Fashion, Social Norms, and Wearable Computing.

Google Glass has inspired a lot of talk about how socially acceptable wearable devices are. The Atlantic recently ran an article where 2 people wore them into a bar. Needless to say, the reaction wasn’t positive. Google is of course aware of this and is actively responding, even promoting a fashion show features the device. But is marketing enough?

Seeing how Bluetooth headsets are still perceived (read douchey), given the best efforts of the companies selling them, the success of Glass does’t seem very rosy Fun Fact: exists. probably isn’t too far behind.

The fashionability of devices is such a frustrating design challenge. On the one hand you have this device that has uncountable benefits. A device which science fiction writers have foretold for years is about to hit the market, but for some difficult to describe reason, people don’t want it.

It’s not just the fashionability of the device, but the way you interact with it. yes, bluetooth headsets look kinda funny, but they break long standing social norms around conversation. Unless someone has a hand to their ear, if they are looking at you and talking, they are talking to you. Bluetooth headsets changed that by allowing people to talk on their phones without using their hands. Social awkwardness ensued.

Makers of wearable computing devices have to keep these constraints in mind when designing not only the product but also the way users interact with that product. Glass is struggling with the design, but by requiring users to tap on the side of the glasses to issue a voice command, they are at least addressing issues with social norms.

The ideal to strive for is invisible computing. Those around you should have no idea that you are interacting with a device, either by what you look like or how you behave. Of course, we are far from this being a possibility, but aiming for it should result in making the right design decisions along the way.

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