As we develop and evolve, new challenges arise. We come up with new solutions everyday to tackle those issues. Not so long ago, technology wasn’t so popular, and very few people could afford the latest devices. Currently, almost every person on the planet is surrounded by various devices that attract our attention, encouraging us to interact with them by offering limitless possibilities. Why do some technologies frustrate us and some make us feel happy? The key difference is in how they engage our attention and that’s what we’re going to explore in this article.

What Is Calm Technology?

Calm technology engages both the center and the periphery of our attention, and moves back and forth between the two. For example, notifications switch between those two areas of our attention. Things like low fuel level, low battery level or start of the recording are the centre of your attention for a brief second and then let you focus on other things  (like driving, filming etc.). But not every design has to be calm. A calm video game wouldn’t be fun for the players. According to Business Insider’s predictions, there will be 41 Billion IoT devices by 2027. With all those different devices and their different features, the way we design them has to be more careful. Otherwise, our products will stop being useful and begin to annoy us.

What Are The Principles Of Calm Technology?

Of course, not every device or software will follow all rules listed below at once, but it is worth remembering these rules when creating any software or hardware. These principles could reduce potential UX issues and will help you create a product that’s focused on the user and their needs. So, here’s 8 guidelines for creating calm products:

  1. Technology should require the smallest possible amount of attention.
  2. Technology should inform and create calm.
  3. Technology should compress information into our peripheral senses.
  4. Technology should amplify the best of technology and best of humanity.
  5. Technology can communicate, but doesn’t need to speak.
  6. Technology should work even when it fails.
  7. The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem.
  8. Technology should respect social norms.

Technology should minimize user attention when it’s not needed. We should communicate information to the user in a way that does not overwhelm them, and let them achieve the intended goal as smoothly as possible. A lot of devices use light indicators or other visual cues to communicate information depending on the context. Technology can evoke a sense of calm, informing us about the current stage of some process. For example, you feel secure when you get a phone notification that your package or order is ready for pickup.
Most of the information that the devices give us can be delivered in a way that does not cause any concerns. And this should be a priority. However, some solutions have to be more aggressive with their information delivery methods as they need to inform a larger amount of people e.g. a fire alarm. Such applications are intended to disrupt the present moment to save your life.

User-Friendly Solutions

Before we start designing anything, we ask ourselves: “Where is it going to be used: in the car, the house, or outside?”, “How will the user interact with this product?” and “What do they want to achieve and how quickly?”.
All those questions are crucial for every designer and every products that we design. Below, you will find some great examples of calm designs.

Vehicles

The periphery of our attention is very important, because we can’t focus on many things at once. When things happen in the periphery of our attention they don’t consume us fully but are still noticed by us and we still get the information. Driving experiences are a great example of calm technology. Over the years, the driver’s environment became more overloaded with different signals. While driving a car, we need to be focused on the road, holding the steering wheel, direction indicators, light switches, mirrors, the gas pedal and the brake. The car’s environment is designed in such a way that allows us to collect information from all the different sources (lights, switchers etc.) while still remaining focused on the key action that is driving.

Kitchen Appliances

If the technology works flawlessly, it may become invisible to us. Devices like the kettle or dishwasher inform us when the task has been completed. And the rest of the time we don’t even think about them or forget about them. They do not absorb our attention until it is necessary. Because who wants to spend several hours staring at washing machine thinking when their laundry is going to be done? 

The “Sleep Cycle” App

Sleep Cycle is a mobile application that monitors the quality of sleep and allows you to track its REM phases. Set an alarm and the application will gently wake you up at the right moment of sleep with a quiet, calm sound. A vibration or haptic method that wakes us up in a calm way will make our day much better. It’s a great example of calm technology. The app serves it purpose without engaging you in unnecessary activities.

How To Design A Calm Product?

The biggest and the most common mistake is when our designs force the user to act like a machine to achieve a given goal. Our focus needs to shift to optimizing technology in order for human to be able to perform tasks that are better than a machine e.g. working with context, improvisation or flexible thinking. Below, you will find a series of questions to ask yourself when designing anything (whether it’s a hardware product, software or a chair). Going through them will bring you closer to the user and help you create something that truly answers their needs.

Attention

  1. How does the device attract your attention?
  2. How does the device work with you?

Environment

  1. Where is the subject in the real world?
  2. What other products may interact or interfere with the product’s function or warning style?
  3. How does the product interact with the surrounding environment?

Information

  1. What information does the subject provide?
  2. How is the information stored?
  3. What happens when information is missing?

With all this in mind, you will be able to create better, more useful designs for your users. And, as you know, design can make or break a deal. If you need help from an expert design team – contact us for a free product consultation.