Calm Technology, human-centered design, social design, and anthropology
Principles to Design Technology that Becomes Part of User’s Life and not a Distraction From It
Attention is the concentration of the mind on a single object or thought, especially one preferentially selected from a complex, with a view to limiting or clarifying receptivity by narrowing the range of stimuli. There is one fundamental truth that demands us to take a new approach to technology it’s the number of alerts which is taking our attention has increased. There is a limited bandwidth for our attention within which all our activity has to be performed. The information technology around us requires as much attention as our current technologies.
The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.
We are seeing a large amount of information in every aspect of our lives. The data is no longer something that we encounter at work alone. It has become part of everything with which we are interacting like homes, cars, and other handheld equipment. All these are constantly providing data to us and drawing our attention, but our attention is already overdrawn by the devices we are having in our surroundings.
The reality is this: we are not bad at technology, technology is bad at us.
This is indicating to us that the design needs to be minimal and simple to use because the minimum amount of technology will result in a minimum amount of our support for it to function. The minimum amount of technology does not mean that the development time is reduced. This again brings in the developers and designers to think about all the corner cases and “every-day conditions” to find out the scenarios in which it can go wrong before the product gets to the end-user.
Good design allows someone to get to their goal with the fewest steps and with lowest mental cost.
Below are the principles are guidelines to consider when designing technology-based on Calm Technology book by author Amber Case:
#1 Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention
1. Communicate but don’t need to speak.
2. Create ambient awareness through different senses.
3. Communicate information without taking the wearer out of their environment or task.
When building technology, we should strive to communicate information to the user without interrupting or distracting them from their primary goal.
The technology should not be distracting from their primary goal while using it. The information from the system should be provided so that it is not interrupting or distracting the primary goal of using the system.
#2 Technology should inform and create calm
1. Primary task should not be computing, but being human.
2. Give people what they need to solve their problem, and nothing more.
They interrupt your life for the purpose of saving your life. Most information that comes from devices can be presented in a calm way. This is just a matter of good design .
The information provided should be the necessary ones instead of redundant information and should not result in the primary task has computing. The information from the device can be provided calmly so that it does not cause any thought processing task, which is just a key factor in good design.
#3 Technology should make use of the periphery
1. A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention to the center, and back.
2. The periphery is informing without overburdening.
When a technology forces a low-resolution update into the high-resolution space of your full attention, it wastes your time, attention, and patience. The primary task should be work, and communication secondary. Acquiring a good understanding of peripheral attention is essential to designing calm products.
Providing the information, when necessary helps in reducing wastage of time, attention and patience while it is been used. It is better to avoid providing the information too frequently so that it becomes redundant data resulting in over processing of information.
#4 Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity
1. Design for people first.
2. Machines shouldn’t act like humans.
3. Humans shouldn’t act like machines.
4. Amplify the best part of each.
A person’s primary task should not be computing; it should be being human. Humans understand context. The best thing computers can do is to connect humans to one another. Therefore, the best interfaces don’t connect us to technology; they connect us to other people.
The design should be always considering that it is built for humans and should be able to adjust and help humans. It should not be designed like humans are operating like machines or machines are operating like humans. This human or machine functioning should be balanced and the best of both should be included so that it helps.
#5 Technology can communicate but doesn’t need to speak
1. Does your product need to rely on voice, or can it use a different communication method?
2. Consider how your technology communicates status.
A user interface requiring all of our visual focus distracts us from doing anything else. Use a status tone instead of a spoken voice. Use a buzz instead of a voice-based alert. Use a status light instead of a display.
Most of the time the communication to indicate feedback is not provided in proper format. This might again have to be considered based on the type of humans operating like disabled person. Using the appropriate feedback helps in reducing distraction and improved operation.
#6 Technology should work even when it fails
1. Think about what happens if your technology fails.
2. Does it default to a usable state or does it break down completely?
The edge cases are where things go wrong. There’s a strong temptation for designers and developers to shrug these cases off, but the fact is that everyone is an edge case at one time or another. The problem with edge cases is that their impact far outweighs their frequency. In general, though, the key to dealing with edge cases is providing redundancy .
In the above case, when the smoke is detected and if there is a internet disconnection then there is should be a method to provide alert to the user or to cancel any False alarms. These are normally the edge cases, which are overlooked during the design and development phase. There should be a default usable state or its should be provided with redundant method during the edge case scenarios in which the system encountered.
#7 The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem
1. What is the minimum amount of technology needed to solve the problem?
2. Slim the feature set down so that the product does what it needs to do and no more.
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. — ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY
A product that utilizes the right amount of technology becomes invisible more quickly, which is a hallmark of effective Calm Design. Good designers aren’t afraid of working through all the tiny details and all the edge cases they can conceive, removing unnecessary features until there is nothing left to take away. Good design means fewer things that can break.
There should be minimum amount of technology used to solve the problem in hand. Make it minimal and simple to use instead of filling it with many features and function, which will not be used. If it is minimal that means there are fewer things, which will break and to fix it.
#8 Technology should respect social norms
1. Technology takes time to introduce to humanity.
2. What social norms exist that your technology might violate or cause stress on?
3. Slowly introduce features so that people have time to get accustomed to the product.
To make a successful product launch, it’s crucial to study your audience, their social cues, and the local culture around technology, to ensure that you understand why people might or might not want your product.
Any new feature or a technology implemented will take time for it to adopted by the humanity. Not all will be able to accept the new technology at the same pace and by using the technology it should not violate or cause stress to the human. It is always best to study the user base before a technology or product is launched and should understand the local culture around the technology to understand if the people might or might not want the product.
You might think you’re saving money by getting to market as quickly as possible, without spending a ton of effort calming down your user experience, but think of the longer-term outcome. A less calm, fussier interface means more confused users, more calls to tech support, and more need for patches and updates down the line . Design for calmness now and you’ll save money later, when it really counts .
If the technology works well, we can ignore it most of the time. A teapot tells us when it is ready and is off or quiet the rest of the time. A tea kettle can be set and forgotten until it sings. It does not draw constant attention to itself until necessary.
An inner-office window provides an understanding of whether someone is busy or not without the need to interrupt them.
This simple display easily allows one to see whether the restroom on a plane is occupied or not. The message is universal and requires no translation.
A smart badge is simple. Smart badges are small, wearable technologies that don’t require a charger, user interface, or operating system.
Simply touch a provisioned smart badge to a door or elevator panel and you’ll easily gain access.
Touch has a high resolution of human sensation. Information can be conveyed with no visual or auditory requirement.
Use haptics or touch to inform someone of important information. Many people set their phones to buzz, but other products such as the LUMOBack Smart Posture Sensor buzzes you when you exhibit poor posture.
A good trend graph is all about making the formerly invisible visible. The Sleep Cycle app graphs sleep over time, compressing that long term data into an easily accessible format.
Be patient: good data may a long time to collect, but it is well worth the wait! Displaying data in an elegant way is one of the most important aspects of trend graphs. Elegance is about information and comprehension, not just visual appearance.
Status lights are fairly common on video cameras. A device is active when the red ‘record’ light is on. Status lights can be used for more than just recording. Our daily travels are mediated by the simple colors of traffic lights.
A light that shows the weather is far calmer than a weather system that constantly calls attention to itself. Think about how to use different colors of light to inform and calm in your products.
A status tone is a quick way for a device to let a person know whether it needs attention or not.
Products that have a positive tone upon completion, or negative tones when stuck are more likely to be helped by their human owners.
A Status Shout is similar to a Status Tone but can be much louder and more urgent. Status Shouts should be reserved for very important information.
Smoke alarms, tea kettles, and microwaves all use shouts to alert people to their status. Ambulances use Status Shouts to alert people to make way for an emergency. Tornado warnings shout: “take cover!”
Popup alerts are perhaps the most common form of an alert, but they can quickly overwhelm people when not used correctly.
Alerts should be used when deleting important pieces of content, for an emergency, or when someone has specifically opted into a piece of content or stream. Otherwise, try to think of ways to alert a person using the other senses.
A simple status light on a timer can make for a calm and informative notifier.
An orange light that turns on at sundown or reminds you to brush your teeth.
Use a delay or interrupt during a change of state.
For example, when the headphones of an iPhone become disconnected, the music player automatically pauses the music.
The above principles are not a hard-and-fast-rule for all products or services. Not every tech project needs all the principles. All these principles generally revolve around three key considerations: attention, reliability, and context. The technology should be reliable and don’t spend most of the cognitive energy on its basic functionality, because human attention is a valuable commodity. These ideas are the basis for the Human-centered design, Social Design, and Anthropology. The author “Amber Case” has written about the various aspects of Technology should not be a burden to humanity in the book which is a must-read for today's product developers and Designers.
It’s never too late.
We often think of design as “complete” when it fulfills all of its functions, and leave the details of how it communicates to the user as an afterthought. This is a ubiquitous problem in the world of design.
“In Calm Technology, Amber gives us ready to use patterns for designing calm interactions, as well as the underlying principles behind them. Anyone who builds things with a computer in it (which is everything) should read this book.” — JOSH MARINACCI, TECHNICAL MARKETING MANAGER, PUBNUB