Most technology is interruptive. In rare cases, technology will do its job with minimal invasiveness — a “less is more” design-principle that could apply to AR, given its potential as an always-on but ambient utility.

This principle is at the heart of calm tech, an approach espoused by tech visionary and UX designer Amber Case (see video below). Building from Xerox Parc research by John Seely Brown and Marc Weiser, calm tech takes a sort of minimalist approach to UX and interface design.

Part of the challenge is that we’re conditioned to operate in and design for desktop computer interfaces. So technologies continue to be built around that paradigm. This is another form of technological “habit creep,” which is the antithesis of native thinking.

“Why do we keep building these technologies with the attention span that we might expect from someone on a desktop computer?” Case poses. “We need to use different senses, we need to understand how these things are grabbing our attention and we need to conserve that attention.”

This is where the “less is more” thinking comes in. The opposite can be seen in things like voice interfaces. We often get overly complicated for voice assistants like Alexa that mimic humans. Instead, when possible, consider audio tones like that of the simple yet effective Roomba.

“All of these things can be done with a system of a few tones and maybe a few pieces of light,” Case asserts. “It’s just low-resolution information. But we keep trying to make this information way high resolution, more than we actually need.”

The same applies to graphics she says, citing traffic lights. We don’t actively think about them, yet with three colors, they convey critical information which we process in cojunction with situational awareness (speed, position, etc.). Another example is toilet-occupied signs on planes.

“That thing has been there for 40 years,” she says. “We don’t need some crazy panel telling us whether it’s occupied or not. It’s a pictogram so you don’t need to translate it. You can understand it if you’re red/green colorblind, and it lights up. You can even see it without your glasses.”

Overall, it goes back to a fundamental design principle, to include as few elements as possible to accomplish a function or message. It’s easier said than done of course, given product priorities that are pulled in many directions, resulting in more of everything… features, buttons, lights, etc.

“The right amount of tech is the minimum to solve the problem,” she said. “What can you compress into a single light or tone or haptic buzz? What can you do and still get the information accross that you thought you’d need a more complex information interface to get accross?”

See the full video below and stay tuned for lots more perspectives on UX and design in immersive computing.

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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.