Designing a custom wearable OS for hearing impaired users


Visual Designer
Design Systems


1 Hardware Designer
2 Visual Designers


Successfully designed a custom smartwatch OS that caters to the hard of hearing


We began with an interview with a participant who is hard of hearing to understand and identify pain-points

Our participant who is hard-of-hearing uses a hearing aid on a daily basis. The hearing aid sometimes cancels out foreground noise making it difficult for the participant to distinguish different sounds. This situation causes frustration and could even put the participant in danger.

-> Settings like school and public transportation inconsistently have visual aids, such as captions and visual displays of information.

-> They need to pay closer attention to surroundings in public spaces.→ In the past, the participant experienced their hearing aids cancelling out foreground sound when "automatic" sound filtering is on.

-> Due to their narrower range of hearing, they occasionally need to ask people to repeat themselves.

-> They have a harder time reading lips during a pandemic when everyone is wearing masks.


With our findings, we generated the goal to improve noise detection and better source selection in crowded spaces.


I interviewed, iterated and storyboarded a solution with our participant

To break down the problem, we divided it into 3 subtasks:
-> Personalized sound amplification and suppression,
-> filtering out background noise, and
-> to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant sound sources.


We conducted a Co-design session with our participant to explore ideas that were in line with our goal.

One idea that our participant came upon and liked was a slim circular wristband with access to sounds in a personal bubble around them. They also wanted to tag people they're talking to and be able to hone it to particular sounds.


We considered a bunch of ideas while we brainstormed

We determined that a 2D interface would be much better for clearer audio space reconstruction.

We decided to add in tagging, allowing the user to identify and mark unknown sources and being able to focus in on a particular source.

We decided to go with a hardware smartwatch and a custom OS built around the features we thought of.


We mapped our insights into a beautiful design system and an OS

Setting surrounding source audio levels, and saving them in a persistent setting.

Tag and control new / unknown noise sources quickly and efficiently.

Using notifications to quickly access deep actions, saving time and effort.


Building accessible interfaces for small screens

I learnt a lot by studying HIG guidelines for the Apple Watch, and how to utilise limited screen real estate for maximum effectiveness.

A longer co-design session would have been helpful as it felt like we were getting into the meat of an interesting design by the end of the session. If we had more time and resources for the design process, we would increase the number of co-design and feedback sessions, and have them build on each other in an iterative fashion.

We hope to add a captioning option for each sound source so that sound information can be consumed in multiple ways, which may be helpful for both hard of hearing and non-hard hearing users.

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