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Why Google Glass (and other poorly designed tech gadgets) was a failure

By: Pete Chamberlain
Date: February, 2016
File under: Articles

Technology plays an increasingly prominent role in our lives. From the vast range of wearables now available through to digital assistants and even connected homes, everyday use of technology has become akin to religion, in which we worship all manner of gadgets.

A question I’d like to pose as a UX researcher relates to the sustainability of such tech worship. Is there a saturation point where it all becomes too much? And if so, will technology companies be able to move past it?

I recently read an article from Fast Company in which Dropbox’s lead designer, Gentry Underwood expressed his views on the role that technology plays in our lives. While Gentry sees the advancement of technology as inevitable, he warns against becoming disconnected from what really matters in life.

“The technology’s going to keep pushing no matter what. We’re going to have more and more abilities going forward. I think the opportunities around design are figuring out which of those things are actually going to make life more rich, meaningful, and fundamentally good.”

This is where Google went wrong with its Glass project. Google Glass attempted to enhance our lives by literally integrating technology with our view of the world, but this integration was seen as being far too invasive. Yes, Glass was plagued by other more practical problems such as it’s UI and lack of aesthetic appeal, but the true failing of Glass is that it didn’t make life more ‘rich’, ‘meaningful’, or ‘fundamentally good’.

It must be said that a gadget does not have to be all of these things in order to be be a commercial success. Take GoPro for instance. Its action cameras have taken the world by storm making founder Nick Woodman a millionaire many times over. Like Google Glass, a GoPro looks ridiculous (especially when mounted on the helmet of a cricketer), but its non-invasive presence combined with simple UI and clever marketing tactics have made it a very popular product amongst gadget worshippers.

But while GoPros are a cool toy, you would have to be brave to argue whether – as with Glass – the cameras actually make one’s life ‘more rich, meaningful or fundamentally good’. Despite all the hype, people are going to start asking themselves: “Does all this stuff actually make my life significantly better?”

As technology continues to progress, I challenge tech companies to consider how products can genuinely create positive experiences without distracting or intruding. At some point in the near future, they’re going to have to try harder to design stuff that actually enriches our lives – not just another gadget.

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