I recently visited the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach with my wife Erika. The festival is amazing – featuring 140 jury-selected artists who display works of jewelry, mixed media, sculpture, furniture, photography and, of course, canvas. As a design geek it was an incredible opportunity to talk to the artists about their stunning creativity and craftsmanship. I was also wearing my Google Glass… and every artist I wanted to speak with about their art, only wanted to talk to me about Glass. How was it? What could it do? Was it on? Could they try it? It’s a typical refrain from people who are brave enough to ask me about it, so I thought I’d share my experiences with Glass so far, and what I think it means to design and UX in general.
The first thing the artists noticed was how beautiful and well-designed Glass was. They all commented on how the design was rather discreet and that they had to do a double take to realize what they were. When they held Glass they remarked on the lightness, quality of the materials, and polish on them. The fit and finish, they said, were impeccable. And they were.
When you unbox them, you’re amazed that something this well-made could be the first of its kind. Thinking of the first iPhone or iPod to where they are now, Apple made large strides from relatively humble beginnings. Google Glass, on the other hand, has started at a point that far exceeds expectations for a 1st gen device. It’s Apple-quality design baked into the first version. Glass is phenomenal just as a piece of art itself.
The first thing you notice about Google Glass is how polished it is for a pre-release product. The industrial design is a thing of beauty. With a titanium frame and lightweight materials, it’s just slightly heavier than a typical pair of glasses; the strength of the titanium and malleability of the material, however, makes the weight forgiving. In no way delicate like jewelry, Glass is made to put up with whatever wearing entails.
I’ve let close to 50 people try on my Glass since I received them a few weeks ago. Co-workers, friends, my kids, and random strangers who were eager to try them on (including a barista). I wish I had a video camera to capture people’s expressions when they used them for the first time. It would make for an amazing YouTube video.
Their reactions confirm that Glass is actually better than you think it’s going to be. As soon as you see the screen floating in space and capture a beautiful photo, or hear Glass read you a wikipedia entry, you instantly understand how this is unlike anything before it. Remember when Steve announced the first iPhone? A phone, an Internet Communicator, a Computer? Take that, and multiply it by 100 to get an idea of how incredible Glass is.
Having email, a camera, Google search, Google Now, video, messaging, sharing, etc… all built into it makes it a device that liberates you from your phone. It’s hard to put into words how transformational it has been for my workflow and day-to-day use of technology.
Glass makes accessing technology easy and removes the interruptive nature of fishing your phone out of your pocket every time you want to capture something. More than once since I’ve had Glass I’ve captured moments that those who reached for their cell phones missed: missed the moment, missed the shot. Glass makes it easy to get them all. And it’s done with a user interface that is elegant, intuitive and constrained.
Also, Glass is meant to be worn, and I find myself wearing it for about half the day. The prism sits up and out of your sight line, so you don’t have any obstruction to your vision; but at the beginning your eye can get fatigued constantly due to dealing with it in your periphery. I tend to wear them for about an hour or two at a time, give myself a break and then go back to wearing them. And I always put them on in the morning, when I’m going to do something with the kids, or when I go to an event like the Festival of Arts.
User Interface and Experience
The UI of Glass is just as polished as the physical Glass itself. It’s clear through Glass’s UI that Google has an incredible company-wide competency and command of UX and UI design. They’ve turned their previous weakness into a strength. Powerful and easy to use, the UI is natural and takes advantage of its context. Where it easily identifies constraints, Google brilliantly leverages into creating an exceptionally designed experience.
You can control Glass through voice commands, navigating from the touch-sensitive side of the housing by your temple and the camera button on top. The user interface is driven by the timeline, a series of information cards displayed depending on what you’re doing and where you are in the timeline.
The timeline is contextual to your orientation in physical space. For example to go to previous cards (photos, messages, emails, etc.), you swipe from back to front, pulling up the past from behind you. Cards associated with upcoming events, like Google Now cards for traffic, flights, restaurant recommendations, etc. are all ahead of you. You swipe backward to pull those things into your view.
This paradigm and the positioning of the user within the timeline, is just one of the many smart decisions made by Google in the UX design. The ability to command Glass both by voice and by touch creates a nice dual access mode that lets you use Glass when you don’t feel like talking out loud to yourself. It works nicely in meetings, restaurants, etc… And it means you can quickly check an email or calendar invite without turning heads.
The home card is always the time of day, with the magic phrase “ok Glass”. This is your starting point for all things Glass, and from this screen, you can invoke Glass through voice activation. You can tell it to take a picture, get directions, send a message, record a video, or Google something.
Once you’ve taken a picture or video, you can easily share it to a social network, Google+ circle, etc. It also gets immediately backed up to your Google Account if you’re tethered to your phone or on WiFi.
Google has Designed a Universal UX Language
Google Glass’s UX is remarkably consistent with the UX of other Google products, featuring the same crisp, legible fonts and flat icons found in Google+ and across the Google world. It’s a remarkable feat when you consider the implications.
This led me to the realization that UX design is going to require a more holistic thought processes to establish paradigms that cross graphic user interfaces and natural ones like Glass as well. If you had a tightly kerned serif font or a hover paradigm in your site, you are now forced to rethink those decisions in the context of Glass, Leap Motion and other emerging interfaces.
My second realization was that Google has become better at UX than Apple. To Apple, UX is about fingers and screens. They’ve had little innovation in software UX design since the launch of the first iOS apps. The most novel and inspired apps are third party created, and rewrite iOS’s entire presentation layer to achieve intuitive and fresh interfaces.
Google shows with Glass that it has created a seamless design and UX language that can be mapped to any of their properties and platforms. From desktop, to tablet, mobile, apps, Glass, voice, you name it, they have accomplished a task of epic proportions, and it shines in Glass.
What Glass Means for the Future of UX
As someone who works with amazing UX designers everyday, it’s impossible to look at Glass and not think of the implications it has on the industry. While web designers scramble to build responsive layouts for mobile, new interfaces like Glass require a whole new way of thinking.
We are on a path from graphic user interfaces to natural user interfaces, and it will challenge UX designers with adapting to and leveraging both the opportunities and constraints inherent in each of these new platforms. The field of HCI will continue to grow as we go from a world where we interface the web through desktops, tablets and mobile phones, to one where we access the web through our glasses, watches, gesture based platforms, cars, appliances and beyond.
This reality will require UX designers to not only create interfaces that work for each platform, but to also design languages that enables a consistent user experience across them all. Like Google, they will have to create a robust and flexible UX language that maintains integrity and consistency, even as it is specialized and optimized for the context in which it’s deployed.
In order to create these languages, companies will need to lean heavily on their UX teams to deliver value and consistency through each customer touchpoint. UX designers will have to move their thinking beyond traditional screen sizes, to a context-based framework that allows them to create design rules that guide the development of a wide-range of interfaces from car dashboards, glasses, watches and more.
It truly is a whole new world. Google has done an exceptional job of creating a blueprint for us to follow as an industry when it comes to creating thoughtfully considered, cross-platform UX. It is our job as UX designers to take this opportunity to push it even further. As more touch points exist between humans and computers, we have more opportunities to remove friction, improve the experience, and deliver experiences that delight. Now is truly an exciting time to be a UX designer.
Google Glass is really just a very high profile part of the proliferation of new user interfaces and experience paradigms already underway. Microsoft Kinnect, Leap Motion, Google Now, Siri, Microsoft Sync, the list goes on. These new interfaces will require UX desigdsners to both assess the strengths and limitations of the platform to design optimal experiences. Just as critically, designers will need to manage and account for the myriad ways their design language needs to be delivered across devices and platforms as diverse as gesture, voice and touch control.
As I talked to the artists at the festival, I found myself trying to get back to talking about their art, when all they wanted to talk about was the Glass. I found it inspiring and affirming that artists, people who value craft, were in awe of Glass. They got it. Glass really is industrial art. It’s a product that delivers a one-of-a-kind experience in a way that feels entirely natural and familiar. Glass is so new, but so comfortable. It is the type of innovation that changes everything, yet is rooted and connected to what is already here.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I love my Google Glass. It completely changes how I think about technology, design, and what is possible. Glass is a moonshot that inspires me to think bigger and more holistically. It creates a path to meaningful conversation with people who design the world we live in every day.
Sure there are limitations and imperfections. It’s a pre-release product after all. People complain about the microphone quality, the inability to use different Google accounts, and the lack of an iOS app as failures. To me, it’s clear that they have not yet tried on Glass. Those complaints are a software update away and inconsequential when considering the leap that Glass represents.
To me, they are a triumph. People will scoff at how they look, and complain about a limited feature set, but these are v0.1. There is so much ahead for wearable technology and I’m immensely encouraged by the start Glass has made with this field. If you’re curious about them or aren’t sure, try them on. I imagine that many of you on the fence will have your opinions wildly changed. If you see me walking around with mine, I’d be happy to let you try them out. Life with Glass is a very good thing.
Image Credit: Google Glass Blog