Calm Technology

Keep-Calm-and-Press300The terms “calm computing” and “calm technology” were coined in 1995 by PARC Researchers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in reaction to the increasing complexities that information technologies were creating. He felt that the promise of computing systems was that they might “simplify complexities, not introduce new ones.”

Principles of Calm Technology

Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention

  • Create ambient awareness through different senses.
  • Technology can communicate, but doesn’t need to speak.
  • Communicate information without taking the wearer out of their environment or task.

Technology should inform and create calm

  • A person’s primary task should not be computing, but being human.
  • Give people what they need to solve their problem, and nothing more.

Technology should make use of the periphery

  • A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back.
  • The periphery is informing without overburdening.

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

  • Humans shouldn’t act like machines.
  • Design for people first.
  • Machines shouldn’t act like humans.
  • Amplify the best part of each.

Technology can communicate, but doesn’t need to speak

  • Does your product need to rely on voice, or can it use a different communication method?
  • Consider how your technology communicates status.

Technology should work even when it fails

  • Think about what happens if your technology fails.
  • Does it default to a usable state or does it break down completely?

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

  • What is the minimum amount of technology needed to solve the problem?
  • Slim the feature set down so that the product does what it needs to do and no more.

Technology should respect social norms

  • What social norms exist that your technology might violate or cause stress on?
  • Technology takes time to introduce to humanity.
  • Slowly introduce features so that people have time to get accustomed to the product.

Examples include:

Tea Kettle: If a technology works well, we can ignore it most of the time. A teapot tells us when it is ready, and is off or quiet the rest of the time. A tea kettle can be set and forgotten, until it sings. It does not draw constant attention to itself until necessary.

Airplane Lavatory Sign: This simple display easily allows one to see whether the restroom on a plane is occupied or not. The message is universal and requires no translation.

Smart Badge: A smart badge is simple. Smart badges are small, wearable technologies that don’t require a charger, user interface or operating system. Simply touch a provisioned smart badge to a door or elevator panel and you’ll easily gain access.

When designing your technology, keep it calm.