the KOAN method

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090 – IDEO. Designing the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket with Jacquard

“Designing the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google.”
IDEO. 2017.

You’re whizzing along on your bike, en route to a new restaurant for a client meeting. You reach an unfamiliar intersection; which way to go now?

Instead of dismounting and digging for a phone, you brush your hand along your jacket sleeve for directions, then double-tap the denim to re-start your music. Without taking your eyes off the road, you’ve taken care of the problem.

This intuitive interface for connected apparel began with Levi’s, makers of durable workwear for 140 years, and Google, creators of forward-looking technology, which joined forces to fashion the first item of clothing with touch-sensitive, copper-core threads woven directly into the fabric. Once it was established that the first connected garment from the partnership would be a jacket within Levi’s Commuter line, with interaction on the sleeve, Google worked with IDEO, leaders in designing for human needs, to develop the gesture language of the jacket and industrial design of the technology within.

This is the first connected garment that helps us break free from devices. It seamlessly incorporates Jacquard by Google technology to perform digital tasks, such as navigation, communication, and music playing with a few swipes or taps on the sleeve.

Jacquard by Google—a platform that makes it possible to integrate touch and gesture interactivity into fabrics using conductive yarn and standard, industrial looms—was inspired by a curious twist of history. The Jacquard loom, invented in France in 1804, used punch cards to automate the process of weaving complex patterns into fabric. In the 1940s and ’50s, engineers employed a similar punch-card technique to program the first computers.

IDEO spent time on the project early on, collaborating with Google engineers and Levi’s clothiers on the jacket’s development, helping craft an experience that would make the intelligent threads intuitive to wearers.

Working alongside Google and Levi’s, IDEO’s work included:

  • The industrial design of the electronics integrated into the snap tag and connector (the tag snaps onto the jacket’s cuff and connects to your phone via Bluetooth)
  • A vocabulary of gestures on the cuff of the jacket that lets you interact with the jacket’s technology
  • Early exploration of the basic design philosophy and conceptual design for the interaction model of a corresponding smartphone app that ties it all together (works with both iOS and Android phones)

The IDEO team’s first task was to validate what commuters of all stripes wanted from the garment, in addition to the work Levi’s did in researching with its consumers. In interviews, group exercises, and wear tests with urban cyclists and other workers on the go, the team learned that cyclists needed a way to stay connected, while still living in the moment. That meant being able to answer calls, hear text messages, get the next direction, and control their music without using a screen.

Levi’s, Google, and IDEO developed a language of movement for Jacquard-enabled fabric that feels familiar and human and builds on the ways people would naturally interact with a garment (a whole-hand brush along the sleeve, as opposed to a one-finger tap on a touch screen, for instance).

Then came the design and engineering of the snap tag on the jacket’s cuff, which gently notifies you of calls, texts, and other jacket interactions with light and vibration feedback. The flexible, lightweight strap incorporates the look and feel of a Levi’s jean button, while housing advanced electronics that capture touch data. The tag is removable, charges via USB connection, and works in conjunction with a mobile app that lets you configure settings for the garment, set notifications, and customize gestures and interactions.

The Levi’s Commuter Jacket with Jacquard by Google changes the game because it’s simply that—a jacket—with technology that adds new utility and value, allowing us to wear our everyday interactions on our sleeves.

The Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google hit stores in October 2017.

IDEO and Google have a long history of collaboration. Learn more about our work on Google Bloks here.