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Designing Calm Technology

Our world is made of information that competes for our attention. What is needed? What is not? We cannot interact with our everyday life in the same way we interact with a desktop computer. The 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. Calm technology describes a state of technological maturity where a user’s primary task is not computing, but being human. The idea behind Calm Technology is to have smarter people, not things. Technology shouldn’t require all of our attention, just some of it, and only when necessary.

How can our devices take advantage of location, proximity and haptics to help improve our lives instead of get in the way? How can designers make apps “ambient” while respecting privacy and security? This talk will cover how to use principles of Calm Technology to design the next generation of connected devices. We’ll look at notification styles, compressing information into other senses, and designing for the least amount of cognitive overhead.

Talk originally given at NEXT2018 in Hamburg, Germany.

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Designing Calm Technology

  1. 1. Calm Technology Amber Case | @caseorganic Fellow Harvard Berkman Klein Center MIT Media Lab Design for the next 50 billion things
  2. 2. 50 billion devices will be online by 2020. -Cisco
  3. 3. Sound good?
  4. 4.
  5. 5. The "Smart" Watch
  6. 6. The "Smart" Fridge
  7. 7. The Dystopian Kitchen of the Future
  8. 8. Connected Animals
  9. 9. The new Schrödinger's Cat Failure forces humans to ‘manually’ feed ravenous pets
  10. 10. PetNet is not held responsible for any service failures: Source:
  11. 11. An era of interruptive technology
  12. 12. We need a Calm Technology
  13. 13. XEROX PARC: mid-90s Mark Weiser John Seeley Brown
  14. 14.
  15. 15. “A good tool is an invisible tool. By invisible, we mean that the tool does not intrude on your consciousness; you focus on the task, not the tool.” Mark Weiser -- 1993
  16. 16. Designing Calm Technology
  17. 17. I. Technology shouldn’t require all of our attention, just some of it, and only when necessary
  18. 18. A Tea Kettle
  19. 19. II. Technology should empower the periphery
  20. 20. LUMOBack Smart Posture Sensor Buzzes you when you exhibit poor posture.
  21. 21. III. Technology should inform and encalm
  22. 22. Weather Status Lighting Hue Lightbulb connected to a weather report Aaron Parecki @aaronpk 2014
  23. 23. 1. Machines shouldn't act like humans 2. Humans shouldn't act like machines IV. Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity.
  24. 24.
  25. 25. • 1500 times faster When automation goes right 3Scan: 1500 times faster than humans
  26. 26. V. Technology can communicate, but it doesn’t need to speak
  27. 27.
  28. 28. The Roomba Robotic Vacuum Cleaner :)
  29. 29. VI. Technology should consider social norms
  30. 30. Restorative Normal Enhancing Fear-inducing Accepted Invisible
  31. 31. VII. The right amount of technology is the minimum amount to solve the problem
  32. 32. Street Lights Toilet Occupied Sign
  33. 33. VIII. Technology should make use of the near and the far
  34. 34. Evolution of computers over time
  35. 35. Process as much as possible on the device itself. …
  36. 36. Good design allows people to accomplish their goals in the least amount of moves
  37. 37. Calm Technology allows people to accomplish the same goals with the least amount of mental cost
  38. 38. A person's primary task should not be computing, but being human.
  39. 39. The scarce resource in the 21st Century will not be technology. It will be attention. - Mark Weiser
  40. 40. Calm Technology @ And O’Reilly
  41. 41. Designing with Sound (2018) @ And O’Reilly
  42. 42. More at! 8 Principles at
  43. 43. Thank you very much! Amber Case | @caseorganic