Learning from Glass

As you maybe already know, at labs.info.nl we are happy to be able to test the design and development of so-called Glassware, apps for the new catchy device of Google. Together with Daphne Channa Horn who is one of the 3 people in the Netherlands in possession of a Glass. The last month we discussed a couple of apps with three clients of info.nl that cover different aspects of the new interaction model the device forces. Together with Greenwheels, bol.com and EYE Filmmuseum we came up with some interesting concepts. The first technical proof of concepts are ready, and will be completing in some full functional apps soon. I like to share the learnings with you here too.

First of all some general thoughts. I think it is very interesting to see how the glass is demanding a new design paradigm based on timely context. More even than mobile does, because there is a lot of pull in the way mobile apps work on you smartphone. With Glass all functionality should be based on context driven push. This is highly connected with the model of impulse shaped services I developed a couple of years ago. I presented my first thoughts at Reboot11, 2009, and refined the thinking for presentations at The Next Web conference and The Web and Beyond in 2010. It is a believe that all services in an you-web-based world will develop in that direction. The you-web is the situation that all the services we use are highly personalised on our one profile. Personal products and services will be ubiquitous. Like Google Now is offering, or a car with a dashboard that adapts to you needs, and of course another sign post: the Nest thermostat that learns from the user behavior to complete its working.

In my ideas there are three fundaments in thinking on impulsed shaped services.

  • You always put the service and the use of it in the middle. Not the device or screen. The service is the linking pin, touchpoints are remote controls and views on the service.
  • You need to design for the radical now. Data and data science are the key ingredients to create profiles that learn constantly, the products and services are not static but adapt to the very moment of use.
  • Playful interactions are the way to generate the right flows, the persuasion, the behavior you want to let emerge.

Those three fundaments are still very valid, and working with a device like Google (but also a smartwatch as Pebble has the same characteristics) generates the right constrains to focus on these aspects. In the case of Glass, Google formulated four design guidelines. That map rather well.

  • Design for Glass
    Do not port existing apps or sites to Glass, start with a empty sheet. So think from the service, not from a touchpoint.
  • Don’t get in the way
    A service, and the output of it, should not lead to necessary actions. No modal interaction models. So let the use happen in the moment, and be hyper relevant only in that moment.
  • Keep it timely
    Context and moment in time are the drivers for all services. If it is not relevant in the moment, it is not relevant at all. Design for triggers in time and context.
  • Avoid the unexpected
    Glass is almost as nearby as you can get. It is important to value the user and be humble. Like the old adagio of Steve Krug: don’t make me think in hyper form.

So with this in the back of our minds we started to develop on Glassware. We chose a couple of clients of ours that could have an interesting use case, and created concepts that are differentiating in the specific elements of Glass design principles. Together with our UX designers and the learnings from the making of the first proof of concepts we came to three apps.


The first is for Greenwheels, the car sharing service. In the mobile app we already have the function built in that you can open the car with the app, without using the member card. So it was a rather small step to make this function work with Glass. The necessary ingredients are there: knowledge of location and simple interaction; as soon as the client of the car that is know to have made the reservation is standing next to the car, the service knows and asks the user if it should open the car. A nod, speaking instruction or tap on the Glass opens the car.


We combine this interaction with the service to lead you to the car in case you don’t know the exact location. Here another interesting aspect of the Glass comes to the surface; you need to have a subscription to a service, and after that it will use triggers to put notifications in the timeline. Because the timeline is the main interaction starter, you need to create moments to start the use of the service. To be clear: there is no deck with apps you can activate, this moments of notifications are the one and only triggers.

basics of glass

The basic elements of Glassware

We added some extra functions, to report damage to the car and to close the car at return. I think it is nice to create a route logging function too.

Second use case is bol.com. The most near idea is to create a service that can recognize a (media) product and compare this to the database of bol.com and make it possible to buy the product at bol.com, second hand or new. We thought of some extra functions to connect the moment of use (scan) to the knowledge of bol.com. That knowledge is in the recommendation engine and data behind these recommendations, and in the social data on products, as we made it for the facebook-app. So the concept we created does exactly that: scan an interesting title and receive a profile of the book, both based on object relations as social relations. The profile is the source of a list of comparable products. You can put each of the books on your wish list. The wish list is reachable via your own bol.com account on the site or app. This asynchronous behavior is much more likely, different kind of decisions in different situations.


For both the apps you see that a connection of the service to an user account is crucial. That principle is default for apps in Glass, you connect the service via a website or mobile site to your Google-account, and only than you are subscribed to use the service. It is wise to let a user make general profile-settings at that moment, as far as they are not related to the moment of use.

The last service we designed is for EYE, the iconic filmmuseum at the IJ in Amsterdam. In stead of a pull action as with bol.com, or an extended service as with Greenwheels, here we want to try to augment reality by adding a virtual exhibition to the building space. You need to understand that Glass in not suitable for augmented reality experiences like Layar or VR-glasses. You always will be experiencing a screen when watching the so-called cards. Still we tested if it is possible to create a more immersive feeling with a head talking in space, recorded on a matted black background, watched on the white ceiling of the building. This triggered us to the concept to create an experience where different movies are located in the space around you, and you need to discover those by moving your head. The gyroscope sensors are strong elements to use of the Glass, and using the moving of the head is a nice touch of interaction. We also use the movements to control the movies to pause and play. we discovered that you need to install the app on the Glass though, something that is not so well documented yet.

glass principle EYE

Principe Glassware voor EYE

The EYE case is much more on bringing your space to live and telling new stories. Something that fits very well the aim of EYE to put displays with special cameras in the entrance hall.

By designing and especially by making and testing the proof of concepts we learned a lot on the new models of interaction of Glass. To sum up:

  • The device triggers new interaction principles;
  • You need to design the different phases in the service: subscription, triggers, use in context;
  • Make timely and context relevant customer journeys;
  • Glass in its current execution is not an augmented reality device;
  • Make it super focused. In functionality and in interactions.

I really like the way Glass forces you to think in context and timely usage-driven interactions.

I also think that Glass has the potential to shape a new paradigm in ‘using’ our world based on relevancy, like Google did with search.

However Glass is some time away from entering our markets, the learnings are very valid for other wearable devices and services we are creating. Learning from Glass is in that sense a preparation for a future of even more tech enhanced experienced.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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