Mobile

Designing for Google Glass: It’s not what it appears

Above: Google Glass

Image Credit: Jolie O'Dell/VentureBeat

Today, Google Glass is not what many people imagine it to be. As with prescription “glasses,” many assume you actually see through Glass, and that Glass gives us a different lens through which to see the world: superimposing the names of people, flowers, and monuments as we walk around in the real world. Some folks describe Glass as an “immersive” experience of “augmented reality.”

It isn’t, and understanding that can help you think through your strategy for creating standalone Glass software and for creating Glass software that extends your existing mobile app or website. In addition, designing for Glass and other wearable technology will likely affect how people design for mobile and desktop, as the users and designers become accustomed to the limitations and advantages of wearable interfaces.

My company, Silica Labs, has already built some software for Google Glass. We built a platform for media companies to distribute content through Glass, which we launched with National Geographic and continue to build out. We created a few social hacks, including a Glass app for those of us who regularly attend or organize Meetups — letting Glass users scroll through the profiles and pictures of everyone else who attends. And we are doing some consulting for SocialRadar, the new company founded by the co-founder and former CEO of Blackboard, on the company’s integration with Glass.

In this development, we’ve learned a few practical things worth sharing:

Immediate Not Immersive

Glass is deliberately designed to be the opposite of an immersive experience. It is a wearable camera optimized to receive and send quick updates. It uses a crystal to project a small screen above your right eye, above your usual line of sight. By default, the device is turned off. Instead of augmenting reality, it simply helps you communicate quickly and with less hassle.

A better way to think of Glass is as a “heads-up display.” Without having to look down at a phone in your hand, you can receive quick short updates, emails, and texts. There isn’t even a browser, as the messages tend to be Tweet-length at best.

That is, Google Glass provides augmented communication, not augmented reality. It is immediate, not immersive. Glass simply provides a small second screen, and reality is the main display.


We’ll be discussing the future of wearable devices in the “Wearables by design: Welcome to the post-smartphone era” track at our MobileBeat conference, July 9-10.


Design for Glass, Not the Looking Glass

These facts — often overlooked — change how developers and designers must think about building software for Glass. Today’s Glass technology may not provide users with augmented reality, but that doesn’t make the platform’s apps any less useful.

The key to providing the user with a great experience is to keep out of the way and not overwhelm her with unneeded information. Focus on just-in-time mobile information that will be valuable to the user. For example, the initial apps for media companies like The New York TimesCNN, and Elle, merely send headline updates and just-in-time breaking stories.

Glass continues the evolution from desktop to smaller, portable screens and requires even more simplicity in presentation.

Focus on the Truly Essential and Cut the Rest

Several partners have proposed including far more information than a Glass user can comfortably absorb. Our key advice over and over is to shorten text, remove images or include images with a clear focus. When developing content, focus on conveying exactly what is essential and no more. You should consider cutting parts of the mobile experience that seemed essential in other platforms but may clutter the Glass interface.

Don’t Abstract From Mobile

You wouldn’t port your desktop web experience to mobile unthinkingly; instead, you would begin from the ground up with mobile. Do the same with Glass. Keep the Glass experience, not the mobile or desktop experience, at the forefront of your mind as you design the app.

In designing for mobile, however, designers and developers learned that they could simplify even the desktop experience and better highlight the key information. By developing for Glass and other wearable technologies with small, always-on screens, developers and designers will begin stripping down mobile and desktop experiences to their core.

Elle magazine executives have stated that the publication has designed for Glass partly to learn how to better design for mobile in general. The immediate, simple interface of Glass will influence design on other platforms.

Marvin Ammori is the co-founder of Silica Labs, a company creating software for the Google Glass platform and a member of YEC. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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