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Brief Published: 25 Mar 2014

SXSWi 2014: Empathic Threads

Data-collecting devices are heading for an emotional overhaul, according to Tim Brown, chief executive of global design agency Ideo.

Speaking at this month’s SXSW film, tech and music festival in Austin, Texas, Brown urged designers to think beyond traditional metrics for personal data such as step counting and calorie tracking. Instead, they should focus on creating highly intuitive devices that use data to interpret and respond to thoughts and feelings. “We are moving beyond vital signs,” he noted. “New sensing methods are tackling emotions and the subconscious.”

Ideo’s Empathic Threads – garments that sense the wearer's emotions via galvanic skin response (GSR) fabric – is one vision of how this mindful design could manifest in the future. The technology transforms the shirt into a wearable aide that helps wearers make sense of their changing emotions.

Meanwhile, the first consumer-ready iterations of this trend are hitting the market. Mind-reading devices such as the Melon headband are helping wearers better understand and harness their brainpower, while products that help people record and preserve memories and emotions, such as Shadow and Narrative Clip, are gaining ground.

What will it take to dominate tomorrow’s tech market? Game-changing products must respond to human behaviours, utilising embedded sensors that help people learn more about themselves – see our Agile Futures Macro Trend for more.

Take a look at our extensive coverage of this year’s SXSW festival for more innovative ideas and game-changing inspiration.