The worst portable hard disk ever made
The human brain is the worst memory drive you can ever imagine. It is not suited for storing information, let alone retrieving it. The brain is good for creating things, linking information, finding patterns and making decisions. Knowing this we do not need to bother about remembering things and can focus our attention on creative activities. We trust we can safely store and retrieve our information somewhere else.
Since of the beginning of know history mankind has the desire to store information on external data repositories. For archiving, safe keeping and having it available for future reference. Ancient history starts with clay tablets and this has gradually evolved via paper notebooks, tape recorders to digital devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Wearable technology is the next step and brings the interface with the digital world closer to the physical world and closer to our body. With devices like Google Glass or Pebble Smartwatch we are constantly linked to the information grid. These devices share context aware information in a non-distracting way. Below I explain why this lack of distraction is so important.
Why do we always start with searching?
When using an information repository (being it books, computers, smartphones or something else) our first action is browsing through the index and searching for the items we are looking for. This has been the same for centuries and has not changed in the digital age. However wearable technology is going to change this approach drastically.
Wearable technology brings the digital world closer to our personal life and literally closer to our body. We are able to interact with the digital world in virtually any place at any time. Wearable technology lack the screen size and input devices (keyboards) to enable extensive searching and browsing. The vision for wearables is to conceal searching and present instant relevant information to the user.
Interaction without distraction
Google Glass fashion designer Isabelle Olsso says: “Glass is an unique way of interacting with technology without distracting from your real life.” This lack of distraction is the key to the success of wearable technology.
The amount of distraction while using regular personal devices is clear and visible in our day to day usage. I see this when I try to talk to my kids when they are playing with their iPad and hear this from my wife when she tries to contact me when I am glazing on my smartphone. It is not only annoying, it’s also dangerous when you are in a high risk environment and you need to be focused. Browsing through a massive load of non relevant information to get to the essential part can lead to dangerous situations. Just reflect on the times you read your email while driving. ….
Always context aware
Minimum distraction is key success factor for personal devices and wearables. This is done by the next step in this digital revolution; continuous context aware communication. Knowing the context of the person using the device enables the wearable to only present the information that is absolutely relevant to the user.
Numerous studies have shown people are not good in multitasking. Multitasking will decrease productivity, increase stress and degrades the quality of the produced work. Working with a computer, phone or tablet increases multitasking and is not so ideal. Whenever you are working on something the device gives a distracting signal about another process, email or text that needs to be managed. Multitasking is only possible when the tasks are very simplified, non-distracting and non-intrusive. On the contrary; wearable technology is not encouraging multitasking. When implemented correctly these devices only attract attention when the user is in the right situation, time and perhaps even the right mood. Context of the user is essential. And in this way we add information to the current task of the user instead of distracting the user towards multitasking.
This is a subtle but important distinction in the usage of wearable devices. The information is within reach of the user without the distraction of the device. The User Experience design is essential, especially when you are putting a device directly in the line of sight of the user all the time.
Up-close or even embedded
Wearable devices are going to use the complete range of our senses: touch, sound, sight, smell and even taste. In the upcoming years wearables will be embedded in our body like implants and interact directly with our nervous system. This seems farfetched, however look at hearing implants and the usage of the bone conductor in Google Glass to send audio signal directly on in the cranial bones.
Re-thing the design for context awareness
Wearable devices trigger a wave of re-thinking the way we work and the way we use technology. Using a wearable like Google Glass is not just the same as mounting a smartphone on your head. The usage and purpose of the device requires it to restructure the interaction design and even the informational design.
The design doctrine for wearable puts “you and your world” in the center. The devices must integrate seamless with your world, your work and integrate seamlessly with other devices instead of competing with each other for attention. Technology will make wearables drastically smaller until they won’t be noticed anymore. At that point the fashionable gadget argument or design opinions about wearables will not be valid anymore since they’ve become invisible. For potential users it will only be important if wearables will make your life more easy.
Just in time, just in context devices
Wearable devices will be increasingly aware of our day-to-day activities, habits and routes to add value to our lives. The presence will be unnoticed until they add extra information at the right time in the right context. This is hard to display in advertisements but very real as an experience. The wearable device knows when you are concentrated, pressed for time, in need for information or just frustrated. The device is able to time the best moment to present valuable information in an non-disturbing manner. Then wearables add value, make you more efficient, happier and in control of your work and your life.
Conclusion: For wearables the context sensitive user experience is more important than the list of features. So focus on context aware user experience design.
Have a look at my Google Glass Experience Flipboard Magazine for further inspiration.
Note: we are aware of the social, legal, physical, privacy and other considerations that might arise with the subject of wearables. These are important and we respect them. However for the purpose of this article we do not include these subjects.