Calm Technology | Amber Case

Summary of: Calm Technology: Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design
By: Amber Case


Welcome to the enlightening world of ‘Calm Technology: Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design’ by Amber Case. This insightful book takes a dive into the human side of technology by exploring principles and patterns that make using technology seamless and unobtrusive. Inspired by the work of Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, calm technology aims to improve the way devices communicate with users and with each other to add value to people’s lives without overwhelming them. Get ready to explore the eight principles of calm technology, learn about communication channels, and see how calm technology can improve both everyday objects and organizations.

Embracing Calm Technology

Technology can be frustrating and complex, but researchers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown’s philosophy of calm technology can guide designers and engineers to make technology seamless and user-friendly. The focus is on the human side of technology and making it “disappear” into the background until necessary. In the early 21st century, as technology continues to grow, calm technology is more relevant than ever.

Calm Technology

Xerox PARC researchers, Mark Weiser and John Brown, envisioned a future of ubiquitous computing where computers would be everywhere. They coined the term “ubiquitous computing” and worked on making technology more humanized to reflect how the human mind works. Their work, which included the principles of calm technology, went largely unnoticed in the 1980s and 1990s, but is highly relevant in today’s world of ubiquitous computing.

The Four Stages of Technological Development

Computers have gone through four stages of development. During the first stage, computers were large mainframes confined to specialized fields. The second stage saw the development of personal computers that people could use for individual applications like word processing. The third stage was the internet age, where computers connected with one another, and devices like laptops and smartphones served only as interfaces. The fourth and current stage is distributed computing, where devices can store and process information across a network. The internet of things has allowed billions of devices to communicate with each other, making it essential to ensure they do not overwhelm users. This is where calm technology comes in, providing principles and methodologies to address risks brought about by technological complexity. By communicating data effectively and establishing redundancy of devices, calm technology ensures that technology adds function and value to people’s lives without taking their attention away from more important tasks.

Principles of Calm Technology

The principles of calm technology encourage the creation of devices that are minimally invasive and seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. These principles include communicating without interrupting, providing quiet feedback, utilizing peripheral attention, and respecting social norms. Designers should strive for simplicity, backup plans, and emotional cues to enhance user experience and minimize complexity.

Technology is an integral part of our lives. Even tasks like writing, which appear to be passive and intuitive, have technological underpinnings. However, many technologies fail to deliver the level of ease of use that would make them disappear into our daily lives. To address this, the principles of calm technology rest on eight guidelines that foster an unobtrusive user experience.

The first principle holds that technology should require the least possible amount of attention. Today’s users often interact with multiple screens and apps simultaneously, so technology should communicate without interrupting. Indicators, such as status lights that convey power or connectivity, allow users to remain productive while staying updated.

The second principle is that technology should inform and create calm. Calm technology uses understated, quiet mechanisms to inform users of their status. For example, a ride-sharing app might vibrate when your driver is nearby, eliminating the need for constant checking. Anxiety-inducing notifications should be avoided unless necessary.

Third, technology should make use of periphery attention. People are capable of both direct and peripheral attention – the latter doesn’t compromise our ability to focus but keeps us aware of our surroundings. Technology designed to accommodate peripheral attention is more likely to achieve a seamless user experience. For example, traffic lights inform drivers of their status without creating disruption.

Fourth, technology should amplify the best of both technology and humanity. The goal of well-designed technology should be to complement, not replace human abilities. Computers must also understand context to facilitate communication – affective technology uses human emotional cues to improve user experience.

Fifth, technology can communicate, but it shouldn’t need to speak. Technology must communicate with users to achieve its goal, but it should engage only peripheral attention. Voice-activated assistants often require a user’s full attention, making them a problematic area for calm technology. Designers should use human senses effectively, such as sight, sound, or touch, to minimize intrusion.

Sixth, technology should work even when it fails. Heavily engineered passenger jets can glide even if their engines fail. Similarly, smaller technology must provide backup options to mitigate disappointment when it fails. For example, users should be able to silence a smoke detector even if it’s difficult to turn off.

Seventh, the right amount of technology is the minimum required to solve the problem. Technology should simplify solutions to improve effectiveness and minimize complexity. This allows technology to disappear into our environment and become unobtrusive.

Finally, technology should respect social norms. Users expect technology to make their lives easier and not disrupt their routines. Designers should create products that enhance existing social norms, rather than displace them.

In conclusion, the principles of calm technology encourage the creation of minimally-invasive, seamless devices that improve user experience. Designers need to consider how technology interacts with its users to minimize complexity, offer backup plans, and use emotional cues to complement human abilities. By following these principles, designers can create technology that blends into our routines and enhances our lives.

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