For the past two years, Ustwo—the London-based design company behind projects like the Escher-esque blockbuster iOS game Monument Valley to an app to save London from its parking nightmare—has been dabbling in Android Wear watch faces. Now, the company is releasing Face Maker, a platform that makes rolling your own custom Android Wear watch faces totally foolproof—even if you have abysmal design taste.
Face Maker isn't the first app (or even the 12th) that allows Android Wear owners to design their own watch faces by selecting from different backgrounds, colors, fonts, hands, and complications. But these elements aren't curated with any real design ethos, argues Ustwo product designer Shaun Tollerton. There are few limits on what you can do with them, true—but that means there are even fewer limits on their capacity to create hideous and unusable watch faces.
They also generally require an Android or web app to design your own watch faces, which Ustwo believed flew in the face of their design ethos: Customization of a watch face should live on the watch itself.
"With Face Maker, we set out to make something where it was totally impossible to create a bad looking watch face," Tollerton says. That meant identifying the key areas where other Android Wear watch faces go wrong. According to Ustwo, the worst Android Wear watch faces are overcrowded and feature multiple discordant style elements. They're also not glance-able, meaning you can't identify the information you're looking for in under a second. The design of Face Maker was predicated upon finding a sweet spot between customizability and being true to the best practices in wearable UI/UX.
So Face Maker tries to put limits on our capacity for over-complicated and unusable design. It comes with two watch face templates: Classic, which is an analog-style watch face, and Trio, which has a more modern, digital, Tokyo Flash-like aesthetic. With both watches, users can customize the markers on the face, the types of data being displayed (time, date, and so on), the colors and fonts being used, and more—all from their Android Wear smartwatch. The options for customization are carefully curated by Ustwo to make sure they aren't overstuffed or fail the glance test. All in all, these two watch faces alone have over 2,8000 permutations, and Ustwo says it will be updating Face Maker over time to create more.
But why is Ustwo, a design firm with some pretty serious credentials, so interested in Android Wear watch faces to begin with? It's a pretty small market right now, but Face Maker's project manager Toph Brown says it's all about being prepared for the future. "Google and Apple are making huge plays in the wearable space right now, and where there's smoke, there's fire," he says. "And the watch face is at the center of that experience. If you can figure out how to design a nice face on a smartwatch that everyone wants to use, you've got the keys to the kingdom."