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Google Glass and ‘essential simplicity’

“Perfection is attained not when there is something to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This quote, attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was cited recently by the lead industrial designer of Google Glass as her inspiration in crafting one of the most-talked about products of the last few years. In her recent Dwell On Design seminar, entitled ‘Google Glass: Less Is More’, Maj Isabelle Olsson spoke at length about what it has taken to achieve “perfection” in her creation.

Olsson’s design background is broad to say the least, ranging from tablets and televisions to eyewear products for children in the developing world. Was it this diverse experience, then, that lent her the insight that has brought such aesthetic and functional benefits to Google Glass? In an anecdote that will undoubtedly make its way into the canon of tech myths, Olsson recalls how it struck her while she was waiting for a bus, observing her fellow passengers engrossed in their smartphones.

“It was time to understand: why are we really doing this?” Says Olsson. “What if we can design something that lets us live in the moment and have technology be out of the way when we don’t need it?” However, back in 2011 when Olsson first joined the Google Glass project, there was still something of a disconnect between technology and design; the prototype notoriously resembled “a phone attached to a scuba mask”. Unlikely to appeal to young and image-conscious early adopters, then.

Staying true to her ‘less is more’ philosophy, Olsson “told the team that we have to remove everything that isn’t completely essential”, and outlined three core principles as a roadmap for future development: lightness, simplicity, and scalability.

  1. 1. Lightness: “If it’s not ridiculously light,” she says, “it doesn’t belong on your face.” Hard to argue with that logic.
  2. 2. Simplicity: There was such a wealth of technology that the team wanted to include in Glass, that it seemed the end result was doomed to be cumbersome. “One of things we did is, we hid one of the biggest components behind the frame so we could keep one line,” explains Olsson.
  3. 3. Scalability: The inherent challenge in a project like Glass is to create something that “can transform over time and fit different people…. With Glass, we really want people to make it their own.”

Olsson’s seminar was accompanied by a video presentation featuring fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg, shot entirely via Google Glass. The clip illustrates the creative potential of Glass when it comes to new ways of storytelling, and according to Olsson, “this is just the beginning.”


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