Technology is everywhere--but humans aren't wired to handle it.

There's a fantastic Portlandia skit that demonstrates technological saturation: Fred Armisen’s character logs onto his computer to check his email, then finds himself quickly drowning in texts, software updates, cat videos, and compelling news articles until he shuts down and reverts to "mind-fi" (which, of course, also has ads). It's a parody that hits a little too close to home: in the IoT, every text shoots to your laptop, desktop, phone, tablet, and watch. Phonecalls are unavoidable, and pop-ups demand constant monitoring.

Manufacturers are racing to tie every electronic device we own together into a network of incessant information, which has resulted in some beautiful connected devices, but there's a fine line between not enough information and far, far too much of it. When it comes to devices like wearables, makers need to remember the human element behind design, and the human element is already distracted. What that means is that there may need to be a refocus on the quality of information provided instead of the quantity.

Take the Apple Watch, for example. It endeavors to do just about everything a phone can do, and initially that sounds appealing, but wearing a device that demands attention through tapping and dinging while flashing texts and displaying moveable watch faces becomes...well, tiring. So what's the solution? One answer seems to be scaling down. Take the Olio, for instance: it's a smart, connected watch that proudly announces it does far less than the Apple Watch. It still shows the weather, emails, and calendars, but  doesn't have haptic feedback and certainly doesn't have any apps. On the surface, though, it looks like a Swiss watch.

The Olio watch-- no apps and no taps.

Another answer is giving back control to the wearer by allowing for greater passiveness. Part of the overwhelming feeling that comes from the influx of information is that the information comes on its own. The Nailo, which is essentially a trackpad disguised as a fingernail, won't display anything: it just allows for easier, less obtrusive interaction with other devices.

 


It's still a device and is still a part of the IoT, but doesn't contribute to distraction. 

But designing devices with fewer features is counterintuitive. After all, part of the thrill of designing devices is making them do more. Perhaps the real key is designing devices that are sophisticated enough to make their features truly necessary and not flashy or superfluous.

It may also mean having the guts to go against the grain. After all, perfect design doesn't need to rely on bells and whistles: it speaks for itself. 

 

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