Don Norman on Google Glass



Credit and thanks for photo: UXLx, via:Flickr, Creative Commons

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:

Dear Don,

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 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?

Thank you,

Rex Hammock

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.”)