Technology has given us the capabilities to track, record, and sense ourselves, in so many different ways and to a seemingly infinite level. Although being able to answer emails from your wrist is a nice convenience, there is an increasing trend towards minimizing the information overload. Many companies, like Ringly and uBirds, are incorporating certain aspects of wearable tech in a discrete, aesthetically appealing, and non-intrusive way. The focus is shifting from maximizing the information available, to delivering only the information that is needed, and unplugging from the excess.

This optimization of only necessary information, delivered in a discrete way, is core to our design approach. Although there are many companies that are focusing on delivering notifications and nudges, we found that there are certain markets that are not yet being addressed in this subtle, minimalist way. One of such markets is the corporate environment, where an individual may be in a meeting and will be constantly receiving vibrations from notifications on their phone. It is distracting (and rude) to everyone involved if a person pulls their phone out, just to see what the notification was for. More often than not, it may be unimportant, but the feeling of not knowing often nags until the device is checked, and it is always thought to be worth the distraction in case it is an emergency. Our design solution to this problem is Cue – a smart pen, that doesn’t look like a smart pen.


The pen is a standard size and looks like a nice, titanium or stainless steel writing utensil (it serves as both a pen and a tablet stylus). Cue provides the user with notification information in a very discrete, non-obvious way. It has no notification screen, and vibrates (or not, if the user chooses not to as they may already receives a vibration from their phone) when a notification is received. The user places their finger just above the grip, and a capacitive sensor switches the circuit to actuate one of four customization spinning rings, which are discretely part of the grip design. The misalignment of one of the rings identifies to the user what kind of notification was received. 


The rings are customizable, and the notification identification can range from providing an alert of a call, to letting the user know that they have a meeting in ten minutes, to identifying that they have received a text message from their wife. With only four options to choose from, the most important notifications can be captured, so it is quickly and subtly known if it is necessary to step outside and check their phone. The user can easily use the simple app (below) to select what notification corresponds to which ring. 

As the pen has relatively minimal functionality, it only requires certain key components (i.e. gyroscope, capacitive sensor, bluetooth, small microcontroller, and a few mechanical attachments) that can be fit in a traditional, sleek design. Other smart pens have drastically more functionality, but are also very bulky. Another key functionality is that the pen will not vibrate if it is sitting on a desk (i.e. in the horizontal position), so the buzz will not be an interruption. All functionalities and more product information can be found on Cue’s website:

Cue – just enough information, with minimal interruption.