With everyone and their mother coming out with new wearable technologies, it is rather refreshing to get an inside peek behind one of the most successful versions: Google Glass. Isabelle Olsson, the lead designer of Google Glass, is proof that to have success with these items in both the fashion and tech world, both the designer and the tech has to be an equal blend between the two. She has a strong background of jewelry design, that lends itself to the Google Glass beautifully. She is not what you would traditionally expect to be the top designer behind such a product, but thats what works for her, she thinks outside the box.
“For me it was all about [Glass] having the human values that you can touch and feel, so what I did was show them materials and how you can draw inspiration from that. If you think of the world of tech, it’s been about black, square, glossy products. Now moving into fashion and tech and their coming together, you have to pay a lot of attention to [the materials]. To me it was about bringing that world into tech, but then learning about the constraints [of hardware]. We’re doing these tough tradeoffs. Obviously the engineers want more battery, more camera, more everything, and that’s when you have to go back to how to make this as useful as possible for everyone.”
When Isabelle joined the team, their main goal was to make the glasses streamlined and fashionable, but most importantly, useful. What is the point of having a wearable tech product if the wearer can’t actually use it. She also wanted to create the idea of transformation through the years, aka how do we make a product that we can make better and better over time. By making her team both gender and creatively diverse, she found that she got the best results both design-wise and technically. In the end, she wanted her team to represent everyone from her target audiences: men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
This wise meshing of backgrounds makes it easier to push the boundaries of her product and truly make something that has never been done before. “I’m really lucky in the way we’ve built the team and how we’re working together. Everybody in the beginning aligned to the principles. If we say it has to be as light as possible, that’s what [our technical team] will strive to as well. Our wall thicknesses are less than 0.4 millimeters in some areas. If you went back [a few years ago], they’d tell me the minimum thickness was 1.5 millimeters. The guys here are really with me in terms of pushing the envelope.”
With design in mind Isabelle says “We’re rooted to our goal that [eventually] you don’t think of Glass as technology anymore. You can’t draw cues from existing tech objects. [You have to consider] how it fits with your style and things you’re already wearing. The finishes, the look, your complexion, your hair — those are the things that matter the most for wearables. Creating things with sharp angles or glossy pieces make no sense. You get finger prints on it, and it’s not pretty. So just the same rules don’t apply. One thing that you can argue we have in common [with a player like Apple] is just that we consider the entire experience. We pay a ton of attention to our packaging. It’s really the frame that frames the painting, in a way. We’re making sure that that’s a delightful, calm, beautiful experience. Some tech products do that well, some don’t. That’s one [area] where we have [consumers] with really high expectations, and they should.” She even goes as far as to think about durability and the fact that she wants her product to age well. She is testing the materials and really making sure they hold up well over time. When you look at old power cords and cables, they become dirty looking over time, some even breaking down, and Isabelle wants to make sure this doesn’t happen with her wiring in her products, “that’s extremely important with wearables. I think it’s inspiring to pull a bag out that your mom had in the ’70s and make it [part of your style] today.”
In the end, Isabelle is looking forward to being able to transform her product over time and she knows that wearable tech is at a very young stage right now, so it will be exciting to see what they release next. Isabelle has truly been a diamond in the rough and it is great to really get a behind the scenes look at something that many consumers know so very little about. The future is bright for both Google Glass and wearable tech combined.