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Carmen Wright
Carmen Wright

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Notes: "Calm Technology" by Amber Case

This article originally appeared on my website.

I'm a fan of writing notes while reading design books. The book belongs to the author(s). The notes are a quick reference for myself and others if they need it.

Cover of Calm Technology

Calm Technology: Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design

Amber Case

Designing for the Next 50 Billion Devices

"Designing Calm Technology": understanding the impact of technology on people's behavior and well-being

Edge Cases: unpredictable problems that arise at extremes

  • oftentimes are discovered after products are launched > Example: Running shoe might work well on typical pavement, but melt on track material on very hot summer days

The physical technology that we live with and rely on daily must be resilient enough that it can work regardless of whether or not it's connected to a network

We can help make the future more reasonable by writing efficient code, using lower-level languages for mission-critical systems, and creating more local networks

Principles of Calm Technology

I. Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention.

  • A lot of connected technology doesn't "just work" right out of the box
  • Consider doing away with an interface or screen entirely, replacing it with physical buttons or lights > Example: MacBook power cord > - Primary information system: Light indicator > - Secondary information system: Visual display

II. Technology should inform and create calm.

  • Technology can create calm by letting you know definitely that a system is functioning correctly and all is well
    • Calm comes from knowing that you'll be alerted at the appropriate time if something needs to be addressed

III. Technology should make use of the periphery.

  • When a technology forces a low-resolution update into the high-resolution space of your full attention, it wastes your time, attention, and patience
  • Using touch, sounds, and peripheral vision opens up our sight to focus entirely on the road while doing secondary tasks in our periphery > Example: Van Halen's brown M&M's verified if a venue read the technical aspects of their show

IV. Technology should amplify the best of technology and best of humanity.

  • The best tech amplifies the best of both machines and people
  • The best interfaces connect us to other people
  • Amplify the tasks that humans are better than machines

V. Technology can communicate, but doesn't need to speak.

  • As voice-based interfaces become more common, it's worth addressing the problems with voice interaction specifically
  • Making a computer speak like a human without instilling it with a series of human context or relationships ultimately leads to a sense of dissonance in the person using it
  • A user interface requiring all of our visual focus distracts us from doing anything else
  • A simple positive or negative tone, symbol, or light can be designed in a way that's universally understood > Example: Not "Launch the Octopus"
  • Use a status tone instead of spoken voice.
  • Use a buzz instead of a voice-based alert.
  • Use a status light instead of a display
  • Sometimes having two notifications is useful, as it increases the likelihood of user noticing it without demanding their full attention

VI. Technology should work even when it fails.

  • The problem with edge cases is that their impact outweighs their frequency
  • The key to dealing with edge cases is providing redundancy

VII. The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem.

  • Good designers aren't afraid of working through all the tiny details and all the edge cases they can conceive, removing unnecessary features until there is nothing left to take away
  • Empowering the user to get their goal with least amount of attention
  • "Is this something necessary to the product?"

VIII. Technology should respect social norms.

  • One that conforms with existing norms, or (more often) norms have adjusted to accept ___

Common Communication Patterns

Status Indicators

  • Visual
    • Heat light on a stove
    • Bedtime lamp
    • Server status light
    • Light-based faucet
    • Light-up toothbrush
    • Self-inflating inhaler
  • Tones
    • Help button on a plane
    • Washer and dryer with a melody
    • Insulin pump
    • Roomba vacuum cleaner
  • Haptic Alerts > Physical notifications that can be felt on body
    • Feedback from video game controller
    • Buzz on a smartphone
    • Smartwatch alert
    • AMBER alert or emergency alert
    • LUMOBack posture sensor
    • Turn-by-turn directions
  • Shouts
    • Seat belt on/off alert
    • Smoke detector
    • Parking garage warning buzzer
    • Emergency vehicle truck siren
    • Recess bell

Ambient Awareness

  • Lavatory occupied sign
  • Directional tape on a floor
  • Weather-colored lightbulb (conceptual)
  • Email Garden (conceptual)

Contextual Notifications

  • Weather
  • Location
  • Time
  • Emotional and metabolic state
  • Proximity
  • Accomplishment

Persuasive Technology

  • Alpha wave synchrony feedback machine
  • GlowCap
  • Withings scale
  • Toyota Prius driver feedback
  • Salad bar tongs
  • Beeminder

As written above, these are just my notes for this title. I encourage you to read a copy of your own for further insight into the text.

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