It is 2013, and Google still hasn’t established a release date for its most awaited and reviewed product. They have us waiting for a device that can be as revolutionary as it would be a failure: Google Glass. But, what is it anyway? And why it has become so popular? Google Glass is an Android based headset that connects to the Internet through a phone via Bluetooth; its a device with the ability to display real life information thanks to a prism and it works both through the voice command “Ok glass” and touch gestures in the side panel, etc. In this article, we’ll analyze the design characteristics of Google Glass’ OS and identify its flaws to know what improvements can be made to it.
An interesting thing about the timeline is that it is actually organized as a timeline. The home screen shows the current hour, indicating the present. If the screen is moved (which can be done through touch), you’ll see apps - called cards - related to the future, like events, future flights, and the forecast; one the other hand, if you swipe in the opposite direction, you’ll get past related features like messages, your photos and videos. This video shows how it works and how transitions behave.
In the Home Screen, we can only see the hour (a clock that might be considered a widget) and the “OK Glass” label which indicates the required action to start using the device; there are no icons. Here are some of the aspects regarding the design of the apps:
The Current Conditions tab includes regular flat icons which vary depending on the weather; the colors are simple and have good contrasting. It also displays if it’s going to be raining, a storm, a shiny day and more. Typography is pretty flat too, and almost outlined.
The Travel app its probably the only one where they give an emphasis to the icon of the plane, although it still lacks an informative purpose and just stands as a reference.
The Directions App does integrate the icon quite nicely. It works as a reference point to show you where you are, and it makes sense even more when the device moves because the icons stand still while the rest moves.
On the developer side, anyone who wants to create apps is able to upload icons, but they need to keep certain resemblance to be harmonic with the rest of the design. Everything is through tabs which are located in a main menu called timeline. The device can also be actionable through touch so you can navigate the menus. You can’t have two actions performing at the same time (of course, the space doesn’t allow it).
One important thing to note is that icons in Google Glass need to be simple because they cannot take the space of all the screen. They know that in Google so they create the interface icons and fonts almost outlined. Glass’ icons are lighter, with no more than 2 colors, usually located next to texts to highlight a description, and they are not animated with some exceptions.
But now that we know the main characteristics of the icons in Google Glass, and we’ve pointed out their main attributes, let’s propose some design changes in icons that might improve the user experience.
Texts generally are accompanied by icons, like in the reply and the read aloud features, among many others, and this is constantly seen throughout all the interface. This, in our concept, gives the impression that icons are not semantically clear, and they’re not enough to indicate an action.
Another reason for this to happen is that the voice control of the device makes icons not as useful as one might expect. Features like sending a picture to someone or adding an event can be activated through voice commands.
Sometimes icons aren’t even necessary. A simple word can be used. Icons can be merely indicators of an action since the product integrate voice completely to function but since cards rely a lot on images and texts, a good way to simplify its design could be by using semantically structured icons and locate them laterally to avoid confusing or interrupting the user.
In some cases, menu items (the ones that allow actions) get confused with the rest of the content; in this case some simple improvements can be applied like highlighting the action, darkening the background a bit more, or by relocating the action.
Although Google Glass is intended for an “augmented reality” environment, the possibility to be used as a reading device needs to be added.
Icons cannot be intrusive because it is a system based in action. For example, recording video, requesting information about a public place right away or requesting the best route are actions that require a clean interface and plenty of space to see what’s going on out there, minimizing distractions that can actually be hazardous.
A complete use of the device also requires a great deal of improvements that developers and testers are helping shape. For example, it’s important to add wi-fi directly into the device, or why not adding the “glass” to the lens? It would make much more sense and will actually improve the safety of the user. This last thing, however, is very difficult since the augmented reality effect is achieved through the prism. But we can dream that not very far from today we’ll see these improvements. In the mean time, let’s be thankful since the future is going to be very different 2 years from now.