Cooper, Augmedix and Google Glass: No Real Estate? No Problem


Interaction designers today are really good at designing screens. Designing for Google Glass took us out of that comfort zone, and in some ways back to the basics. It reminded us of that truism that the raw building blocks of user experience are not screens—they are experiences.

Google Glass is in many ways not ready for prime time, but makes perfect sense for certain specialized applications, like what Augmedix has envisioned for doctors, who need to capture and reference key information while keeping their full attention on patients. Hands-free operation is one of the key strengths of today’s iteration of Glass. Medicine is particularly rich with hands-free mission critical use cases, and Augmedix is taking the first step down that path. Others are imagining similar applications for Glass, such as for first responders in emergency situations.

Designing for Google Glass

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to work with Augmedix to define the doctor’s experience with their Glass service (you can read more about the project here). We encountered some unexpected challenges and surprises along the way.

An exercise in prioritization

Glass is designed to present one concise piece of information at a time. The display is small and sits in the upper right corner just above the user’s line of sight, which greatly restricts the amount of content that can be displayed at a time. The design challenge was to ruthlessly prioritize what content should be displayed on Glass at any given moment because there was no room for anything extra.

Simplicity to the front, complexity to the back

The forced simplicity of the Glass display pushes virtually all complexity to the back-end. When designing for desktop or mobile devices, a lot of complexity is baked into each screen, but for Glass that isn’t an option. The “smarts” of the interface is invisible, and a good design makes navigation and control effortless.

Focus on the experience

Google’s design guidelines for Glass outline some restrictive requirements, especially for visual design. A typical ‘card’ on Glass consists of a dark background with some white text, usually no more than 8 words, and occasionally an image. In the case of Augmedix, this limited what visual elements we could play with, but encouraged us to step back and think about the experience of using the device. We had to focus our creativity on the doctor’s context and experience.

Flow matters most

The connections and flow mattered more than the ‘cards’ or screens themselves. The majority of the UX was in the connective tissue of the design—getting from one place to another (which is rarely just one swipe or tap away), making sure everything happens in the right order and in the right context, and minimizing gestural interactions.

Thinking about the next Google Glass project

Designing for Google Glass made us rethink the way we do software design. Many of our projects devote a significant amount of time to defining the framework of an application and developing the detailed design of key screens. When designing for Glass, we discovered that these phases needed almost no time, given the restrictive framework and visual language defined by Google. For future projects we might devote more time to refining personas and scenarios. We might even name the project phases a little differently—instead of “detailed wireframes” it might be “detailed scenarios.” In general, Glass design projects will be focused more on flows than screens, and spending time on scenarios will help crystallize the flows.

There are still some big interaction problems to solve. How can Glass fit into our lives in a way that feels natural? This is a tricky problem. For example, a doctor using Augmedix has to have a natural conversation with a patient while also using voice control to access critical information. How can we design a language that allows the doctor to distinguish between questions for the patient and commands for Glass? How can we make sure that the patient doesn’t feel like the third wheel in the conversation? Glass is just one example of the wearables that are the next frontier for User Experience Design. No matter what the platform, our job will be to define not just what these devices do but how they fit into our everyday lives.

Project Team:
Jenea Hayes, Director, Interaction Design
Jim Dibble, Senior Interaction Designer
Emily Schwartzman, Interaction Designer
Tanya Siadneva, Interaction Design Intern
Vivian Ma, Visual Design Intern

Emily Schwartzman

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