I made this little video as a means of enquiring into the state of the Heads Up Display as a design trope. It seemed like there was more space for discussion regarding Project Glass and wanted to compare what Google had made with other companies. It's somewhat in the vein of the work by Timo Arnall and Julian Bleeker. Although, I am in no way comparing this or myself, to their work. It just seems like a rather useful design tool. Which it is. Turns out it's trickier than expected though; with editing require a deft sense of timing. Something I do not have.
I could only really find some work done by Nokia as a corporate comparison. Instead I had to work my way through a few films (Terminator, Iron Man, They Live), the odd video game (Ghost Recon 3, Metroid 3) and a sprinkling of clever Design Fictions (Song of the Machine, the work of Keiichi Matsuda). This mix wasn't the exploration I was hoping for, although it does provide a sampling of some of the design concepts that has been thought up.
I must say, they're almost all pretty dismal. For most of them, the design trend has come from the military, where an overabundance of information can be important. At least Google has the sense to make it subtle. Whether or not it ends up looking and working this way remains to be seen. But we all know that it won't, so much so that within a day the google advertisement parody video was made. No one is expecting that there won't be new forms of advertising to come out of this: geo-contextual advertising, small flocks of floating adds, intrusive messages. It'll be the necessary bathwater on top of all the vast server farms of data that always on Augmented Reality glasses will collect on us, their livestock.
Considering the scale of such a project, it's inevitable that unless these devices get opened up to include some form of platform, the reality that we see will be a very dull one. I hope that for this we move away from a purely app-centric model, to one of filters. if only so that we can move away from the lifestyle or perceptions that Google prescribes to other forms of seeing.
At its best, the contemporary digital does in fact enable and enhance interpersonal connection, and the idea of sharing a view of the sunset over the Hudson is a delight. On the other, the trajectory of the video is a process of consumption. Our hero moves through a series of mundane economic processes to end up at a brief reprieve from them.
This is about what kind of world we want to see. Google wants you to see a leisurely, consumptive day of coffee and ukulele. But that's not a complete description of the important layers of reality. We'd need others, too: interfaces that detailed social ills once 'hidden before our eyes'; those that traced flows of energy use; or secretive, private networks that directed us to the performance art around the corner.
If only so that we don't become completely inthralled to the Google umwelt. That their view, doesn't become ours. That it doesn't shape the way in which we percieve the world. And that is the most insidious aspect of having these glasses. We might fondle our phones as we go to sleep and feel naked without them, but they don't take up our field of vision with Augmentia:
I believe that organizations such as Apple and Google see this and are pursuing not merely real-time, or hyper-local or crowd-sourced apps but ownership of the 'view'. They want to own the foundation of the single consistent seamless way of presenting an understanding of the world.
All that aside, there's also concrete design decisions that need to be dealt with (thus the reason for making the video in the first place). Do we really want the Google/Android design team informing the way we visually see the world? Or let HTC or Samsung work on horrendous variants? I'm shuddering to think about the Apple method as well (not that I think they'd get into this game). Hugely unneccessary skeuomorphicism hovering one centimetre over eyeballs? Drop shadows and faux textured leather always resting in the corner of our eyes?
There will be user interface interaction issues. What will be the conventions for hand-swipes, grabs, drags, pulls and other operations to manipulate objects in our field of view. We're going to evolve a set of gestures that don't conflict with gestures we use around other humans but that are unambiguous.
We're just beginning to play around with gestures as a new way of interaction. From swiping on screens to waving our body about. But all of these are being done in the comfort of our home or behind the security of a glass slab.
I'm not really sure where I was going with all of that, except that I'm not convinced about any of the design decisions that have gone into this medium. The problem with using the military as the starting point for Heads Up Displays is we have far different needs in the real world. Unfortunately, movies have taken that visual language and primed us to expect it. I just hope that the designers working on the interface for augmented reality systems don't take this as their starting point. Especially when there are far richer and more subtle possibilities.