London-based Vinaya is dedicated to creating what cofounder Kate Unsworth, a 28-year-old musician and former tech management consultant, calls "conscious technology for the mindful generation." The design firm’s chic wearables fit right in at luxury and fashion-forward retailers. Two more buzzed-about products are due to launch next year: AltruisX, a collection of rings, necklaces, and bracelets that filter mobile alerts and track smartphone usage, and Zenta, a "biometric" wearable that monitors the user’s physical and emotional well-being. And several designer collaborations are in the works.
How do technology and design work together at your company?
If you were to pull apart our stones and put our circuit board next to those of our competitors, it’s like a work of art. Everything—down to the color of the board and where the logo is placed—is aesthetically thought through. It’s something we can’t help but do.
Making a circuit board, which consumers can’t even see, a thing of beauty? Now that’s a design statement. How do you pull that off?
In product development, the engineers usually develop the features and pull the electronics together that make the most sense to save power. And then they hand it over to the industrial designers. We saw a flaw in that. The engineers tend to be male so they don’t always understand this consumer. They’re not jewelry wearers.
From day one, everyone at Vinaya sits side by side in the same room—which is much easier when you’re a small startup than if you’re Apple or Google—and says, "This is what the consumer is asking for. It needs to be this type of form factor." And the product designers will say, "Well, how about this?" And the engineers or hardware guys will say, "It can’t be done, but how about this?" It’s a back and forth, day in and day out.
Wearables are notorious for their drop-off rates. How do you get people to keep wearing yours?
Our products improve the more that you use them, so you’re incentivized to keep wearing them. If you were to just use it for two months, you’d get fairly accurate results on your well-being, lifestyle, and stress, and how you can better manage that. But if you wear it for six months, we’d help you in even smarter ways. It’s an exponential curve.
What inspired you to start Vinaya?
I was working as a management consultant in technology, and I became completely attached to my phone. I checked it hundreds of times a day. As I like to say, I’d become a "human doing," as opposed to a human being. It was affecting my relationships. I also realized that every time I felt a negative emotion, like fear or stress or sadness, I would just distract myself with my phone. I wasn’t actually processing my emotions or dealing with them. So I went offline for two or three weeks.
My whole perspective changed. I thought, I don’t want to live in a world where technology detracts from our ability to be human. And I realized the values and metrics that drive technology creation are things like efficiency, productivity, power, profit. It’s rarely things like empathy. So Vinaya started as a plea to product designers to bear in mind how their products were going to impact humanity. We are designed by that which we design. The fact that the smartphone is not just changing our behavior but actually rewiring our brain—that affects future generations because we pass that on in our DNA.
What a grand mission, especially for a startup. As you look ahead, what are the main challenges for Vinaya?
It’s going to be keeping up with the pace of innovation in this space. We’ve been good at it so far, but it’s still early. We’re already thinking two generations ahead of what’s on the market today and where wearables will be in five years. This industry moves so fast and we’re on a steep, steep, steep curve.
This article was created and commissioned by Infiniti, and the views expressed are their own.