“Starting today…the egg is history. Twitter is dumping the tarnished icon for a new default profile picture–a blobby silhouette of a person’s head and shoulders, intentionally designed to represent a human without being concrete about gender, race, or any other characteristic. Everyone who’s been an egg until now, whatever their rationale, will automatically switch over.”
I’ve been known to mock coverage of logo redesigns at large technology companies; especially those projects that end up with something looking like clip-art from a stock service. (For instance, that time I explained how Hammock Inc.’s logo was designed.)
In an era when “content creators” are judged by the number of keywords they can pack between commas, it’s nice to read the way Harry demonstrates the craft of writing with both wit and insight.:
Instead of defaulting to the perfectly spherical head of a restroom-signage figure, the designers began playing with other approaches. They gravitated toward a gumdrop-like shape and found it had Rorschach Test-like qualities. “The second you start playing with head shape, you start thinking, ‘Oh, this might not just be a single gender,’” says Cotton. “Is that a man with a beard? Is that a woman with a bob?” Rounding off the shoulders, they found, also helped them create a symbol for “human being” that wasn’t freighted with any specific characteristics.
That said, I don’t think this is going to be one of those days that people will recall and feel the need to tell their grandchildren where they were the day they heard the news that Twitter got rid of the egg.
This week’s Idea Email at Hammock.com looks at the disconnect between the role infographics played during the late 1970s and 1980s and the role played today by what are called infographics. The idea places special emphasis on the use by infographics pioneer Nigel Holmes of the term “explanation graphics.”
“In the past, the term infographics referred to a style of visual storytelling that sought to make the complex simple and the confusing comprehensible. Today, infographics is a term applied to a style of illustration that often displays bullet points of simple and familiar facts using quickly clichéd clip art and fat-lettered fonts. A better approach—that both serves customers and is shareable—is to use graphics that explain, interpret, teach and provide customers with a deeper understanding of something important to them.
Years ago, while Marissa Mayer was still at Google, an article appeared in the New York Times about the way she tested 41 shades of blue to decide which to use in a navigation bar. Many people still use that as a benchmark for the lengths a marketer should go to make sure something works.
But there’s a “rest of the story” to the 41 shades test, as shared by Douglas Bowman, Google’s first visual designer. When he left Google to become creative director at Twitter, about the same time as the Mayer feature story appeared, he observed, “I recently debated over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.”
Now that I think about it, I’ve blogged about another example of Ms. Meyer’s approach to design.
It certainly succeeds in what it set out to do: present data in a visual form that comes as close as possible to demonstrating the unequal distribution of economic impact during the period in time popularly called, “the Great Recession.” I want to love it because it is so rooted in principles I appreciate as a reader: the use of devices such as “sparklines” that enable a vast array of datapoints to be displayed together, in one cohesive, easily comprehensible block.
A few months ago, right after the first batch of Google Glass(es)–sorry, I have a problem with the singular/plural thing–were sold to a group of customers who entered a contest for the privilege of paying $1,500 to Google before anyone else, it appeared to me that the release was a bit premature and totally mishandled by Google.
In my opinion, the early buyers seemed a bit too cliché tech-geek to help Google position the product as anything more than a gizmo for males who are gadget-obsessed. Those who were showing up wearing them have an appeal to a certain passionate audience, but they were not exactly the kind of individuals you’ll find at the front end of a fashion movement. (While I am a fan of Robert Scoble, I believe he could have come close to scorching the non-geek earth for Google Glass with that (in)famous shower photo.)
Recent stories focusing on NBA draftees wearing Google Glass(es) or doctors using them in surgery are what will get people’s mind off of just thinking about the product’s obvious and, in this case, literally, in-your-face, goofiness. (Sidebar for those who might forget history: I ran across this story earlier this morning about Steve Wozniak’s recollection of thinking the first Mac was a lousy computer and a failure.)
When those first Google Glass(es) photos started showing up, I began to look for quotes about them from Don Norman, but couldn’t find any.
As I can hear the non-tech people who are among the 12 readers of this blog already asking, I’ll go ahead and say it: “Who is Don Norman?”
One of my go-to authors on the design of technology is Norman, partner with Jakob Nielson at Nielson-Norman and author of many books on product design, including one of my favorite,The Design of Everyday Things. Norman was the first person I can recall (perhaps there were others, but I’m talking about when it hit my radar) writing extensively on the idea that the goal of technology should be invisibility. Indeed, I associate that idea with Norman so much that a couple of years ago, it surprised me when Apple led off the introduction of the iPad 3 with a video that sounded like a Don Norman manifesto that opened with the line, “We believe that technology is at its very best when it’s invisible.”
It surprised me because I couldn’t find any attribution to Norman.
So when Google Glass(es) were (was) released, I searched for any comments Norman may have made on the device. To me, the device seems to be invisible (to the user) and way too visible (to anyone who saw that photo of Scoble).
Finding nothing official, I located a page on Don Norman’s website called, “Ask Don” and made sure that my question fit his guidelines (I think “Don’t ask me things you can find with Google” was one of the guidelines.)
Here’s what I wrote:
When I see the device that Google calls Glass, I wonder, “What would Don Norman think?” As I’m familiar with your writing about the invisibility of technology, I look at them and think, how can something be *more* visible. However, that’s because I’m looking at them, rather than wearing them. Perhaps they are invisible to those wearing them.
As I’ve also read some of your thoughts on Google (rex note: see Gigaom.com quote by Norman: “Google doesn’t get people, it sells them.” ), I know where you’d likely stand on the issue of what Google gets out of the deal — just one more way of selling its users to advertisers and others.
So, I guess I’m asking what do you think about the path such a device leads us toward– and is that the proper path technology should take?
That Google is doing it may not be the point — they haven’t proven to be the most adept mass marketers and such a device that depends on marketing to someone other than geeky white males may not be their forte.
My question, therefore, is this: If a future iteration of such long-promised device as Google Glasses evolves to where the technology disappears and some beneficial outcome is delivered, is that the correct direction such technology and product design should journey for a mainstream usage?
Or is it just creepy?
A few weeks later, this response came:
Thanks for the mail. (Sorry for the delay — heavy traveling season.)
Google glass is an experiment, and i think it far too soon to be drawing conclusions. Radical changes in products can take decades to reach wide acceptance and in cases like thius, for people to figure out what to do with them and how society should deal with it.
I’ve worn the glass: it is reasonably invisible to the wearer.
As for whether this is the proper path, who knows?
Paths that seem simple and safe later turnout to be deadly (e.g., the automobile). Paths that seem dangerous (e.g., vaccination) end up saving lives. I see many potential dangers of the glass. But I do not yet know how it will play out (nobody knows).
As for google’s inept ability to understand people, marketing, and the consumer market. Yeah.
But ideas such as Google glass are hear to stay, even if it isn;t Google who does it.
These things have been in the resarch labs for years.
The main novelty about google’s approach is the public release of glasses that are reasonably well designed (by a real industrial designer).
Even if you think them geeky, they are by far the nicest set of wearable display devices I have yet seen, and I have seen hundreds.
As I’ve been traveling a bit recently and buried deep on a project, I haven’t seen if Don has commented on his site or elsewhere on this topic. Now he has. And a public thanks to Don Norman.
Shameless addendum: In his email, Norman also told me about a project he’s doing related to cooking and was nice enough to say, “Hammock seems like a very insightful marketing company. (When) the first thing i saw on your company website was: “When you sell someone a pot or pan, you generate a transaction. When you help a customer become a great cook you build a relationship. Our philosophy precisely. Neat.”)