Fashion and technology are about to close the deal.
Snap Inc.’s (formerly Snapchat) connected sunglasses — ‘Spectacles’ — are a toy, but also a pre-cursor to something more robust. They run parallel to devices like Google Glass right now, but it’s not hard to envision a convergence of form and function down the road.
Since its inception, Glass has been a lot more functional, but about as fashionable as a bluetooth earpiece — an iteration too far ahead of its time for mass adoption.
Tech and fashion have been circling each other for a while, and when they finally close the gap we’ll see a new world through augmented glass.
There was a point in the past when real-world technology didn’t iterate as quickly, so those earlier machine-shapes are stuck in our collective consciousness in a way that modern industrial design may not be.
Some of those ‘legacy’ shapes will remain as mere symbols, like those old telephone handsets we use as app icons now, while others endure as archetypal appliances. Eyeglasses come to mind as simple, convenient, and not much of a leap either conceptually or fashionably.
For the moment, things like phones and autos have their forms dictated by ergonomics, aerodynamics and to an extent by abstract user interfaces. Their platonic shapes sort of fade into the background visual noise, with incremental changes going by in an accelerated blur that our splintered attention spans dispose of, much the way we do most modern media.
Maybe it’s just me but I remember the shapes of everyday objects less, these days — because they’re disappearing in plain sight, blending into spaces and wearables.
If you look at things being developed right now, like Project Soli by Google, physical forms seem destined to become even more abstracted.
The new world isn’t evenly distributed (to paraphrase William Gibson) but the old world isn’t coming back. Will there be a point when most tools simply disappear, leaving behind only the fundamental forms which the body needs to interact with physically?
At this point in the digital revolution, is the physical design of most of our digital tools at a primitive halfway point?
I think that our smartphones will go from slabs of glowing glass sitting in pockets, to chic lenses sitting on our faces, projecting interfaces in front of or directly on to our eyes, giving new meaning to the term ‘retina-screen’.
I don’t see most people wearing ugly or sci-fi looking headsets, but people have already adopted the Apple watch, and wear much stranger things with arguably less utility; men regularly wear useless, decorative pieces of fabric knotted around their necks, and many women wear implausibly engineered shoes.
Given what people are willing to put on their bodies, It’s not a stretch to think that smart-glasses will one day be as ubiquitous as wristwatches — until the next iteration, of course.
A user experience designer’s job is solving problems for people in a world rendered fundamentally new via technology; this covers everything from interface screens to the anthropometrics of spaces we live and work in.
We’re humans overlaid with a digital mesh of media, commerce, and story. This has profound implications for physical spaces and the way we engage with them.
There’s no longer a line between ‘digital’ and ‘real life’. There are people and tools. Hammers are real life, and so is that app on your phone. This extends to the spaces we inhabit. Design that doesn’t concern itself with new modes of work-life and spatial engagement such as mixed and augmented realities — will go extinct.
We’re looking at a world of driverless cars and ethereal tools like Project Soli that continue to abstract forms, while our own form remains stubbornly anthropic and creates interesting new problems to be solved by a combination of talented generalists and deep specialist disciplines.
Fashion and technology are about to stop flirting and close the deal. So here’s my post-smartphone prediction: everybody in glasses.