Well connected

The wellness industry is growing exponentially, providing livelihoods for practitioners, product designers and technology developers alike. Emma Moore takes a look at the ever-growing range of stylish innovations to aid good health

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Wasn’t it only yesterday that theonly equipment available to help keep an unhealthy physique at bay was bathroom scales? And stress was fought with a nice warm bath? How things change. With 24-hour sedentary work schedules and the proliferation of corporal vices too easily at our fingertips, if you don’t monitor your steps, your sleep, your posture, your heart, your sun exposure, your hydration, your sugar and your alcohol intake, while ring-fencing mindful time and signing up to regular MOTs at a wellness clinic, your fate as an overweight toxicant with a catalogue of catastrophic illnesses in store is as good as sealed.

Wellness services filling the gap between self-control and the doctor’s surgery have proliferated to keep us on track, while the surging growth of the industry has been providing livelihoods not only for therapists and health practitioners, but also for product designers, technology developers and architects.

Thankfully, those bathroom scales are a whole lot smarter these days. Withings’ Body+ measures weight, body fat and water percentage, muscle and bone mass, transferring data to an app that offers everything from nutrition-tracking solutions to weight management.

ElliQ

He has worked with L’Oreal to develop a UV monitoring patch; Intuition Robotics to make ElliQ, a kind of Alexa that helps to take care of the elderly; and Dr Harvey Karp to create Snoo, a smart cot for soothing newborns that’s helping to save the sanity of new parents.

QardioBase 2, meanwhile, weighs in with a minimal circular design and additional pregnancy mode. Sharing the bathroom is Hi-Mirror, a smart mirror that can scan your skin and deliver analysis of hydration, texture and colour, monitoring it over time and advising on skincare tweaks.

Bathroom scales aside, the home is starting to undergo a health-driven transformation. But if a device is going to earn its place among the Ercol and the Eames and not disturb a design-attuned gaze, it has to look the part. “Designing for wellness is about putting the human at the centre of the experience,” says Yves Béhar, the San Francisco-based product designer and founder of Fuseproject, who has championed this area, teaming with various tech companies to innovate with style.

He has worked with L’Oreal to develop a UV monitoring patch; Intuition Robotics to make ElliQ, a kind of Alexa that helps to take care of the elderly; and Dr Harvey Karp  to create Snoo, a smart cot for soothing newborns that’s helping to save the sanity of new parents.

“Technology isn’t the focus,” Béhar says. “Instead, it should be designed to be operating in the background, without creating interruptions or distractions — a common issue we all have with our tech toys today.”

Such interruptions and distractions may have a bearing on sleep: the part sleep plays in wellbeing has been gaining increased attention and talk of a “sleep crisis” has seen funding directed towards technological innovation in the field of sleep monitoring. Taking us beyond wrist devices that sense our sleep patterns are smart mattresses and sleep mats that track sleep cycles, heart rate and snoring, and also control lights, temperature and other smart home devices. Béhar has also been busy in this area, working with Rythm, a French/US neurotechnology company that has produced a light, easy-to-wear headband called Dreem that aims to fix sleep problems.

Aesop x Henry Moore

Holistic skincare brand Aesop, meanwhile, has recently engaged with the design world to bring a beautifully tactile and sculptural oil burner by Australian designer Henry Wilson to proceedings. French design collective Smarin has produced Le Sifflu, a stylish, pipe-like device that can entice smokers away from breathing in nasties while training users to breathe mindfully and effectively. 

“The technology measures brain activity during sleep and emits sounds to maintain and prolong the quality of deep sleep. This scientific approach is paired with coaching and support for people with insomnia and other sleep issues,” explains Béhar.

However, the biggest market by far is for wellness wearables and it shows no sign of decline. With Apple, Xiaomi, Fitbit and Huawei vying for top spot, the global market for fitness trackers has been predicted to reach $48bn by 2023. While Fitbit’s Charge 3 does all the tracking we might ever desire with seven days battery life, full waterproofing and adequate style, it’s hard to  beat Apple Watch’s recently upgraded offering, which sees an electrocardiogram sensor, so users can monitor heart activity and identify potential abnormalities, added alongside the meditative Breathe app.

Meditation is an area that really divides the field, between tech adopters and those who see the only way to a healthy you is to suppress software and turn to alternative hardware to assist in wellness-boosting rest. In the technological corner are products such as Muse, another headband that aims to assist mindfulness by giving realtime feedback on brain activity, body movement, breathing patterns and heart rate during meditation sessions.

However, companies such as New York’s 3rdritual have meditation at the core and promote simple, sensorial tools. It has recently launched Bel, a candle that marks meditation time with brass pegs embedded in the wax, which ting gently as they fall into the tray. “After years of living what felt like a dual life — working in tech by day and leading yoga and meditation by night — I wanted to combine my passion for mindfulness with my skillset for building innovative products,” says founder Jenn Tardif.

Holistic skincare brand Aesop, meanwhile, has recently engaged with the design world to bring a beautifully tactile and sculptural oil burner by Australian designer Henry Wilson to proceedings. French design collective Smarin has produced Le Sifflu, a stylish, pipe-like device that can entice smokers away from breathing in nasties while training users to breathe mindfully and effectively. And the meditation app company Headspace has collaborated with LA architects Oyler Wu Collaborative to produce a meditation pod — a category of products that looks set to grow, with companies such as Awol entering the arena with its stylish relaxation pods.

 

Withings

Thankfully, those bathroom scales are a whole lot smarter these days. Withings’ Body+ measures weight, body fat and water percentage, muscle and bone mass, transferring data to an app that offers everything from nutrition-tracking solutions to weight management.

So where are the next places technology and design can take us in the pursuit of health and happiness? The most recent developments seem to mark a point where we move from the purely analytic and diagnostic to systems that can cure, or at the very best improve health. The home wellness innovation that made the biggest splash in January at CES, the annual tech fair in Las Vegas, was a “wellness intelligence network” for the home called Darwin. Designed by Australian developers Delos, it not only delivers data via its sensors, but calibrates air, water and light quality, and reduces contaminants that adversely affect respiratory, heart, immune and cognitive health.

Béhar takes a particularly inclusive, humanitarian approach to future health aids. “As designers, we have an opportunity to bring solutions for people that typically are not designed for. We are currently working on several designs for the elderly, as well as a completely new approach designed for autistic children.”

Doctors might not be hanging up their stethoscopes anytime soon, but if the push from the worlds of design and technology continues, they will have plenty of extra help.