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MUZSE: Ringly Is The Smartest Ring

Christina Mercando is one of those innovators that make you mad you didn’t come up with her product – it’s just that original. Ringly was created out of a necessity to stay organized and up to date with your phone in a stylish way and without having to become one of those people that have permanent phone-grasp-claw. It’s a clever amalgamation of fashion, culture, and technology, so it’s no wonder that Christina was one of the participants of MUZSE’s Style Lab, created in collaboration between Milk and Intel. We talked to the creator about her product, design, and the future of fashion and technology.

What does Ringly do or what is Ringly? You represent the completely different type of designer or different approach to it.

Ringly is smart jewelry and accessories. The mission or goal for it in the beginning was to take something, to take an object, something that’s beautiful and make it smarter and make it do something. But for us it was about masking the technology so that the object could shine. So the technology is the enabler and the device or the product itself is the actual centerpiece. I sit at the intersection of making sure that the technology and the design come together and are seamless and it’s something that you would want to buy even if it didn’t do anything, but because it does do something it’s even more special. You could say I make things, inanimate objects, come to life.

It’s interesting that you’re approaching it not necessarily about a screen but about this transparent interaction that happens through a beautiful object.

Yeah and when I started I was frustrated about this problem that I was having in my own life, which was that I was missing calls and texts and important messages all the time because I have a busy life! And I had my phone in my purse and at one point I think my mom said to me, “Christina, I’m just never going to call you anymore because you never pick up your phone.” And I was like no I want to talk to you, so I said there has to be a better way. I was out at a restaurant and just looked down at my hands since I wear a lot of jewelry and I said ‘I wonder if I can take something that I wear every day and buy all the time and make it smarter and have it help me’. So that’s where the idea of a Ringly came about and that’s where I started working on the product itself.

Would you consider yourself a product designer or jewelry designer? An engineer?

I’d say product first. I have two degrees―one in fine art and one in human-computer interaction. Human-computer interaction is really interesting. It’s 1/3 computer science, 1/3 design, and 1/3 psychology. And it’s about making things that people want to use and making things that are easy for people to use and delight them. I love all three of those things so it was a sort of perfect program for me. And I think the fine art part really helped because it helped develop the kind of conceptual mind, making sure that you have a concept and a mission behind everything that you do. And I think that’s really important especially when you’re designing consumer-basing products.

What were the ambitions and aspirations and dreams? What did young Christina want?

It’s funny because I come from a left-brain right-brain family. My dad is a cardiologist but he studied engineering and growing up he had an internet.com startup in our basement. So, while all the other kids were going out and playing sports I would come home and I’d go down in the basement and I’d work on Photoshop. And my mom is more of a creative side. My great-grandmother was a painter and she was just always really creative, so I had a little bit of both. And I think that’s why in my mind it works that way. I see the creative side and then I also see the practical side. I think that once those two things come together, that’s where things become special. That’s where you really find the magic.

You had this interesting background that allowed you to fuse the two together. Would you say to the readers of Milk Made that there is an opportunity for them to get into this now? How does somebody get into this fusion?

I think it’s all about doing it. When I first started Ringly I had never done anything in the hardware space before so the first thing I did was sign up for a circuit board class. And I hadn’t really designed jewelry before either, so I did the same thing and I took a jewelry class. I don’t think I’m an expert in those things right now but at least I have the background where I can talk to the experts and I can better understand them and I can get them to work together because I understand the background of what’s going on.

What does the average day in your studio look like?

What’s great about this business is that there’s so much going on. You have the jewelry side, so even today I was looking at new gem stone samples that are coming in for our next collection. At the same time we were looking for the charge box, at new samples back from Asia. Yesterday I was designing the little booklet that goes in the packaging. So there’s just a lot of different little details, and that’s the part I love, the details are really important. Yesterday somebody was playing with the rings and she put the ring back in the charge box and it started repelling and she was like, “omg you guys thought of everything!” so it’s like you almost can’t put it in wrong because it lets you know.

You recently participated in the MUZSE Style lab. What excites you about Intel’s involvement with MUZSE as a technology partner?

At the MUZSE Style Lab I found the battery engineer from Intel, Edward Butler, really fascinating. I even connected with him after his talk. Knowing that Intel is showing a lot of interest in the space and is doing a lot of work to support and encourage creativity has changed my viewpoint on how smaller companies could potentially partner with larger players in the space.

What’s your design process like?

Where I started with this was the thing that I knew the most, which is the visual design. I actually designed the iOS app before I did anything else. Before I had hardware we built the actual experience of picking your notifications and choosing the colors and that helps to wrap our brains around what we have here. We need a vibration, and we need some LEDs, and then I did the inspiration on the jewelry. I go out in the world and I find things that inspire me. I knew for the first collection that we wanted it to be really simple and classic and not overly designed because we want to take it even further from here and we want to work with other designers and other brands to come up with what their version of this would be. We wanted to keep it very clean and simple for our own collection.

Did you think of scenarios and situations where Ringly would be necessary?

It’s funny because once you realize what technology is capable of doing you start to notice all the moments in your life where it could be really useful and helpful. Even my friends and family, every moment that they have where they miss a call, or they miss a meeting, or they’re late for something, they’re like “I wish I had a Ringly!” And we call it the “Ringly moment.” Again, that’s everything from missing really important calls, always having to have your phone out at a restaurant. One day I was at a restaurant and I had my phone out and someone walked by and knocked it off the table and my screen shattered and I was like, “No! If only I had a Ringly! I wouldn’t have to have my phone out” Another thing that it’s really helpful with is calendar meetings so you can know when your next meeting is coming up without being rude, having your phone out and having to check the time all the time. You can call an Uber cab, put your phone away, and it’ll let you know when your Uber car arrives.

So Ringly is moving beyond a product and becoming a collection of accessories.

Yeah, we look at it almost like a modern day fashion brand in a way. You’re starting to see people have less brand loyalty as they used to and kids these days want to go back to school and so they’re shopping for devices more than they’re shopping for clothes. We see the future as the space of the two coming together and eventually they’ll be shopping for devices the way they’re shopping for clothes.

Do you feel that we’ll ever get to the point where you could stop calling it “smart jewelry” and just call it “jewelry” or do you think we’re always going to call it “smart”?

I think so. It’s interesting because I think there’s still a huge market for stuff that’s not smart, but I think it does need some indication. One of the things we’re talking about now is when, because part of our strategy too, we have no buttons, no switches on our ring-we want it to look like a ring, we don’t want you to see plastic or be exposed to the technology part of it. When it’s off, we want it to just look like a piece of jewelry. But that’s a big challenge, like where does it sit in the store? Does it sit next to other jewelry? How do you explain what it does? How do you explain that it’s different? Those are some of the challenges that we’re working through now.

What inspiring thoughts can you share for the readers of creating these new products for the future?

What’s really just so amazing and interesting to me is even this past fashion week you saw so much happening where, you know…the fashion industries and the technology industries are very different and both of them are now starting to realize that they need to work together and collaborate. And I think that’s a wonderful thing for everyone else involved, for customers, because when those two worlds come together we’re going to start to see a lot of really interesting things.

So keep designing

And collaborating, yeah.

Photography by Andy Boyle.

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