This case study focuses primarily on the design of humane interfaces or how technologies and designs impact those who use them. Don Norman, in his critique of “The Design of Everyday Things,” helps draw the primary conclusion of the analysis. Norman’s analysis focuses on the interaction between people and technology and, more specifically, on whether or not users are able to understand how to use interfaces as designed (Norman p.4). In addition, the case study draws from the insights of Jef Raskin, in “The Human Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems,” an analysis of design work. Raskin’s critique helps explain why interface design needs to occur during the primary phase of project development (Raskin p.5). The context is primarily concerned with the design of the Google Glass wearable device, including an assessment of the product’s effects on users.
In a review of this product, Joanna Stern provides a synopsis of Google Glass’ functions and commands. According to Stern, this latest hands-free, wearable device is essentially a “wearable computer” that positions a screen over the user’s right eye (Stern p.1). The optical head mounted design of Google Glass is in the shape of a pair of eyeglasses. Users communicate in one of two ways with the internet after pairing the device to their smartphones. They can rely on voice commands to access information or they can use a track pad, located over the right ear. By sliding the pad up and down or back and forth and tapping, users can select commands (Stern p.2).
For example, research by Bob Doyle describes the product as “aesthetically unappealing” (Doyle p.2). While the concept may have sounded awesome, Doyle says Google Glass’ design somehow just looks awkward and unattractive. In his critique, he describes it as appearing as if it was still in the prototype stage, which may actually be the case, given Google’s halt in production of the device to allow consideration of possible design alternatives to the current design.
Besides its unnatural look, the product also faces a critical marketing challenge. Stern confirms the $1500 price tag for Google Glass (Stern p.1), which was developed by Google X, the same division of Google now working on technology to advance driverless vehicles. In addition to the high cost, another drawback is there appears to be no public demand for the development of Google Glass. Researcher Brian Winston’s analysis offers insight for exploring the implications of cultural demand or “supervening social necessity” for new technology (Winston p. 9). Where Google Glass is concerned, there is a lacking “supervening social necessity” or accelerator to push development of this wearable glass device forward.
For instance, in an article on the impact of Google Glass on the digital market, Josh Elizetxe, says the glass device is neither, “…practical or revolutionary” (Doyle p.3). It costs too much for its limited functioning and does not perform as well as existing new media devices that customers are already using, like smart phones. Doyle also characterizes Google as having had no target market in mind for the product at the time of its inception.
Matt Swider in his review of Google Glass says there are serious defects in Google Glass’ design function that have resulted in negative effects on users. Swider includes the devices short battery life, and its inability to perform routine smartphone functions well. For example he says a simple function like sending texts is limited to Android devices. (Swider p.8). Voice activated Google contacts are limited to 10, requiring constant touch pad tapping to access the full contact list (Swider p.8). Swider also says, regarding navigation, although turn-by-turn directions are now available using Google Maps on iPhones and Android devices, Apple still has a restriction in place that negatively impacts users. He says, users, other than third-party app developers, must exit from “sleep mode” every time they want to get directions (Swider p.4). The many design problems, as outlined by Swider, negate the goal of singularity or transparency in the experience for users.
There also are concerns regarding wearable devices like Bluetooth and Google Glass being positioned too close to the user’s head and emitting dangerous levels of cancer causing radiation (Wang, Rong, p.1-2). And, in a similar vein, if you think texting and driving is a bad idea, May Ling Tham asserts the use of Google Glass also presents safety risks while driving (Tham p.2).
Ron Miller offers additional insights in TechCrunch, a blog offering the latest news and information on start-ups. Miller says, misinformation about new technologies eventually gives way and these products find a way into the mainstream. Still, he insists, the public has some serious misgivings about Google Glass that primarily concern privacy issues. In describing what he calls a “level of fear and loathing” for Google Glass, Miller recounts a situation where the use of Google Glass was banned by a Seattle bar (Miller p.1). The public, he says, often equates the wearable device with spy wear because users can capture photos and videos anonymously and on a whim. It was soon after the ban by the Seattle bar that Miller says the word “glassholes” gained popular use as a way to describe and humiliate Google Glass users who lack social etiquette (Miller p.2). These are the reasons most often cited for the disdain that users experience (Miller p.3).
Miller notes that Google Glass also may limit the ability to filter and control discourse during interviews. For instance, he says unlike a video camera which can sit outside the bounds of an interview, Google Glass sits between the interviewer and subject, providing a point of view only from the perspective of the interviewer. Miller says the wearable device often draws attention away from the subject at hand due to its novelty. During interviews, he says, people are prone to asking to touch or wear it (Miller p.3). While Miller acknowledges privacy implications for new technologies will vary between communities and cultures, he suggests the law will need to catch up to technology if we are to determine, legally, what’s acceptable and what’s not.
According to Norman, experience, or how people remember their interactions with technology, is key to assessing user satisfaction (Norman p.9). He says the highest satisfaction occurs when something goes wrong and “the machine highlights the problems” in a way that allows the user to understand the issue, take action and solve the problem (Norman p.8). In his analysis, Norman says the interplay between humans and new technical or media devices requires only two characteristics if the experience is to be desirable – understanding and discoverability (Norman p.3). As a solution to counter negative experiences, Norman proposes Human Centered Design (HCD), which puts “human needs, capabilities and behavior” first when designing interface systems (Norman p.7).
“When there is understanding it leads to a feeling of control and mastery, and of satisfaction or even pride – all strong positive emotions” (Norman p.10).
Analysis by Doyle confirms Google Glass offered “no clear function” or specified advantage to users (Doyle p.4). For instance, in contemplating what Google Glass offers users that is unique from other products, like smartphones, in terms of solving a human problem; the answer is clear – nothing.
Certainly Google Glass’ cost, along with privacy, health and safety concerns all paved the road to Google’s decision to halt development of the device. Still, the larger problem with Google Glass seems to concern privacy and technical design.
According to the analysis by Norman, the interactions between people and technology, or how things work, is the essence of design (Norman p.5). Not surprisingly, he therefore asserts, when it comes to design and interface of a product, a bad design only adds to user frustration. Norman therefore concludes, engineers are, “designing things for people” and, as a result, need to understand both technology and people” (Norman p.5-6).
As an example of Google Glass’ ability to exasperate users, Doyle says the jumpiness and sluggishness of its app causes much frustration for users. (Doyle p.3). Norman attributes this kind of technical problem to engineers who are too logical, describing them as having, “…a complete lack of understanding of design principles necessary for effective human machine interaction” (Norman p.5). Another example he points to is the increasing complexity of the automobile dashboard (Norman p.7), with new media infotainment systems now routinely pre-packaged in most new cars.
In his examination Raskin makes clear, “The way that you accomplish tasks with a product – what you do and how you have it respond – that’s the interface” (Raskin 1993). Here, he is echoing Norman by reminding us, despite a burgeoning population of interface designers, for the customer, “…the interface is the product” (Raskin p.5). As such, Raskin advocates keeping tasks simple despite the complexity of the overall interface system. (Raskin p.2).
Research by John Weir, on changing technology and the impact of Google Glass on users, offers an opinion on how to keep things simple. Weir says people can avoid having to check their phones routinely, a constraint of using hand-held devices, by using the wearable Google Glass computer. He also says Google Glass serves the user as a notification device (Weir p.1). However, this offers nothing innovative to the user as the author admits other wearable devices also provide this service, like Embrace+ and the NanoGlass eyeglasses (Weir p.1). Weir describes Google Glass as a better option because it details your notifications (Weir p.1). He says Google Glass will tell you you’re getting a call and who’s calling you. Won’t a smartphone do the same thing? In response to this countering of Google Glass’ superior functioning, Weir would say you don’t need to take a phone out of your pocket when you receive calls using Google Glass. But does the customer have a clear understanding about the function of Google Glass in comparison to their smartphone that equates to satisfaction and pride? Obviously, not.
Discoverability involves five fundamental psychological concepts all geared to put the needs of people first and in front of any design efforts. They are: Affordances, Signifiers, Constraints, Mapping, and Feedback (Norman p.10). A sixth principle, which Norman says is most important of all is the conceptual model of the system. Good design, he says, relies on good communication to let the user know what they can and cannot perform and this is most important when things go wrong (Norman p.7).
Norman believes good designs lead to good experiences for the user (Norman p.9). A crucial first-step, he insists, is accomplishing the goal to make sure the interface design incorporates universal psychological facts. It is a vital step Raskin also believes is too often left out of the design process (Raskin p.4).
To this end, strong support is offered in Raskin’s analysis for completing design work on interfaces during the primary phase of project development (Raskin p.5). Norman, likewise, admits complex devices require manuals or personal instruction, but he admits understanding is undermined when devices have too many controls and functions (Norman p.3). This is certainly the case with Google Glass.
For example, Weir’s review has negative implications for the conceptual model of Google Glass. He says before Google Glass came out, people tried to get all their devices in one with their smartphone. From your camera, to your music device, navigation apps, phone, and social media apps – everything was generally packed into one handheld smartphone (Weir p.2). This tendency toward “clutter” in the designs of new media is a hypermediation, or piling on of functions and apps within a single device, is also evident in the Google Glass design. Although the objective is to have all these items within a single wearable device, with hands-free navigation, as Weir points out in his article, the view through the window of the Google Glass can still get a little “bulky” (Weir p.2).
Regarding the processor units within modern technical gadgets and devices, Raskin says, “Users do not know about what is inside the box, as long as the box does what they need done” (Raskin p.5). Raskin says even the guidebook information for how to use new media devices are often incorrect. This due to “the company’s need to maintain compatibility with earlier versions of the interfaces” (Raskin p.4). But often the designs themselves are control and command heavy and just difficult to articulate.
According to Norman, the tendency for developers to maintain compatibility even in the face of an inefficient interface design is due to a misperception that users will abandon their product if they don’t stick to older and more familiar designs. Although Raskin does not adhere to the thinking behind this misperception, he still admits it may be better to stick with a more familiar design where customer or employee turnover is high (Raskin p. 4). So the cost of doing business may often override creating new and more innovative interface designs that put the needs of people first.
To counter strong negative emotions regarding user interactions with technology, Norman says, the solution is human-centered design (HCD). This approach puts human needs first, then designs to accommodate those needs, according to human behavior (Norman p.7). Norman does, however, admit within the constraints on time and budgets within industries can be a challenge for incorporating HCD (Norman p.8).
Raskin’s analysis concurs with Norman’s suggestion regarding HCD. He says the current practice of getting to know the user usually involves “listening to task domain experts.” But he expands on this point by explaining that these “experts” often are skilled only in detailing the problem to solve but are essentially inept in questions of human psychology (Raskin p.4).
There were certainly design and other technical shortcomings that contributed to the cool reception Google Glass received in the marketplace. Commentators pointed to the fact that the product was difficult to set up. It had a poor battery life. It was not immediately clear to potential users exactly what tasks the product performed or what problems it solved. And of course, many said the device made users look like a creepy cyborg.
Recently, tech observers have claimed Snapchat’s new Spectacles have addressed each of these issues, and as a result, will not suffer the same fate as Google Glass. Their product explicitly does just one thing: record video. The price tag is just $130, not upwards of $1,500 like Google Glass. Their glasses look more like regular, even fashionable, sunglasses. And Spectacles have clearly visible lights that indicate to others when video is being recorded.
While these changes may help ameliorate many of the problems users had with Google Glass, others worry that there is a deeper, inherent flaw with any hands-free digital video recording device worn on the face. Just like Google Glass, and unlike smart phones, when individuals encounter a user of such a hands-free recording device, there can be an almost instinctive, negative reaction to the fact that neither the subject being recorded nor the user doing the recording is fully in control.
At least with a smart phone, intentional movements like lifting the device and framing up a scene are required, just as they are with traditional cameras. Whether welcomed or not, at least those sharing the same physical space with the videographer/photographer can recognize these cues and know that recordings are being made intentionally. According to Patrick Miller, a tech designer at Deeplocal, “Wearables remove our ability to filter it and control [these interactions] the way we want to” (Hollister p.2). As a result, people interpret this as a willful and reckless abdication of the responsibility to be in control of where one points one’s camera (face), especially in public.
In the end, the unresolved societal questions surrounding privacy, public space, safety, and new technological capabilities—especially those involving recorded images—may have more to do with the success or failure of products like Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles than anything else. As Melissa Miles points out in her article “Photography, Privacy, and the Public”:
“There is a vast difference between being seen on a beach where we assume that we are being observed only casually and for a short time by a limited number of people, and being recorded, photographed or videotaped for the close scrutiny of a potentially vast audience” (Miles p.282).
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