on a watch or a pair of glasses? Given the smaller (for smaller, read tiny) screen sizes it seems that emails will be stripped down to text only for easy scalability. Depending on the device and the theme you’ve chosen it’s likely that all formatting will be standardised, so the end result may well be white text on a black screen regardless of how you designed it. Emails comprising of only graphics will just look like a subject line and nothing else. If they're not labelled as spam they will most likely be deleted without another thought.

Whether the weather will weather the weather
For a long time email weathered the mobile device takeover but in the ever- and over-connected world, early adopters have been using email in these formats from the off. With wearables in mind I think it’s prudent to ensure your email contains real text content and makes best use of the subject line and the first few lines of text